The Project Gutenberg eBook of Rounding Cape Horn, and Other Sea Stories

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Title: Rounding Cape Horn, and Other Sea Stories

Author: Walter McRoberts

Illustrator: Grant Wright

Release date: August 21, 2017 [eBook #55408]

Language: English


This etext was transcribed by Les Bowler

Rounding Cape Horn
. . . AND . . .
Other Sea Stories


By Walter McRoberts.


Illustrated by Grant Wright.


Roll on, thou deep and dark blue oceanroll!
   Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruinhis control
   Stops with the shore.”


H. S. Hill Printing Company.


p. 3Entered according to Act of Congress,
in the year 1894,
In the office of the Librarian, at Washington.

p. 4 The Sagamore

p. 5. . . To . . .
These Stories are Affectionately Dedicated
By his friend,


p. 6INDEX.



The Life-Savers


Thanksgiving on the Dicky Bird


My Brazilian Adventure


Bringing in a Derelict


The Monomaniac


Crossing the Line




A Dangerous Cargo


The Parson’s Text


Rounding Cape Horn



The Life-savers The hands of the clock in the life-saving station pointed to a quarter of nine, on a wild March night along the New England coast.  A bitter north-easter raged outside, driving the rising tide higher and higher upon the beach.  It was almost at the flood, and only a narrow ridge of stones lay between the sea and the station.  The surf thundered in like a solid wall—great combers that nothing could resist, flung themselves upon the beach with a sullen roar, and broke into a seething flood of foam.  This foam was not the sparkling white substance into which the waves resolve themselves in time of peace, but a p. 8turbid yellowish froth, which, by the time it reached the shore, was nearly of the consistency of white of egg, beaten stiff.  Great patches of it were caught up by the fierce wind and blown far inland, while others lodged against the walls of the life-saving station, where they mingled with the pelting snow that thickly covered the weather-side of the building.  The water’s edge was piled with a tangled mass of sea-weed, drift-wood, bottles, dead crabs, and a hundred different objects which the ocean had cast up.  The undertow dragged out myriads of pebbles, which gave forth a peculiar musical roar as they were swept from the beach where they had lain through weeks of pleasant weather, now to be again swallowed up in the deep.  The blackness out to sea was almost tangible—the force of the wind and the driving snow nearly blinded the patrolmen, struggling along their beats with every sense on the alert, and with only their beach lanterns for company.  In a word, it was one of those awful nights when the government life-savers are often called upon to work like p. 9Spartan heroes, and suffer incredible hardships and dangers that imperilled lives may be saved.  One such night far out-balances the long term of inactivity (broken only by daily drill) that may have preceded it.

Captain Litchfield, the keeper of the station, was in the observatory, whose windows commanded a view of the ocean and beach for a long distance in either direction.  Occasionally he caught a glimpse of the lighthouse two miles to the north, but the cheerful beacon was rendered dim by the snow which filled the air, and was invisible much of the time.  As a violent gust beat against the frosty panes and shook the stout building, the keeper thought of the Peruvian, and other good ships that had met their fate on the Massachusetts coast during just such nights as this.  He had doubled the beach patrol and now strained his eyes in momentary expectation of seeing the signal to all that coast that a disaster had occurred.  It is a thrilling time—waiting and watching to hear the news of a wreck that is certain to p. 10take place; striving to locate the doomed craft in the profound darkness out at sea; hoping against hope that some miracle may avert the impending catastrophe!

Just at dusk that evening, the men at Fourth Cliff Station (a few miles to the south) had sighted a large brig close-hauled and struggling northward under storm sails.  The blinding storm had apparently prevented those on board from seeing how perilously near they were to land, but they soon after discovered their danger, for more sail was clapped on the vessel—much more than she could safely carry—and she tore through the water at a great rate, in a desperate endeavor to drive past the outlying rocks and shoals off Scituate and Cohasset.  The attempt might have succeeded had it not been for the fearful leeway the craft was making, but it seemed as though every cable’s length she advanced brought her perceptibly nearer to the beach.

Night soon hid the brig from view, but the keeper’s experience told him that her fate was sealed, and he burned red rockets p. 11to warn the adjacent station to be on the lookout for the wreck which must soon take place.  Thus it was that Captain Litchfield and his crew had been for several hours in momentary expectation of a summons to save human life.  Half way between the two stations a rocky point jutted out into the water, and here it was that both keepers expected the brig to strike; but by an extraordinary exhibition of pluck and good seamanship, she cleared this danger.

As the minutes passed, the crowd of half-frozen villagers on the beach concluded that the vessel had managed to escape to the open sea, and began to realize that their limbs were cold and numb.  The greater part betook themselves to their cottages; mayhap to listen to some harrowing tale of shipwreck and death from the lips of an octogenarian smoking his pipe in the chimney corner, while drift-wood snapped and blazed upon the fire, and the housewife heated over the remnants of a chowder with which to cheer the stomachs of the returned watchers, ere p. 12they sought the doubtful warmth of their bed rooms.

But the station crew redoubled their vigilance.  They well knew the brig could not tack in that furious gale, and there was not room to wear, without taking ground;—

The signal!

A patrolman on the northern beat had suddenly ignited his Coston light—the red emblem which both tells the watchful keeper that a wreck has been sighted, and assures the crew of the unfortunate vessel that succor is at hand.

The surfmen and patrolmen passed the signal along the beats and hurried to the station, each to perform his allotted part in the work of rescue.  The keeper burned a rocket to inform the Fourth Cliff crew.  It was answered almost simultaneously by a distant patrolman with his handlight, and by a white rocket sent up from Fourth Cliff; the crew and apparatus from that point would soon be hurrying to the scene of the wreck.

The patrolman who gave the alarm had p. 13sighted the brig just before she went aground.  She was then headed directly for the beach, bows on, her captain evidently realizing that escape was impossible, and that his only chance lay in getting the craft near the shore.  The tide was high, and she had taken ground scarcely a quarter of a mile from the beach, and almost directly in front of the station.  Immediately after striking, she had swung around broadside on, and now the dim outline of her canvas and rigging could be faintly distinguished through the storm.

In the station all was excitement and action, but there was no confusion.  Within a few moments of the time the wreck had been sighted, the keeper issued the first order: “Open boat-room doors—man the beach-cart!”

Laden with the life-saving apparatus, and drawn by six surfmen, the cart was hauled out of the station and over the loose, yielding stones that lay between it and the ocean.  The wide tires prevented the vehicle from sinking among the stones and rendered the task not difficult.  The p. 14tremendous surf booming in made it impossible to launch the life-boat, and it was through the medium of the breeches buoy that the brig’s crew were to be rescued.

Bad news travels swiftly, and a rapidly increasing knot of men, boys, and even a few women was already assembled, many of whom offered assistance, while one or two did not hesitate to give advice.  The keeper directed them to procure dry wood from the station and start a bonfire, which they did with alacrity, the flames soon crackling merrily.

The cart having been halted, the crew proceeded to unload it, and while Captain Litchfield placed the gun in position, the others buried the sand-anchor, prepared the shot-line box, set the crotch in the proper place, and performed other duties of importance.  Everything about the stranded vessel was dark and silent.  She displayed no mast-head lantern or any light whatever, her crew having probably taken to the rigging as soon as she struck to avoid being washed overboard.  The fierce gale cut the faces and blinded the eyes of the p. 15life-savers when they attempted to look towards the wreck, but the keeper contrived to train the gun and raise it to the proper elevation for firing.  All things being ready, he gave the lanyard a sharp pull.  There was a report, a puff of smoke, and away sped the metal cylinder into the blackness, with the shot-line attached.

A few minutes passed, during which some of the crew had a chance to warm their numb fingers at the fire.  The direction of the wind was favorable, and the keeper had strong hopes of getting that first line over the vessel.  But there was no pull upon it—nothing to show that those on the wreck had seen it.  And yet it had certainly fallen on the brig, for all attempts by those on shore to withdraw it were futile.  Perhaps the unfortunate crew knew the line was on deck, but were unable to reach it without being washed away; perhaps they were too thoroughly chilled to make any exertion in their own behalf, although this seemed scarcely possible in view of the short time the vessel had been aground.  But at any rate they failed to p. 16secure the line, and in trying to haul it back on shore it parted somewhere off in the darkness.

The operation had to be repeated, and a second shot was fired as quickly as the apparatus could be made ready.  This was a complete failure, for it did not go over the brig at all.  The third attempt promised to be crowned with success, for the line not only fell upon the vessel, but came within reach of the beleagured crew—a fact that was soon made apparent by a decided pull upon it.  It was the first evidence of life upon the wreck, and sent a thrill through the breasts of the rescuers.

Number One had just bent the shot-line around the whip, and the keeper was about to signal the wreck to haul off, when the line again parted.  This was a keen disappointment, for precious moments must be consumed in preparing the apparatus for another shot; and evidence was not lacking to show that the seas were making a clean breach over the wreck, sweeping her decks of everything movable.  A small boat, one end in splinters, was flung p. 17upon the beach almost at the foot of the rescuers; in the edge of the surf was something that resembled a hen-coop; one of the villagers discovered a flight of steps and several planks a little to the right of the station; and other familiar objects were rapidly coming ashore.

The Life-Savers at Work

The fourth shot proved successful, and after the brig’s crew secured the line, the whip was attached to it and those on the wreck hauled off until the whip was within their reach.  The two surfmen tending the shore ends soon felt several pulls, which they interpreted as a signal that the tail-block had been made fast on the brig.  Now the lee part of the whip was bent on to the hawser close to the tally-board, [17a] and while one man saw that it did not foul the hawser, others manned the weather whip and thus hauled the hawser off to the wreck.  The breeches buoy block [17b] was p. 18next attached, after which operations were suspended until a signal should be received from the stranded vessel that the hawser had been made fast to one of the masts.  The length of time that the brig’s crew required to perform this ordinarily simple act told the life-savers, as plainly as words could have done, how greatly they were exhausted by their two hours’ exposure to the bitter wind and icy spray.  Their stiffened fingers at length gave the signal, and the station crew quickly hauled in the slack of the hawser.  The crotch was now raised, which had the effect of elevating the hawser above the surface of the ocean sufficiently for the breeches buoy to travel upon it without touching the water.  All was ready, and the keeper ordered: “Man lee whip—haul off!”

As the buoy slid easily along the hawser and vanished in the darkness towards the wreck, the pent-up feelings of the villagers burst forth.  The boys yelled, shouted hurrahs, and danced like sprites about the fire, upon which they flung more drift-wood.  Men and women pressed closer p. 19about the keeper and his assistants, shading their eyes with their hands, as they strove to follow the course of the buoy.  Lips moved and limbs trembled, but as much from excitement as from cold.

At this juncture the Fourth Cliff crew arrived, having toiled for two hours through snow-drifts, and over loose stones, with their heavy apparatus.  It had been found impossible to obtain horses in the neighborhood without great delay, and the men were thus compelled to set out without them.  The major part of the work of rescue was already done, allowing the half-frozen crew time to warm themselves at the fire, where they held themselves in readiness to render instant service.

The signal from the brig having been given, Captain Litchfield commanded: “Man weather whip—haul ashore!”  The men hauled in the whip with a will, while the villagers, eager to get a glimpse of the approaching buoy and its human freight, crowded about until the keeper was compelled to order them back.

p. 20Now the poor fellow was visible!  Just as he neared the edge of the surf, a huge comber about to break reared its foaming crest and buried hawser, buoy and man in a cloud of spray, as though making a last attempt to seize its intended victim.  When the buoy emerged and was drawn up to the crotch, the keeper and Number Seven stepped forward and helped the rescued seaman out.  The buoy was then hurried back to the wreck, while its drenched occupant was turned over to the Fourth Cliff crew, who took him to the station.

He was a large man, and evidently a Scandinavian, but seemed exhausted or stunned to such an extent that little information could be obtained from him, except that there were seven men still on the wreck.  His wet clothes were removed, and after a good rubbing, he was placed in one of the snowy beds in the upper story of the station.  Here in a large, pleasant room, stood a number of single iron bedsteads with heads to the wall—one for each of the crew, besides a few extra in case of emergency.  In this haven p. 21of rest the sailor fell into a deep sleep, heedless of the storm and cold without.

The next man landed proved to be the mate—a small, wiry fellow, who bore his sufferings well.  He thanked the keeper and surfman who helped him out of the buoy and stamped upon the wet sand as though enjoying the sensation of having something firm beneath his feet.  His hands were stiff from clinging to the rigging, and were almost useless from the action of the bitter wind and freezing water.  But he picked up fast, and after borrowing a dry suit of clothes and an overcoat, insisted on returning to the beach.

He reported the vessel to be the Huron, a 400-ton brig, bound from Porto Rico to Boston, with molasses.  The weather had been thick, and though for two days they had had no observation, the captain believed himself a good distance from the coast.  When land was sighted on the port bow, they shook out more sail and tried to drive past; but all efforts to keep the brig off shore were futile, and seeing that she must soon strike, the captain p. 22headed her for the beach at full speed.  The mate reported the wreck to be breaking up rapidly, but thought she might hold together until all had been saved.

The cook and three more seamen had been landed meanwhile, leaving only the captain and a Spanish sailor on the stranded vessel.  The buoy had just started on its seventh trip to the brig, when those tending the whip noticed something wrong.  The hawser suddenly slackened to such an extent as to allow the buoy to touch the water.  A second more, and the great rope which had bridged the chasm between the brig and the shore became perfectly limp, and fell into the ocean!  A groan broke from the throng upon the beach as they realized the extent of this misfortune.  The mast which upheld the two remaining castaways—the mast to which the hawser was secured, had fallen!  All communication between the wreck and the shore was effectually cut off.  Even at that moment the two unfortunates were being buffeted about in the freezing water, unless they p. 23had been killed or rendered unconscious by the falling spars.

Both men had on life-preservers, which gave them a slight chance for their lives.  The chance was indeed a frail one, but it was all there was left—the poor fellows might possibly be thrown upon the beach before life was extinct.

Both station crews and dozens of volunteers were marshalled into line and stationed along the edge of the surf, ready to grasp the bodies should they come within reach.  Wreckage was coming ashore rapidly; and alive or dead, the keeper felt certain that the brig’s captain and his companion would soon appear in the breakers.

Scarce fifteen minutes passed before two surfmen in close proximity flashed their lanterns, and all those near by hurried to the spot.  One of the bodies was in sight close to the shore.  As the rescuers prepared to wade in, a breaking wave took up the limp form and hurled it down with terrific force, at the same time carrying it towards shore.  The receding p. 24water drew the body back a short distance, and then left it upon the sand.  Willing hands took up the burden and hurried it to the station.  A glance showed it to be the captain.

The other body was discovered by the Fourth Cliff keeper, a considerable distance down the beach to the right of the station.  It, too, was floating near shore.  Six men ranged themselves along a rope, the keeper being at the outer end with a grappling hook, Thus they waded into the surf and endeavored to catch the body.  Four successive times were those furthest out carried off their feet and thrown down in the water before their object was accomplished, and the body drawn out of the breakers.  Like that of the captain, it was seemingly lifeless.

The men’s clothing was ripped off, and for several hours the crews worked over them, skilfully practicing the most approved methods for restoring the apparently drowned,—methods by which scores of people seemingly dead have been resuscitated, and in which all persons connected p. 25with the United States Life-Saving Service are required to be proficient.  Every means approved by science and the wide experience of the operators was tried, but all to no purpose.  The vital spark was extinguished; the captain of the brig and the Spanish sailor had drawn their last breath.

Next morning the sky was clear, the snow had ceased, the wind shifted into the north-west, and it was stinging cold.  The sea had been busy with its work of destruction during the hours of darkness, and the staunch brig of yesterday was strewn piece-meal along the beach.  Stout oak beams and iron girders were splintered, twisted, or rent asunder, while the thick coat of ice with which they were covered, caused them to assume strangely fantastic shapes.  The two masts had come ashore; mattresses, provisions of all sorts, boxes, rigging, the cabin floor, and countless casks of molasses, lay scattered upon the beach for leagues in both directions.

Many vessels ended their careers on that terrible night, and many lives were lost, p. 26from the Delaware Capes to the shores of Nova Scotia.  But scores were saved and alive next morning, who, but for the heroic exertions of the government life-savers, would have perished miserably.  These men did only their duty, but in many cases that duty compelled them to take their lives in their hands, and they did it without shrinking.

People all over the country read in the papers that morning of wrecks by the dozen; of deaths innumerable from freezing, drowning, and exposure; of terrible hardships endured for many hours by unfortunates whom human aid was powerless to save; and they said, “What an awful night it was!”  Then they turned to their usual occupations, and the subject was forgotten.  How should those who spent the night in a warm bed, far from the sound of the waves, have any real conception of the fearful struggles with death represented by those inanimate lines?


Thanksgiving on the Dicky Bird Many years ago I was mate of the little schooner Dicky Bird. She traded mostly between the West Indies and Gulf ports, once in a while getting a charter for some point in Central America.  On this particular voyage, she was bound across the Gulf from Pensacola to Vera Cruz.

We were a queer company; three whites and eight blacks.  Cap’n Thomas Pratt was a first rate seaman when he wasn’t in liquor, although too easy-going to suit some people.  He didn’t believe in knocking the hands about, and always said that swearing at ’em did just as much good.  I have met some people who didn’t think p. 28even that was right, but they were mostly preachers or lubbers who knew mighty little of merchant sailors.  Let them try moral suasion on a mule for a while if they want to see how it works with a sailor.  If you never swear at ’em, they get lazy and despise you, besides thinking you a milk-sop.

But as I said, Cap’n Pratt took a drop too much now and then; mostly after dinner, for he kept pretty straight until the sun was taken.  I’m no teetotlar myself, though I was green enough to sign the pledge before I’d got to what they call “the age of reason.”  Still, it goes against my idees for a skipper to drink much when on duty, and if Pratt hadn’t owned his schooner, I reckon he’d lost his berth long before I knew him.  After working out his sights he used to take a drink by way of celebration in case the day’s run had been good, and if we’d made a poor record he just took something to drown his sorrows—and sometimes it needed a deal of liquor to drown ’em.

There was no second mate, so the Cap’n p. 29and me stood watch and watch.  We had a negro bo’s’un called Prince Saunders—a strapping big fellow as black as the ace of spades—who was on duty all day from seven in the morning till six at night. Then he turned in till next day, unless all hands were called.  Prince acted as general overseer, and the way he made those darkeys come to time wasn’t slow.  In fact, I wouldn’t ask for a better bo’s’un or a better crew.  All the Cap’n and me had to do was to lay out the day’s work and Prince saw that it was done.

The three fellows in my watch looked exactly alike—I never could tell one negro from another—so I called ’em Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.  I forgot what Pratt named his.

Steamers were scarce in the Gulf those days, and people wanting to go any distance had to take passage on whatever craft they could find, which was how we came to have the Honorable Mr. Warriner for a passenger.  I couldn’t see as he had any more honor than lots of other people, but all of his mail was addressed that way, p. 30and Pratt said it was a kind of title they have on shore.  He was a red faced, pompous old duck, with too much corporation, and looked as much out of place on the deck of that little schooner as I would scraping before Queen Victoria.  Every time we had a squall he got almighty sick, and when a good hot day came how he did sweat and mop his face!  I really pitied him.

Once he said to me: “Mr. Hunt, I would give any reasonable amount to be as slender as you are.”

“We thin chaps certainly have the advantage in the tropics, Mr. Warriner; and ever since I was seventeen, and had the yellow fever at Rio, there ain’t been any more meat on me than there is on a starved horse,” I answered.

I had no call to feel flattered, but I was, just the same, for Pratt sometimes poked fun at me for being so d—d lean; and didn’t I find a picture drawn on the bulwarks forward of an oar with clothes on that looked kind of like me?  If I could have found out which of those black sons p. 31of Belial did it, he would have caught a whaling, you bet!

We had a cook who also waited off at table,—a steward was too much luxury for the Dicky Bird, and of all the infernal liars that ever lived, I believe that Cornwallis Tecumseh Jones was the worst.  He knew his business pretty well, and could turn a flap-jack by throwing it up in the air from one window of the galley, and catching it as it came down by the window on the opposite side. [31]

The passenger, Pratt and me were talking of various things one afternoon when Warriner said: “Captain, to-morrow will be Thanksgiving, and I propose that we observe the day by having some appropriate dish for dinner.  Turkey and pumpkin pie are out of the question, so what do you say to an English plum-pudding?”

“Anything, sir; anything to keep the peace.  Plum-pudding or pear-pudding, Thanksgiving or lobscouse.”

p. 32(Pratt was about half heeled over, as usual with him that time of day.)

“Lobscouse!  Captain Pratt, I will thank you not to mention that abominable mixture in my presence.  It passes my comprehension how you can eat such stuff.  Neither do I like this flippant reference to so august a day as Thanksgiving.

“But a plum-pudding will be excellent—that is, if you think that darkey won’t ruin it in the making.  I have a splendid recipe in my trunk, and although some of the necessary ingredients are probably lacking, it will be possible to produce a very fair pudding.”

“Let’s have it,” said I.  “Anything for a change is my sentiments.”

“Darkeys usually have quite a knack for cooking, and I suppose if the recipe is placed before Cornwallis he will do the subject justice.  I will get it at once.”

“The Lord only knows, Mr. Warriner.  Did you ever hear a certain proverb that is common at sea: ‘God sends meat and the devil sends cooks?’  It’s astonishing how good provisions can be changed into p. 33all sorts of queer shapes.  But get your directions and take them to the galley.  The black imp may surprise us.”

Pratt went below, and soon after, Warriner and me went forward with the directions for the pudding.  He told the cook what was wanted and then read off the recipe, so as to be sure and have no mistake.  Never did I hear of such a lot of truck being put together, and I don’t believe the cook did either, for his eyes got bigger and bigger as Warriner read the list of what he called “ingredients.”  My! that pudding took some of everything.  There was raisins, currants, brown sugar, beef-suet, flour, bread-crumbs, citron, candied lemon-peel, eggs, nutmeg and salt!  “Boil seven hours in a buttered mould.  A sprig of holly should be stuck in the center.  Pour brandy around the pudding when ready to serve, and set it on fire.”  Holy Moses!  Then there was a sauce with brandy and other things in it.

The cook sat down on a bench and looked at Warriner.

“Golly! you done took my bref away, p. 34boss.  Bile seben hour!  Whar we gwine to git dese yere tings?  I ’low dere ain’t no brandy on dis craf’, an’ as fur ten eggs—waal, de hens is completely gi’n out, eben ef I does feed ’em on de Champyun Egg Food.”

“How should the poor things lay, shut up in a small coop?  But as for the brandy, I will furnish that, and also some nice layer raisins.  Currants, lemon-peel and citron we must do without, but ten eggs are a necessity, and the other things you have.”

“We has jes’ got ’leben eggs, an’ ef yo’ takes ten from ’leben, dar ain’t but bery few lef’.  Where we gwine to get moah?”

“I neither know nor care,—we shall reach Vera Cruz sometime I devoutly hope,—but ten eggs go into this pudding.  The question is, can you make it?”

Can I make it?” repeated the cook, as if someone had asked him whether he could breathe.  “Waal, sah, dere ain’t no dish knowed to man or debil dat dis chile can’t make, Mistah Warmer.  Must I bile de sass seben hour too?”

p. 35“Certainly not.  The sauce must not be made until to-morrow morning just before dinner, and is only to be boiled a few minutes.  Can’t you read?”

“Me read?  Well, I hope not, boss.  I’s got all my receipts in my head.  None o’ yo’ new-fangled notions fur dis niggah.”

I had to laugh, poor Warriner looked so disgusted.  He just all gave up for a minute and thought the pudding was done for.  Then he stamped his foot and said:

“I am not to be thwarted by trifles, and will weigh out everything myself.  Then you can mix the articles together.”

Warriner fetched the raisins and brandy—if he’d been smart he wouldn’t have brought the brandy till the last minute—and between ’em they managed to mix up all the truck and get it in the mould.  It was about the middle of the afternoon when they got it on to boil.

Next day was fine, and Warriner was up before we finished washing down the decks.  Pratt and me were curious about the plum-pudding, for we’d never seen one, and wanted to know what sort of idees the p. 36passenger had about cookery.  He kept telling all the morning what fine ones his wife used to make, and said he’d show us a thing or two.  We sat down to dinner—our Thanksgiving dinner.  The Honorable looked more self-satisfied and important than usual, I thought; Cap’n Pratt was real good-natured and told a lot of lies that Warriner swallowed like an albacore does a flying-fish; I had scraped my face with an old hoe of a razor and put on a necktie; and Cornwallis stood in the pantry door behind Pratt with a white cap over his wool, and looking as solemn as a judge. He did well that day, and we had a first rate dinner.  There was vegetable soup; chicken, rice and curry with Ceylon chutney; potatoes; boiled onions; lime-juice; and each a cold whiskey punch.  At last it was time for the dessert.  Cornwallis took away the things, while Warriner told us how much we had to be thankful for, and how he and the cook had worked to make the pudding a success.

“It was stuck full of long feathers!”

p. 37Well, the minute that pudding hove in sight Pratt and me laughed.  The middle of it was stuck full of long feathers!

“Heavens and earth!  What are those things for?” cried Warriner.

“Dem is fedders, sah.  You tole me dat holly was to be stuck up in de middle, but dat bush ain’t to be foun’ in dese pahts.  I done de best I could, Mass’.”

“Was ever such a thing heard of!  And are those feathers from the chicken we have just eaten?”

“Laws, no.  I done kotched de rooster—Golly! how dat ole bird did squawk—and I yanked de fedders out ob his tail.  Dere dey is, a wavin’ like a flag.”

Warriner was about to pull the feathers out and throw them away, but the Cap’n and me rather liked the looks of ’em, so he stopped.  Then the sauce appeared.  White of egg beaten stiff was on top of it.  Next Cornwallis brought a dish and turned the brandy around the pudding.  How awful it smelled!  Not a bit like any brandy that I ever saw.  Warriner looked a bit puzzled, but before he had time to p. 38say a word the cook struck a match and touched it to the liquor.

The whole thing blazed right up to the skylight, and scared all hands nearly to death!  You could have knocked me over with a fish-hook, and that darky rolled up the whites of his eyes and acted as if he was praying.  Warriner’s face turned all colors, and Pratt was scared and mad both.  He jerked the cloth and everything off the table, took off his coat and threw it on the blaze.  Then he stamped on it.

None of us spoke a word for a minute; we were clean on our beam ends.  Then Pratt looked at the passenger and roared out: “Well, sir, you’ve raised h— with your pudding, I must say!  Like to have burned us all up into the bargain.  That’s what comes of setting brandy on fire.  I thought when you spoke of it, it was the d—dest nonsense to burn up a lot of good liquor that might better be drunk.”

Warriner had found his voice by this time.

“Captain Thomas Pratt, you forget yourself.  I am not accustomed to being p. 39addressed in that fashion, and you will please remember that I am a passenger on this craft—this miserable apology for a schooner—and did not come here to be sworn at!”

The old boy was on his mettle, and Pratt saw it.

“No offense meant, Mr. Warriner, but I insist that your having that brandy set on fire was a rash proceeding.”

“Brandy!  That was not brandy.  Do you suppose I never saw a plum-pudding before?  If that had been the brandy I gave that imp of Satan” (pointing to the cook) “it would never have blazed up like that.  And what foul odor did we smell when he poured the stuff around the pudding?  What odor do we smell now?  Kerosene, or I’m no judge.”

“Kerosene!” echoed the Cap’n.

I began to think the passenger knew what he was talking about.  All of us smelled oil, and we cast our eyes on Cornwallis.  He looked as innocent as a lamb.

“Gents, dat ain’t possible,” said he, his black face shining like polished ebony.

p. 40“We will see about that,” answered Warriner.  “Let’s taste the sauce—I’ll warrant it’s full of kerosene too.” He took some in a spoon and smelled of it before putting his tongue to it.

“Curious,” he muttered, “there is no odor of oil or brandy either.”

Then the old chap tasted it.

“This is extraordinary!  There’s nothing to this sauce—it has no body.  There is positively not a drop of brandy in it; nor of kerosene, for that matter.”

“Dat am bery strange, Mass’ Warmer.  De brandy must ’a’ done ’vaporated.”

“Evaporated down your throat, you black villain!  Captain Pratt, I consider this a flagrant outrage.  I furnished a quantity of good brandy for this pudding, not a drop of which has been used.  What has become of it?”

“Dat Monday or some ob de han’s might ’a’ stole it when I wahn’t lookin’,” suggested the cook.

Prince, the bo’s’un, was standing outside near the door, and had evidently heard part of the confab.  He now called out:

p. 41“Ef you ’lows me, Cap’n, I reckons I kin find out de truf in dis argument.”

“Come in, Prince,” answered Pratt.  “If you can get any truth out of Cornwallis you’re smarter than I think you are.”

The cook looked indignant—not so much at being called a liar as having the bo’s’un admitted,—for he and Prince were not on good terms, and he considered the bo’s’un’s interference a piece of pure impudence.

Prince entered, cap in hand.  I’m tolerable tall myself, but he was a good four inches above me, and a right good looking darkey into the bargain.  He walked right up to the cook.

“Walrus Jones, you stole dat gemmen’s brandy.  You lies ef you says you didn’t.”

Cornwallis looked at his accuser defiantly.

“What yo’ want wid me, niggah?  Is yo’ lookin’ fur trouble?  Go ’long ’bout yo’ bizness now, an’ doan’ be comin’ in de cabin whar yo’ betters is.  I’s willin’ to obey de Cap’n ob dis craf’, but I tells yo’ now dat I won’t take no sass from lowdown bo’s’uns.  Go an’ scar’ de life out p. 42ob dose pore debils in de crew, fur all I keer, but doan’ git gay wid me.  Huh!  Yo’ mus’ tink I’s jes’ turned out!”

“You awoids de subjek’.  Dat am a shuah sign ob guilt.”

“Lemme tell yo’ somfin’, yo’ onery niggah!  I doan’ sociate wid sech trash as yo’ be, what can’t tell who his own fadder and mudder was.  I come from a hono’ble fam’ly what was tole ob in hist’ry.  Ef yo’ keeps on probokin’ me to wraf I’ll put pizen in yo’ wittals, dat’s what I’ll do, an yo’ now has fair wahnin’!”

Prince showed signs of wrath himself at this speech, but Pratt interfered before he could answer.

“No more talk about poisoning people, Cornwallis.  Answer me this: Where did that brandy go to?”

“Ef it didn’t go in dat sass an’ aroun’ dat puddin’, Cap’n, den I ’lows some ob de crew done stole it.  Dem critters ain’t to be trusted, no how.  Cockroaches is bery bad in dat galley, too, an’ dey likes sech drinks, I hearn tell.  Whose to know if dey wahn’t at de bottle?”

p. 43“Why, you black rascal, you said not ten minutes ago that the brandy was put in the sauce and around the pudding!”

“So I did, Cap’n.  Ef dat ain’t de truf an’ nothin’ but de truf, I hopes de good Lawd will hab me pah’lized, an’ make me fall dead heah in my tracks.”

“Impious creature!  Unworthy descendant of Ham!” cried Warriner.

“Me a ham?  Me, a linear decen’ant ob de great Lawd Cornwahlis, what lan’ed at Yohktown an’ chased de Yanks all ober de plains ob Ole Virgintay?  Dat’s de stock I come from, Mistah Warmer, an’ so I want yo’ to understan’.”

The cook’s reference to his ancestors astounded Warriner, though none of the rest of us saw anything queer about it.

“Good heavens!  What curse is there like ignorance?” said he, looking up at the ceiling.

It was lucky for me that Warriner spoke up, for I was just going to show off about Lord Cornwallis, and would likely have made a fool of myself.  My history is a bit uncertain; so I stood by and kept mum.

p. 44Prince had been considering while the rest of us talked, and now said: “Cap’n Pratt, I would ax you, sah, for de Bible, an’ I promises to bring dis sinful critter to time, eben of he does b’long to de quality ob Virginny, which he don’t, unless de debil hab turned saint.”

All of us were surprised at this, but Pratt went to fetch the book.  Prince could read large print tolerably well, and write a little, which facts he was very proud of.  His confident air, and the new tack he had taken, made the cook a bit uneasy for the first time.  He had no idee what was coming next.

Pratt beckoned to me from the door of his room, and whispered in my ear: “The Bible’s mislaid.  Hasn’t been used for so long it can’t be found.  Here’s a book the same size, though.”

“Maybe that’ll do,” said I.  “We’ll try, anyway.”

Prince took the volume of Lieut. Maury’s sailing directions and said impressively: “Now, Mistah Jones, appearances is agin you, but dey is bery deceptible, an’ not p. 45alwuz to be trusted.  You may be innocenter den a kitten, which fur y’ur own sake, I hopes you is.  I has here, gemmen, de Good Book, out ob which I will read what happens to cooks which steals.”

Cornwallis looked uneasily from one to the other, and at the sacred volume.  He was ignorant and superstitious, and Prince as reader and oracle was much more to be feared than Prince the bo’s’un, with all his threats and accusations.

“Dis chile better be gittin’ back to de galley an’ washin’ dem dishes.  Neber will git nothin’ done at dis rate, stan’in’ aroun’ an’ talkin’ like a lot o’ wenches at a pic-nic.”

“Hold on, Cornwallis,” said Pratt, taking hold of him as he neared the door. “You don’t need to be afraid as long as you didn’t get away with the liquor.  Stay right here and let’s hear how well Prince can read.”

The bo’s’un had been turning over the leaves as if searching for something, and finally stopped at a page which told the route vessels should take when bound from p. 46New York to Hong Kong and the Far East.  Clearing his throat and putting on a long face, he read: “Cooks an’ stoords what steals ’taters and won’t confess, is boun’ to be set on de capstan all night long till dey owns up. Nex’ day, dey is to be whitewashed, but ef it’s a white pusson, he mus’ be painted black.

“Dem dat takes sugah is to be made to drink bilge-water an’ nothin’ else, an’ is to larn to take de sun ebery mawnin’ an’ ebenin’.

“Ef you kotch one stealin’ gin, make a rope fas’ to him an’ t’ow him oberboard all day long.  Ef he don’t die de fust day, try him ag’in de second.

“Gittin’ away wid w’isky is bery bad. Ef a cook or stoord is foun’ out, he mus’ be drove full o’ marling-spikes till he stops yellin’, eben ef it done kills him.

“But ef one steals brandy,—wahl, der ain’t nothin’ bad ’nough fur him.  Brandy is awful hard to make, an’ costs a hun’red dollahs a poun’; so ’tain’t no sort o’ use foolin’ with one dat steals it.  De craf’ will sink ef he ain’t took in hand.

p. 47“Gib de wicked sinnah time to say his prayers, an’ den h’ist him up an’ down de main stay fou’ times, so his blood circ’lates good.  Tie a grin’stone roun’ his neck an’ heave him oberboard, while all han’s prays an’ sings like de bery debil.  Ef he sinks he’s guilty shuah, an’ ef he floats, haul ’im aboard an’ tie more weights on top of ’im. Ef he keeps on a floatin’, he’s a innocent man, an’ his wages is to be made biggah. Heah de chaptah ends.”

Prince made this up as he went along, pronouncing his words with much gravity, and it had such an effect on Cornwallis that we had all we could do to keep from roaring right out.  We had to look solemn, though, or he would have smelt a rat.  He stood with his back against the wall, rolling up the whites of his eyes and looking around in a scared way as if he didn’t know whether the whole thing was a joke or not.  Finally he said: “Cap’n Pratt, I axes you, sah, ef what dat niggah done read is wrote down in dat book, or is I bein’ made a wictim ob what dey calls de cu’cumstances?”

p. 48“It’s all down in cold type, Cornwallis, and now we must put you to the test, so as to know if you’re guilty.”

“What test am dat, sah?”

“Why, we must hang a grindstone round your neck and heave you overboard.  If you didn’t steal the brandy, you’ll float. That’s what the book says.”

The cook’s jaw dropped, and he fell down in a heap.  Throwing his arms around Pratt’s knees, he gasped: “Does yo’ mean dat, Cap’n?”

Pratt nodded.

“Oh, fur de good Lawd’s sake, what hab dis pore chile done dat he mus’ be kilt in cole blood!  Ain’t I sarved you, sah, fur one, two, six,—wahl, seberal yeahs?  An’ now is yo’ gwine to let dat blood-thu’sty niggah what’s been hankerin’ arter my life—is yo’ gwine to let him murdah me?”

“I feel sorry for you, Cornwallis,—d—n me if I don’t,—but there’s no help for it.  The book says the craft will never reach port if the guilty person escapes, so it’s a case of your going overboard or all of us giving up the ghost.”

p. 49“Gents, is der no marcy in yo’ buzums?”

This piteous appeal was addressed to Warriner and me, and the cook looked so miserable that I could hardly play my part.

“No, you must prepare for the ordeal,” said Warriner, “and if you have told the truth you will surely float.”

“What, an’ a grin’stone made fas’ to me?”


“Oh, Mass’ Warmer, I’s not ready to die; ’deed I’s not.  I’s been powe’ful wicked in my time, an’ dem kin’ o’ people has to jine de chu’ch an’ hab r’ligion ’fore deh heahs de trumpet blow.”

“No more fooling.  Prince, you bring aft the grindstone that the crew sharpen their knives on.  Hunt, you get the fog-horn and blow like h— when we heave him overboard.  The d—d thing makes more noise than any trumpet I ever heard.”

“Yes,” added Warriner, “It may comfort the condemned.”

When we got back with the horn and grindstone, Cornwallis was jumping up and down and yelling like a maniac.

p. 50“I’s de culprit!  I’s de culprit!  I’s de culprit!  An’ ef yo’ drap me overboard dat’s why I’s boun’ to sink!  Only lemme lib till we reaches dry lan’ an’ I’ll go into one ob dem conbents whar dey is said to be dead to de worl’, an’ I won’t nebber see none ob yo’ no moah.”

“The sinner owns up,” cried Pratt, and Prince grinned till every one of his ivories showed. “Now, Cornwallis, your life will be spared on condition that you make a clean breast of this matter.  No more lies; and you must pay for the brandy you drank at the rate of one hundred dollars a gallon—wasn’t that it, Prince?”

“A hun’red dollahs a poun’, sah,” corrected Prince.

“I doan know how many poun’ I drank,” sniffed the cook, “an’ ef I has to pay dat much fur each one ob ’em, I’s got to wo’k more’n a year fur nothin’.”

“That’s better than being drowned to-day,” said I, “and you’d better be thankful.  Now tell us how you took the brandy.”

p. 51“I’s been close to de dahk riber, gents, an’ will perceed to tell de truf,” said Cornwallis, now much relieved after his narrow escape.  He looked down at the floor and began in a low tone: “Yo’ see, it was jes’ dis way.  Mass’ Warmer, he done brung de brandy an’ say, ‘Put some ob dat in de sass an’ some roun’ de puddin’.’  De las’ was to be sot on fire soon as ’twas on de table.

“Wahl, I was stan’in’ lookin’ at de bottle when I heerd a noise.  I turn roun’, an’ as shuah as I lib, ef de debil wahn’t right ’side ob me!  Oh, he looked orful, an’ I like to died from de shock ob seein’ him.  Ef yo’ wants to know what he looks like, jes’ take a good look at dat Prince Sahnders, fur ef him an’ de debil ain’t brudders I’m a cod-fish!

“I says, ‘Debil, go ’way.  I doan want no trouble wid you.’  But he gib me.a push towa’ds de bottle, and says, reel soft-like, ‘Yo’ pore, mis’able, skinny, oberwo’ked critter, you’s all fadin’ away.’  (Cornwallis weighed at least two hundred.)  ’Dere ain’t nothin’ lef’ ob yo’ but p. 52skin an’ bone.  Jes’ take a drap ob dat liquor, an’ it mought do lots ob good. You’s gittin’ ole, and needs some stimilant.’

“I knowed it was de gospel truf, yo’ understan’, but at de same time it wahn’t right, an’ I tried to put ole Nick out ob de galley.  He wahr bigger den me, an’ jes’ made me drink dat brandy till de bottle looked a’most empty.  ’Deed I tried to git him out, but ’twan’t no use, an’ ebery drap ob dat liquor done wanished ’fore he quit pesterin’ me.  I’d had a misery in my head de hull mawnin’, but I felt right pert arter de brandy was gone.  I sot down to reflec’ a spell.

“‘Now,’ I says, ‘ef de brandy was to be sot fire to an’ burned up, it am plain dat it can’t be drank.’  I ’lowed dat keerosene ansahs de pu’pose jes’ as well, so I puts it roun’ de puddin’.  Golly! how dat ile did burn!  I was real dis’pinted ’bout de sass, fur I reckoned dat ile mought pizen yo’. So I lef’ it out, an’ hoped dat fak’ would ’scape de company’s obserbation.

“I’s spoke de truf, yo’ understan’, an’ is p. 53resolbed to die ’fore I eber agin disto’ts de fak’s.”

We all laughed till we nearly parted our braces, especially Warriner.  I wouldn’t have believed he had so much humor. The passenger pulled away the tablecloth and the smashed crockery till he sighted the pudding.  What with the smell of oil and burned feathers, and being all scorched up and stepped on, it wasn’t a very fine sight by this time.

“Did any of you ever read ‘Great Expectations?’” he asked.

None of us had.

“It tells of a certain lady called Miss Havisham, who expected to be married one evening.  The wedding supper was spread and everything ready, but the bridegroom never came.  For years and years after did Miss Havisham keep that feast untouched in the deserted room—kept it until spiders spun webs over it, and mice and damp played havoc with the faded yellow cloth and the viands.  Sometimes a boy named Pip would pay her a visit, and then the wax tapers would be p. 54lighted, while the strange pair walked round and round the decaying feast.

“Even so, my friends, should I preserve this pudding and enthrone it in my Brooklyn home to remind me of my lost brandy and of this most extraordinary Thanksgiving.  But that is impossible, so follow me.”

He picked the pudding up from the floor and held it out at arm’s length, at the same time leading the way out on deck.  Sunday and Tuesday, Flip and Jackson and all the crew forgot what they were about at sight of the queer procession, and Warriner holding out the pudding.  He marched over to the lee bulwarks, got on top of an empty box, and began to look at the pudding with a very sorrowful expression, his eyes blinking and his head on one side.

“What the devil is he about?” thinks I.

He looked around at us and wiped his eyes with a silk handkerchief; then held out the blasted pudding in both hands so all of us could see it.

“Gentlemen, behold!  This was a plum-pudding.  Yea, thou dark and sodden mass, pierced with feathers and baptized p. 55in kerosene; thou culinary triumph, concocted by Samuel Warriner and the descendant of Lord Cornwallis;—thou fond inspiration of our brain, which, owing to the combined assaults of Satan and yon sable African, hast so abominably miscarried; we bid thee an eternal farewell!”

“Good G—, if he ain’t blubbering!” whispered Pratt, while Warriner looked so affected that Prince, Cornwallis and me nearly cried.

“Good-by, pudding.  Go-od-b-bye,” (heaving it overboard) “and be thou food for worms—I should say, fishes!”

Away it went, and struck the water with a splash.  All hands stared until it sunk, and then we looked at Warriner. He had taken up the fog-horn, and just as the pudding went under, he blew a mournful blast.

“May the dear departed rest in peace,” he said, feelingly.

Then we all pulled ourselves together and went back to work.


My Brazilian Adventure Alice and I were seated at the breakfast-table in our rambling old house on the outskirts of the French quarter in New Orleans.  She was glancing over the Picayune, while I was wrapped in deep thought concerning the most vivid and remarkable dream I had ever had,—the strangest part being that it was about a place I had never seen or even heard of.  My sister, who had never married, was ten years my junior, and after my wife’s death, Alice had accepted my invitation to take charge of my household.  We lived a retired life, with no one else in the big house but a maid-servant and old p. 58black Bilbo, a trusted domestic, who had been a slave in our family during the halcyon days before the war.  “Alice,” said I, suddenly, “I have concluded to take Dr. Antoine’s advice, and go off on a sea voyage.  You remember the last time he prescribed for me, he said my poor health was simply the result of overwork and too close attention to business, and that a long voyage would benefit me more than anything else.”

My sister laid aside her paper, both surprised and pleased.

“How glad I am, George, that you at last see the necessity of it.  Where shall you go?”

“Well, according to my dream of the last two nights, my destination will be latitude 3° 50′ 30″ South, longitude 32° 24′ 30″ West.”

Alice stared at me as though she doubted my sanity, while I folded my arms, nodded my head, and tried not to look foolish.

I waited a moment, thinking she would speak, and then continued: “Yes, I know p. 59you will say that a man forty-three years old ought to know better, especially so prosaic a one as you often say I am.  But let me tell you my vision, and then ridicule it if you can.

“Night before last I slept unusually well, and was conscious of nothing until I heard a clock somewhere strike four.  I dozed off soon after, and had this dream:

“I was seated alone in the stern of a little boat, that floated on a calm and gently-heaving moonlit sea; while close on my right hand was a small, densely wooded island, with phosphorescent waves breaking upon its sandy beach.  Behind it, and belonging seemingly to another body of land, a lofty peak towered into the air.

“The silvery white light fell upon a stately palm that grew near a large rock on the islet, and upon two figures, one of whom, in military uniform, leaned against the trunk, while the other carefully smoothed over the ground at the base of the tree.  Then the former glided to the rock and wrote or scratched something p. 60upon it, but though I looked and looked, I saw no words, nor could I get even the smallest view of the faces of the two men, although their figures were perfectly plain.

“While striving to see their features, I became sensible of a veil of mist enveloping both land and sea, and when it passed, island and peak were gone.  In their stead was a gigantic blackboard rising out of the ocean, with these characters upon it, in figures and letters so large that they terrified me:

3°  50′ 30″ S.

32°  24′ 30″ W.

“As I looked, the great object seemed to advance upon me—I should be annihilated!  I tried to grasp an oar in the bottom of the boat, but could not move a muscle.  On it came, rapidly, noiselessly.  At the instant it was upon me, I made a frantic lunge and found myself sitting up in bed, drenched in perspiration, and my heart beating so I could hardly breathe.

“On realizing where I was, I got up, p. 61struck a match, and looked at my watch.  A quarter past four!  All that had happened since I heard the clock strike fifteen minutes before.

“I said nothing to you yesterday, Alice, but now you know why I have been so preoccupied.  Again last night I had the same dream.”

My sister said little, except to advise me to dismiss the whole subject from my mind, but I could see that it had made more of an impression on her than she chose to admit.

I had already consulted the atlas in regard to the spot of which I had dreamed, and found it to be an island with an unpronouncable name, lying near the coast of Brazil.

That night I wrote to my nephew Ralph at New York, telling him that I had decided to take a sea voyage, and asking him what was the best way of getting to Fernando de Noronha, for that was the name of the island.  He was master, and one-third owner of the brig Sea Witch, and I knew his advice was to be depended on.

p. 62I was very busy for several days following, arranging my business affairs and giving certain necessary directions to my partner, Simon LaForte.  Each night I retired fully expecting a repetition of the dream, but my expectations were not realized.

Ralph’s answer came Saturday.  Here it is:

Dear Uncle George,—

“Yours of the 9th received.  I am glad you’ve concluded to go to sea, but what possesses you to steer for Fernando de Noronha?  It’s a Brazilian convict island one hundred miles from the coast, where all the life prisoners are confined, and except the government transports, not a vessel stops at the place for months together.  There is absolutely nothing there but a fertile island of about twenty square miles, inhabited only by convicts, soldiers, and a governor.

“The Sea Witch has been chartered to load for Pernambuco, and from there will come back to New York.  Now uncle, take my advice and go along.  The only p. 63way to see the ocean as it really is, is on a sailing vessel, and we shall probably sight this island of yours either going or returning, which ought to satisfy you.  You would have a good time as a passenger, but as you’ve always been such a worker, it might not suit you to loaf, and in that case you could ship before the mast.  We’ll show you how to make sennit, mouse blocks, overhaul buntlines, tie a reef-point, and do other things you never heard of.

“The brig is repairing at Poillon’s yard.  We had a rough passage from Tampico, and the little hooker had a couple of sticks jerked out in a blow off Hatteras.

“If you’re in New York in three weeks it will be time enough.  I must run over to South Street now, so good-bye.  Love to yourself and Aunt Alice.


This epistle I read aloud, and we both laughed over Ralph’s joke about my shipping before the mast, but that part of the letter referring to the sticks being jerked out of the brig made me feel rather dubious.  I consoled myself, however, by p. 64reflecting that such things probably did not occur often, and after long deliberation decided to go, and wrote Ralph to that effect.

It was the afternoon of July 2 that the tug Charm pulled the brig out from Pier 1, East River, and took her in tow for Sandy Hook.  It is a long tow, and the stars were shining when the pilot went over the side, the tug’s hawser was cast off, and we were left to shift for ourselves.

Everyone aboard was so busy that I did not get a chance to say half a dozen words to Ralph that night.  He and the mate were roaring out orders; the yards were being hoisted to the accompaniment of the wild sailors’ chant, which begins “From South Street slip to ’Frisco Bay,” and I finally turned in and slept sounder than I had for months, in spite of the racket on deck. Next morning was beautiful, and we were spinning along at a great rate when I came on deck.  I felt fine, but somehow couldn’t walk very well.  Ralph told me the names of the sails and some of the p. 65ropes, and was surprised that I hadn’t been sick.

Before we sailed, I had told him my dream, which he ridiculed until I spoke of the lofty peak, when he became serious.

“There is just such a peak at one end of the island,” he had said.  “It is eight hundred feet high, and the observatory at its summit overlooks the island, and the ocean for sixty miles in every direction.”

This was enough for me to know; I was now determined at any cost to get ashore on that island and try and find the scene pictured in my vision, for that such a scene existed I no longer doubted.

Three weeks passed, and we had made good progress since leaving port.  I soon found my sea legs, as Ralph expressed it, and often climbed the rigging as far as the tops.  I went out on the jibboom and caught bonitas—a deep-sea fish of a steely blue color which preys remorselessly upon the flying-fish; I read; I learned to make nautical knots of various kinds, and actually felt ten years younger than I had in New Orleans.  There was nothing to p. 66bother or irritate me; no telephones, no whistles blowing, no mail to open, no newspapers to read; in a word, I was in a new world altogether, and began to get so fat that Seth Hawkins, the mate, one day told me that I should have to shake a reef or two out of my clothes by the time I got back to New York.

After a particularly fine day’s run, I said to Ralph, who had just marked it on the chart, “I had no idea that sailing vessels could go fast.  As this rate we shall soon be across the Equator.  You say we are only 8° North this noon.”

“Don’t crow, uncle, till we’re through the Doldrums,” he replied. I had heard a little about this bugbear, but had a rather vague idea as to what sort of a place it was. I was soon to know, for upon going on deck next morning, I found a dead calm. There was not even enough wind to steer by.  The atmosphere was hot and muggy, while great masses of wet-looking clouds were piled up all along the horizon.  The sails flapped against the masts and rigging p. 67with loud reports each time the brig rolled, and when I saluted Seth Hawkins, he said: “Well, Mr. Spencer, how do you like the Doldrums?”

During the forenoon a violent rain squall struck us from due South, and we tore along at a nine-knot rate, while such torrents of rain I never saw before.  Barrels were put in position to catch the water, but before noon the rain ceased suddenly and the wind with it.  Thus it was all that day, all the next day, and for a whole week,—nothing but calms, rain-squalls, and variable winds (usually from the wrong direction), until I was nearly beside myself.  Some days we made less than thirty miles in the twenty-four hours, and it was no unusual occurrence to tack ship three, and even four times a day, which put Ralph and the mate in a horrible humor.

But there is an end to all things, and on the twenty-ninth day out we crossed the line with a fair wind, and when Ralph figured out our position the next noon, he p. 68announced that we should probably be in Pernambuco inside of three days.

After much persuasion, I induced him to promise to stop at Fernando de Noronha on the way back long enough for me to go ashore, for the wind we now had would carry us a long way inside the island, and we should not even sight it. Three days later the first half of our journey was completed, and we were safely in port after a good passage of thirty-four days.

I found much to interest me in Pernambuco.  The harbor was crowded with shipping, amongst which the British and Norwegian flags predominated; but my eyes were gladdened quite frequently by the sight of the stars and stripes. The head stevedore, who had charge of loading the brig, was a half-breed named Pedro.  He spoke very fair English, and during one of our frequent talks, I casually mentioned Fernando de Noronha.

“Ah, Diabalo!” he exclaimed, his black eyes glittering, “My brother—poor Manuel—he is there!”

p. 69“Why, is he a prisoner?” I asked in surprise.

“What for else should he be there?” he replied, shrugging his shoulders.  “Santa Maria! he will never come back.”

Then he related the story of Manuel, after which, by a little questioning, I found that Pedro knew several things about the island of interest to me.  He said that occasionally, when vessels were becalmed there, a boat was sent ashore for melons, which grew in great abundance on a very small island near the larger one.  A suit of clothes or a sack of flour would buy more melons than would go in the boat.

We were thirty-one days in Pernambuco discharging and reloading, but at last the stores were on board and everything ready, and the day before sailing, I accompanied Ralph to the Custom House to “clear the brig.”

We put to sea on Monday afternoon, and at daybreak next morning the convict island should be in sight, if the wind held at northwest.  I was much excited, now that my hopes were so near p. 70fruition, for that something of value was concealed at the foot of the palm tree I did not doubt; else why had I dreamed of this out-of-the-way spot, of which I had never even heard?

That night we consulted together, and carefully matured our plans, for Ralph had come to take nearly as much interest in the outcome of the affair as I.  He refused to go ashore himself, saying that it was against all custom for a captain ever to leave his vessel while she was on a voyage, but that Seth Hawkins and two of the crew should go in the boat with us.

“And now, Uncle,” said Ralph, “please realize one thing.  In putting off a boat, I shall be doing something I’d do for no one but you, as it is the duty of a captain to take his vessel from one port to another without any unnecessary delay.  So don’t lose any time on the island, for I shall feel guilty as it is.”

I grasped his hand warmly, and whispered: “Ralph, if I am any richer to-morrow night than I am now, you shall profit by it.”

p. 71He smiled, and said: “By the way, I shall have to let Hawkins into the affair to a limited extent, for he knows very well I’d not send ashore simply to get melons.  He’s been with me two years, and can be trusted.”

Eight bells struck; the second dog-watch was over, and Ralph went below to turn in, while Seth Hawkins and I paced the deck together,—he telling me some interesting reminiscences of his life in Hong Kong, where he had once kept a sailors’ boarding house.

I rose very early next morning; in fact, it was but little past sunrise, and the crew had not finished “washing down.”

The mate was standing by the starboard taffrail, and after the usual “Good morning,” he was about to speak, when I exclaimed, pointing to the east, “Look! what great lighthouse is that?”

I had just seen it,—a distant outline clearly defined against the rosy eastern sky.

“That’s no lighthouse, though it does look like one.  That’s the peak on your island.”

p. 72The last words were spoken with so peculiar an emphasis that I knew Ralph had told him our plans.  He went forward, and I continued to devour that majestic peak, that gradually lost its shadowy appearance and assumed definite form.

The wind was light, and we raised it slowly.  As I looked, a feeling of bewilderment stole over me.  There was the peak of my dream to a certainty, and yet something was lacking.  There should have been an island in front of it.

At two bells in the forenoon watch we could distinguish objects on shore.  For some time past I had noticed a small islet near the main one, and as we continued to sail on, we gradually brought it between us and the peak on Fernando de Noronha. Then I recognized it all.

Ralph spoke to me, but I was speechless with emotion.

“Rouse yourself,” I at last heard him say; “In half an hour it will be time to launch the boat.”

Those words restored me, and I went below to make my preparations.

p. 73 The Convict Island

The boat was hoisted into the air by means of a bowline rigged over the fore yard-arm, and was then lowered over the side.  Hawkins, a couple of hands, and myself entered it.

I noticed that instead of heading for Wood Island, as Ralph called it, we were making for Fernando de Noronha itself.  “Where are we going, Mr. Hawkins?” I asked.

“We’ve got to get permission of the Governor, Mr. Spencer, before we can carry off any melons, or even land on that island,” he replied.

A number of soldiers were gathered about the rude quay, evidently much surprised to see a vessel stop at the island.  When the mate and I stepped ashore, a distinguished looking man whom we had not seen before came forward and said something in Spanish, which I did not understand.  Hawkins did, and bowed with a grace which I had never suspected him of possessing; and I knew that this was the Governor.

The mate possessed some knowledge of p. 74Spanish, and finally managed to make himself understood.  The Governor evidently took him for the master of the brig, as the two addressed each other respectively as “Senor El Capitan” and “Excellenza,” which was all I could understand.

At a signal from the mate, one of our men brought a sack of flour from the boat, and we prepared to embark.  Two of the soldiers advanced to the boat with us, and I saw them exchange glances of surprise. “They’ve seen that spade and pick-axe, the rascals!” said Seth, aside to me.  “I’ve got leave to get all the melons we want,” he continued, as the men pulled away for the landing, “but that smirking Governor was a sight too polite and inquisitive to suit me.”

Wood Island is separated from Fernando de Noronha by a narrow channel, but Hawkins ordered his men to row around a point of land, to be out of sight from the quay, which was then something over a mile distant.

After grounding on the beach, a little wave carried us further up, and we all p. 75leaped out.  Seth dispatched the two men towards the north end of the islet after melons, and as soon as they were out of the way, we grasped our tools and commenced the search for the rock, which ought to be near the shore.

We followed the beach all along that side of the islet, Seth eying me curiously, and occasionally admonishing me to “Look out for centipedes.”

Near the southern extremity, I came to a palm that seemed to me identical with the one of my dream, but not a solitary rock was there near it.  After considerably more than an hour had elapsed, the mate ventured the remark that our prolonged stay on the island might arouse suspicion in the Governor’s mind, especially if the soldiers told him of the spade and pick-axe in the boat.

I had seated myself on the decaying trunk of a fallen tree to rest a moment, and wonder if my expedition was to result in failure, but at Hawkins’ words I started up.

I advanced towards a mango tree to p. 76refresh myself with some of the ripe fruit, when, through an opening in the underbrush, I saw it—the rock of my dream at last!

There could be no doubt of it.  I breathlessly approached, and touched it with the spade.

This is what was scratched on the broad surface, in characters quite fresh and distinct: “Mas distante occidente.”

“Further west,” said Hawkins, behind me.

“Is that what it means in English?”

He nodded, and I turned to find the palm, which should be only a short way to the left.

Could this be it—this blasted trunk, looking as though lightning had struck it?  Judging from its position it must be, and making a sign to Seth, we fell to with pick and spade.

We worked until I thought my back would break, and must have dug down more than three feet in the rich soil, when the spade struck an obstruction, and we heard the muffled grating of metal.  Then p. 77the top of what seemed a small zinc box was uncovered.

Silently we toiled away, and within ten minutes more were able to drag forth the box from its resting place.

It was perhaps a foot square, and weighed so much that Seth and I took turns in lugging it along the beach towards the boat.  Upon arriving there, I wrapped the box in a piece of tarpaulin, that the men might not see what it was, and placed it in the boat.

We saw nothing of our crew, but the sight of nearly a dozen immense water-melons laid on the beach proved that they had not been idle.

“Great Scott!  I s’pose they’d bring melons for a week if I didn’t yell ‘Belay!’” ejaculated Seth; “how many do they think the boat can hold?  I’ve got to hunt them up, for Captain Spencer wants no time wasted.”

He disappeared, and I occupied myself in devouring the box with my eyes, and speculating as to its contents.  What fabulous wealth in gold and jewels was hidden p. 78away in that dull casket?  Millions, possibly.  In what century had it been buried? Through what scores and scores of years had this little islet been the hiding-place of the ancient box I now looked on?  All other eyes that had beheld it must have long since mouldered into dust.

While absorbed in these reflections relating to the past, I was rudely recalled to the present by a crashing in the underbrush, and Seth Hawkins, with our men, appeared, running towards the boat.

“Lay aboard lively there, Mr. Spencer!” cried the mate.

Much alarmed, I tumbled in, and he followed a moment later.  The men, a Scandinavian and a negro, were about to put some of the melons into the boat, when Seth cried, “Drop ’em, and pile in here, you sons of sea-cooks!”

They obeyed, and shoved off the boat, though greatly bewildered at leaving the island without the very fruit we had ostensibly come after.  The oars were plied vigorously, and when about a ship’s length from the beach, I espied a p. 79catamaran [79] coming around the north end of the islet.

The truth burst upon us.  “We are followed!” I exclaimed.  Seth nodded.

“Why?  Did the Governor not give us permission to land?”

“That’s true; but those dark-skinned devils that saw the spade and pick-axe like enough told him, and he’s bound to see what we’re up to.  If they overhaul this boat, and see that box of yours, and find we’ve got no melons, there’ll be trouble.  I’d have brought off a few, but they’d weigh the boat down too much. These Brazilians have no use for Americans, anyhow.”

Our situation was certainly unpleasant. We were nearly a mile from the brig, and the catamaran was not over half that p. 80distance astern of us, and running dead before the wind, which was freshening.  I was beginning to wonder what Ralph could be doing, for he actually seemed to be going away from us, when the mate cried out: “Look! the brig’s in stays! the Captain’s putting her about, so as to fetch us on the starboard tack.  Hurray!”

Five minutes later, the Sea Witch, with the wind abeam, was running down to us at nearly right angles, evidently aiming to go between us and our pursuers, who were now hardly a quarter of a mile astern.  We easily made out five people on the catamaran, two of whom Seth thought were convicts, while one of the others he took for the Governor himself.  The latter was waving something in a hostile manner, but as the brig was going six feet to the catamaran’s one, we no longer felt alarm unless our pursuers should use fire-arms.

The brig’s helm was now put down, and she shot up into the wind, thus checking her progress; when halyards were let go, and the light sails came fluttering in.  We were only a couple of cable lengths away, p. 81and soon had the boat alongside, and my newly acquired property aboard.

The catamaran had given up the pursuit, and was on her way back to the island, those on board indulging in violent gesticulations as long as we could distinguish them.

Some time later, we were closeted in Ralph’s room (which was much larger than mine) with the box between us.  It was necessary to bring tools from the carpenter shop to open it, and the first discovery we made was that the zinc was simply the covering for a wooden box, which my nephew said was made of teak, one of the rarest and most durable of woods.  It was lined with sailcloth, and upon drawing this aside we saw a small crucifix.  Beneath this was a folded paper, and then—a golden vision!

For one moment we stared at it in silence, when I stretched out my hand and took up a coin, half expecting to see it melt away.  It bore the embossed head of Dom Pedro, and the date 1885, besides an inscription.

p. 82“Ha, this is modern!” I exclaimed, much surprised at the recent date.

“Wait,” said Ralph, as I prepared to turn out the contents of the box, “let me read this paper; it is in Spanish.

“This 34,000 M. is the property of Leon da Costa, Commander of His Imperial Majesty’s troops at Pernambuco, by whom it was here concealed September 16, 1889, pending the settlement of the dissentions which are now rending our unhappy country, and which make it unsafe for one enjoying the favor of the noble Dom Pedro to own property in Brazil.

“Invoking the blessing of the church, and the protection of Holy Mary, I here commit my all to Mother Earth.”

Neither of us spoke for a minute.  I felt awed, as though a voice from another world had spoken.

“Ralph,” I said, slowly, “if I had known this treasure had been here but two years, and belonged to a man who is probably still living, I should never have taken it. As it is, I shall keep it until inquiries are p. 83made, but it shall not be used except in the event of this man’s death.”

Ralph bowed his head in acquiescence.

The milreis is the standard coin of Brazil, as I learned at Pernambuco, and is worth about fifty-five cents in our money, so that the box contained nearly $18,700, some of which was in currency.

“This Da Costa,” said Ralph, “evidently had the duty of conducting the convicts from Pernambuco to the island; and it was doubtless on one of these trips that he buried his money, though why he has let it remain so long puzzles me.  And as for ‘Mas distante occidente,’ which you say was traced on the rock, the words were probably written as a guide to the location of the tree.”

The convict island faded away in the distance, the great peak being visible for several hours after all other parts had vanished; and that evening, long after the damp night-wind had stiffened the sails, and a drenching dew lay heavy on the bulwarks, I stood watching the glorious phosphorescent display in the brig’s wake, p. 84and marvelling over the strange fulfillment of my dream.

The inquiries which we instituted upon my return home resulted in the discovery that Leon Da Costa had died of yellow fever in 1890 at Santos, one of the chief ports of Brazil, and at the same time about the most pestilential and unsanitary place on the face of the earth.  I had no further scruples about using the money, $5,000 of which I sent to Ralph, without whose assistance I should have accomplished nothing.  He now owns two-thirds of the brig Sea Witch, of which vessel Seth Hawkins is still mate.

Occupying a prominent place in our parlor is a peculiar motto—the work of Alice. The figures are white, on a background of black, like this:

3° 50′ 30″ S.

32° 24′ 30″ W.

It never fails to attract the attention of visitors, many of whom inquire what it signifies.  We tell them it is a marine puzzle.


Bringing in a Derelict The West India hurricane of August, 1893, was one of unusual severity, and caused great havoc among shipping on the Atlantic seaboard from Florida to Maine.  Besides the large number of vessels lost by going ashore, many were abandoned by their crews at sea after having sprung a leak or become water-logged.  A large part of these craft subsequently foundered, but a number of them were vessels bound from Georgia ports to Boston and New York with cargoes of hard pine lumber, and in these cases the vessels, after becoming full of water, “floated on their cargoes;” that is to say, the buoyancy imparted to the p. 86wrecks by the lumber in their holds kept them from sinking as they ordinarily would have done.  Some of these derelicts have been known to float for a year or two, round and round in a beaten track, forming a source of great peril to navigation; until, the lumber becoming thoroughly saturated with water, the wreck finally sinks.  In some instances the abandoned vessel is torn to pieces by the violence of successive storms before this stage has been reached.

The most remarkable case of this character is that of the American schooner Fannie E. Wolston, which was abandoned at sea in October, 1891, and was still afloat three years afterward.  She was sighted scores of times during this long interval, and was more than once set on fire by passing vessels.  Her travels brought her from Cape Hatteras to mid-ocean; from the tropical Bahamas nearly to the shores of Europe; and in almost every part of the North Atlantic she was frequently seen.  Covered with barnacles and sea-weed, reduced to a mere skeleton, p. 87and with one rusty anchor still hanging from her bow, this celebrated derelict continued for thirty-six months her long pilgrimage without captain or crew.  The bitter gales of three Atlantic winters, that disposed of the ill-fated Naronic and a hundred other staunch vessels were unable to sink the Fannie E. Wolston.  When last seen in September, 1894, she had nearly completed the third year of her phenomenal career as an abandoned wreck, during which long period it is computed that her drift was more than eight thousand miles.  She was the record-breaker of derelicts.

A sailing ship arrived at Philadelphia early in September, having on board the captain and crew of the brig Neptune, which had been abandoned four days previously, two hundred miles east of Cape Hatteras, while on a voyage from Savannah to Boston with a cargo of Georgia pine.  Within a month the brig was sighted no less than five times by steamers arriving at New York—the last time being in Lat. 42° N., Long. 65° W., a point p. 88several hundred miles directly east from Boston.  Thus in four weeks this derelict had drifted nearly six hundred miles to the northeast of the spot where she was abandoned.

Nothing having been done towards recovering her, at the expiration of a month the owners of the powerful ocean tug Atlas, of Philadelphia, determined to despatch that vessel in search of the Neptune; for, could the latter be brought into port, the owners of the tug would reap a profitable harvest in the way of salvage.

Accordingly, one fine autumn morning, the Atlas steamed out from the Point Breeze Oil Wharves on the Schuylkill River, with a three weeks’ supply of coal and all the most efficient apparatus for wrecking and sea-towing.  She was a staunch tug of 800 horse power, and was equipped with a powerful electric search light.  There were on board Captain James and ten men, besides Albert Shaw, the captain’s cousin, who had no connection with the tug, but had obtained permission to make one of the party more p. 89through a love of adventure than anything else.

After rounding the Delaware Capes and entering the open ocean, the course was laid N.E. by N., and Captain James remarked to his cousin as he finished examining the chart, “Yes, Al, if all goes well we ought to overhaul that brig within five days, somewhere about 44 and 62.”

“You appear to regard falling in with her as a foregone conclusion,” replied Mr. Shaw, somewhat surprised.  He was a pale, slender young fellow of twenty-two, and was much more expert at entering up cash and taking off trial balances than at figuring latitude and longitude.

“Why,” answered the captain, “I’ve marked on this chart the date and the place where she was abandoned; then I’ve put down a cross and the date at the exact spot she’s been sighted five different times since, and by connecting all my crosses with a pencil mark and figuring the distance between each one, I can tell about how much and in what direction that wreck is drifting each day.  She’s in the p. 90Gulf Stream, which she won’t get out of till I tow her out.  There’s the dinner bell.”

The captain’s explanation had enlightened Albert as to the method to be pursued in locating the wreck; though, to tell the truth, he was a little skeptical in regard to the final outcome of the matter. There was a brisk sea running, and in spite of the table-rack, it required no little dexterity to prevent beef, vegetables and condensed milk from mingling in one confused jumble; but every one was in good humor, and the fresh, salt air had sharpened the appetites of those who gathered about the little table, and especially that of the captain’s cousin, who averred that he had not been so hungry in six months. Dinner over, Albert busied himself in exploring every part of the tug and investigating the night signals, when suddenly Captain James called to him from the upper deck.  Upon ascending thither, he was informed that the Atlas was bearing down on a floating lumber yard.  Looking ahead he saw, still some distance away, p. 91great quantities of planks floating about; in fact the ocean seemed literally covered with them, forming a curious sight.

The tug soon reached the outer edge of the moving mass, and Jim Speers, the mate, remarked as he surveyed the white clean planks with a critic’s eye, “Fine lumber, that.  Some good-sized vessel’s lost her deck-load, I reckon.”

The planks rose and fell on the long regular swell, and as some of them were occasionally lifted partly out of water by a sea, their shining wet surfaces reflected the sun’s rays with dazzling brilliancy.  In some places they were massed together so closely that it was difficult to find a passage through them, and though the greater portion of this valuable lot of timber was soon left behind, masses of planks were met continually for a distance of nearly twenty miles.  Captain James took the bearings of the main body so as to report the matter upon reaching port.

A six-knot breeze was blowing next morning but the sun did not show himself, and noon having come with the sky still p. 92cloudy, the Captain was compelled to figure out his position by dead reckoning, which is not so accurate as a solar observation.  He calculated that if everything went well, the tug should not be far from the Neptune at the end of twenty-four hours, providing his estimates of the brig’s drift were correct.

The afternoon wore on, and the skipper and his cousin had paced the narrow deck for some moments in silence, when the former remarked meditatively, “I had a queer experience with a derelict once,—just after I took this tug.”

“How was that?” asked Albert.

The captain finished filling his pipe with fragments of tobacco which he cut from a plug, and continued:

“It was about two years ago that I received orders to go after the derelict bark Pegasus.  She had sailed from a Nova Scotia port for the West coast of Ireland with one million feet of deals aboard, and after being abandoned in a big blow was sighted several times.  I’m a sinner if we didn’t cruise twenty-five p. 93hundred miles and use up half our coal when, on the twelfth day out as I came on deck, my mate said to me, “Captain, there’s a lame duck two points on the port bow.”  (We seamen often speak of a crippled vessel as a lame duck.)  Well, we’d run that bark down at last, and we lost no time in getting her in tow.  After towing her two days, what do you think happened?”

“The hawser parted?”

“She sank—went right down—and I went back to port the most disgusted man in Philadelphia.  We found, after we got in, that a steamer passing the wreck and considering her dangerous to navigation had set fire to her; but after burning the main deck nearly through, and a hole in the stern, the fire had been put out, probably by the seas which the bark shipped.  This was only a couple of days before we sighted her.  While we had her in tow I noticed that a good deal of lumber washed out every time a big sea struck her, and I didn’t like it much either, though I made no doubt she’d float till we reached port.  But, as I said, she played me a mean trick p. 94and foundered about four hundred miles off the Delaware Capes.”

“That was tough luck,” commented Albert, as he glanced at the dial of the taffrail log which trailed astern—its brass rotator revolving rapidly just beneath the surface of the dark blue water.

Next day was bright and sunny, and an extra sharp lookout was kept, for it was hoped to sight the derelict within the next twelve hours.  After ascertaining the tug’s position at noon, the course was changed to N.N.E., and things went on as before.  Mr. Shaw pored over the chart of the North Atlantic, and was in a state of impatient expectancy all day, although the mate kindly informed him that they might not sight the brig for a week yet, if indeed they ever did.

It lacked but a few minutes of sunset, when the captain, who for some time had been standing near the pilot-house sweeping the horizon with his glass, cried sharply, “Starboard your helm, there!”

“What’s up now?” asked Albert, ascending the ladder to the upper deck.

p. 95“A wreck of some kind, dead ahead.”

Taking the glass, he saw nothing at first, but finally made out an object that looked like a pole sticking out of the water.

“That stick is the mast of a vessel,” replied the captain, in answer to Shaw’s inquiry, “and at least half of it is carried away.  The hull must be awash too, or we could see it plainly now, for she can’t be over six miles off.  If the craft was in her natural condition, I’d have sighted her long ago—at twelve miles certainly.  A little more and we’d have run right away from her.”

“Does she look like a brig, sir?” asked Speers.

“Can’t make out her rig yet.  The chap we’re after is hereabouts somewhere if I’ve calculated right,” said the captain, taking another survey of the object ahead.

The tug was rapidly closing up the gap between herself and the wreck, and the faces of those on board presented an interesting study.  Captain James was anxious to know whether the wreck they were p. 96approaching was the brig he was in search of.  The usual excitement caused by the sight of an abandoned vessel did not affect him; it was simply a matter of business. So also with Speers, though perhaps to a less extent.  The majority of the crew contemplated the stranger with feelings akin to indifference.  Many of them did not know the name of the vessel they were in search of,—neither did they care.  But Albert was looking at a genuine wreck for the first time, and his heart beat faster as the ocean waif grew more and more distinct, with her shattered masts, disordered rigging and general appearance of desolation.

Neptune!” cried Captain James, as he made out the gilded letters on the port bow.  He had already formed the opinion that she was the craft of which he was in search, as enough of her spars were left to show that she had been square-rigged on her foremast, and brigs are now comparatively scarce.

When the tug was within a few rods of the Neptune, her boat was launched, and p. 97the mate, Albert, and two of the crew entered, when it was rowed around to the brig’s bows in search of a favorable place for boarding.  A large rope, probably the starboard fore-brace, was entangled in the standing rigging in such a manner that fifteen or twenty feet of it trailed in the water alongside the wreck.  The mate picked up the rope’s end, and drew the boat so close to the brig that, taking advantage of the next roll she gave towards him, he seized a lanyard and was soon on board.  Albert and Joe Miller followed.  The other man, known as “Sharkey,” remained in the boat to see that she did not get stove against the side of the wreck.

Speers took a cursory glance around, and then hailed the tug.  “All ready, sir,” he cried.  A rope had been fastened to one end of the tug’s big hawser, and the other end of this rope Captain James now hove, so that it landed on the brig’s forecastle deck.  The mate and Joe Miller hauled it in, and secured the hawser to the brig’s bows.  This important task having been accomplished, the boarding party p. 98proceeded to take a thorough survey of the wreck.

The foremast was gone at the lower mast-head, leaving the fore yard still in its place, upon which the tattered remnants of the foresail were still visible.  It had apparently been clewed up without having been furled, and the winds of five weeks had whipped it into ribbons.  The entire mainmast was gone about ten feet above the deck, and in falling had smashed the bulwarks on the port beam and quarter so that the water flowed all over the deck, where it was several inches deep.  She was so low that her main deck was level with the ocean, and small seas were constantly toppling over her bows and low bulwarks, where they broke in showers of spray.  The main boom was hanging over the side, while the bowsprit and all the jibs were entirely gone.  The main hatch was battened down, but the fore was off, and upon looking below the cargo of lumber was seen pressed up close under the hatch, where it occasionally surged slowly from side to side in obedience to the p. 99sluggish motions of the brig.  On top of the after house a small boat painted white was lashed, having in some way escaped the general destruction.  The wheel and rudder appeared uninjured.  There was a perfect litter of ropes, blocks, standing rigging, etc., floating about the deck, all tangled in a confused mass.

The party now entered the cabin.  Everything here was drenched; the skylights were gone; fragments of glass encumbered all that portion of the floor not under water; and there was a damp, musty smell such as one encounters on entering a cellar not often opened.  The captain’s compass was still in its place under the centre skylight, but its brass work was badly stained with salt water.  The state rooms were in much the same condition as the cabin, and the whole port side of the after house seemed to be slightly stove.  The companion-way door was ripped off, and nowhere to be seen.

On emerging from this dismal place the mate took a peep into the crew’s quarters.  The rows of bunks in which the men had p. 100slept still contained a mouldy mattress or two, while a large cask that had doubtless been used as a table was rolling about the floor.  A couple of rusty pannikins floated about in the shallow water.  It was of course impossible to enter the lazarette or the fore peak, for they were submerged.  All the provisions were ruined, but the scuttle butts contained plenty of fresh water.

Having finished his examination, Speers sent the boat back to the tug for a supply of provisions for Miller and Sharkey, who were to remain on the wreck to steer her.  As soon as the stores were placed aboard, and a few directions given, Albert and the mate pulled away from the derelict, for a squall was making up in the north-west and it was high time to get under way.  Mast-head lanterns were run up, and the two vessels started for Boston.

Towing the Wreck

There was plenty to talk about that night, and Albert staid up long past the usual time conversing with the master of the tug, who was in a jubilant mood, and p. 101who more than once invited his cousin to “splice the main brace.” [101]

“The owners will have to give me credit for quick work this time,” the captain said.  “Monday we left Philadelphia; Wednesday we picked up the derelict; and on Friday—or Saturday at furthest—we ought to steam up Boston Harbor.  Speers says the brig’s cargo seems in good shape, and if so it should easily bring $7,000 at auction.  The hull may fetch a thousand more.  Not a bad haul, Mr. Shaw for five days’ work.”

“This derelict business seems profitable.”

“It is—if you can find the derelict. For instance, the schooner Sargent has been floating about the North Atlantic ever since last spring, with twenty thousand dollars’ worth of mahogany in her hold.  There is a prize worth trying for, but although a score of vessels have sighted her, several of which attempted to p. 102tow her in, she is still drifting about with a small fortune on board.  Last month some Baltimore parties organized an expedition and chartered a steamer to find the Sargent and bring her in.  They searched for several weeks, and then returned to port considerably out of pocket, to find that a Cunarder had just seen the schooner not forty miles off the course they had taken.

“But I must go on deck; the night looks squally.”

Albert turned in, and dreamed of drifting about the ocean for many weeks on a water-logged wreck, which foundered the instant assistance was at hand and he escaped only by leaping out of his berth against the wall.

The heavily laden brig, submerged to her decks, offered a great resistence to the water, and when a brisk head wind sprang up, the powerful tug was scarcely able to make headway.  Several rain-squalls were encountered during the night, and by sunrise there was every indication of a gale.

A heavy swell was running, the wind p. 103increased, and Captain James felt some concern for the safety of his tow.  By noon a hard northwester had set in, accompanied by an ugly head sea.  Both vessels were under water most of the time, nothing of the derelict being visible but her masts and deck-houses, while the tug struggled through the heavy rollers and blinding spray with only her smoke-stack and pilot house above water.

It was a day of anxiety.  The wreck was simply a sodden mass of timber, without buoyancy, and dragged and pulled on the huge hawser in a manner that caused continual apprehension.  Instead of rising to meet the big rollers, she went lurching and floundering through them; burying herself in the brine, and then coming up with a backward jerk that made the captain catch his breath.  Even a steel hawser has its limits of endurance.

Night closed in chill and comfortless, with no sign of immediate improvement.  Albert put on a life-preserver, braced himself in his bunk without undressing, and wondered if he should ever see terra firma p. 104again, while the cook shook his head and confided to a deck-hand that “this was what come of having landsmen aboard.”

The wind blew harder, and even a full steam pressure hardly sufficed to drive the Atlas along.  The middle watch was half over when the straining tug plunged suddenly forward, rolling and pitching violently, as though freed from a cumbersome weight.  At the same instant a muffled cry was heard by those on the upper deck.  All knew its meaning—the derelict was adrift!

The night was black as pitch; mist and spray obscured everything; and almost before the order to reverse the engines could be given, the wreck was vanishing in the gloom.  The tug’s head swung round and she started in pursuit.

Fifteen minutes sufficed to show Captain James the utter futility and peril of attempting to recover the brig until the gale moderated.  The Atlas was being literally overwhelmed and forced under water by the furious seas which overtook her.  She could not steam fast enough to p. 105escape them.  One great comber bent the smoke-stack, smashed the pilot-house windows, tore away the life-boat, and bore the tug down until it seemed as though she would never come to the surface.  It was madness to continue, and the Atlas was put about and hove to.

Never in his life had her captain suffered such keen exasperation as now. With water streaming from his oilers, he stood grasping the pilot-house rail, and watched the derelict’s mast head light glimmering astern like a will-o’-the-wisp; now hidden by a great wave,—now reappearing fitfully,—now swallowed up in the black night.  He strained his eyes through the salt mist till they ached, but the dismantled wreck and her imperilled crew were seen no more.

The captain went below, and calculated as accurately as possible the tug’s position when the derelict broke adrift, the direction and velocity of the wind, and force of the current.  Nothing could be done until the gale moderated.  There was ample time for everyone to discuss the p. 106misfortune, and speculation was rife as to the fate of Joe Miller and Sharkey, who had last been seen at dusk, lashing themselves to the shrouds.  This would save them from going overboard while the rigging held, but their slender stock of provisions must have been swept away or ruined by water, which would render their position desperate unless quickly rescued.

The gray dawn came, by which time the worst was over, and eager eyes scanned the sea for some trace of the brig.  But the wreck, sitting very low in the water and with only a few feet of her masts left, had drifted out of the line of vision, though she was probably not fifteen miles away.  Wind and sea were still boisterous, but the search began immediately.

The conditions in general seemed to favor a speedy recovery of the Neptune, for the wind was still in the same quarter, the day was clearing rapidly, and the wreck having no sails and being practically under water, could drift but slowly.  But the brig’s condition, coupled with the fact that the tug herself sat very low, p. 107formed no slight obstacle to early success.  Had the Atlas possessed a tall mast, the derelict might have been visible from it, but nothing could be seen from the roof of the pilot-house save the smoke of a steamer on the northern horizon.  As time passed, bringing no tidings of the missing vessel, the excitement increased, and a handsome reward was promised any man who should first sight the wreck.  Twice a false alarm was given, but the day waned until the shadows stole over the deep. Still there were no tidings.

Through the starlit night Captain James thought of his absent men and of the sufferings they must be enduring.  He sent up rockets at intervals, though with little hope of an answer; for the Neptune’s signalling apparatus was doubtless ruined by water, and his men would be powerless to make their presence known.

The sea was calm at daybreak, the sun shone brightly as the hours flew by, and the tug covered many leagues, while the promised reward kept all hands on the alert.  The Atlas overhauled a large bark, p. 108and spoke her, but she had seen nothing of the Neptune; and another day drew to a close.

One of three things had happened: the derelict had foundered, had been taken in tow by a passing steamer, or was still drifting helplessly about.  The first supposition was improbable, if not impossible.  Experience has shown that a vessel in the Neptune’s condition can survive tempests that send stout ships to the bottom.  As to the second, the number of steamers having facilities for towing wrecks is small, and the castaway’s value must be great to induce one to attempt salving her.  The last supposition was probably the true one.  A vessel may float about the steam-traversed North Atlantic for weeks without being seen, and not five derelicts in a hundred are ever brought into port.  After weighing the chances carefully, the captain came to the conclusion that the brig was still an aimless wanderer, though it was incomprehensible how she could have eluded so thorough a search.

The next day was but a repetition of p. 109the one preceding, and this continued until the days became a week.  Hope was almost gone, the coal was two-thirds consumed, and still Captain James would not give up.

Finally, ten days after the loss of the Neptune, the Atlas abandoned the search and returned to Philadelphia.

As soon as she was sighted by the operator in the marine signal station, the fact was telephoned to the city; and when she reached the dock, one of the owners was on hand to meet her.  Joe Miller and Sharkey were there also, sitting on a box of merchandise, and exhibiting no traces of suffering or emaciation.

The surprise of the tug’s people was great, but the captain was soon enlightened as to the derelict’s fate.  That troublesome craft had been picked up the morning after she broke adrift, by a West India fruit steamer bound to Boston.  Three-fourths of the steel hawser was still attached to the Neptune, so the steamer had only to fish up the broken end, secure it to her stern bits, and continue on her p. 110way.  The weather remained fine and she reached her destination the second day afterward.

The division of the salvage money was a delicate matter.  An abandoned vessel becomes the property of whoever brings her into port, but in the present instance the derelict was held to be the tug’s property even after she broke adrift, because she continued in possession of two of the tug’s crew, who remained on her from the time the hawser parted until she was safely beached on the mud-flats in Boston harbor.  Consequently, she was not legally “an abandoned vessel” when the fruiter picked her up; nor could the latter have handled her at all except for the tug’s hawser.  But the steamer had rendered an unquestioned service by towing the wreck into port, and was therefore entitled to a portion of the money.  She was finally awarded 25%, while the remainder went to the Atlas.

The lumber cargo realized a trifle over $6,000 at auction, but the brig’s hull had been badly strained and battered in the p. 111last gale, and brought only $500.  Her age, combined with her severe injuries, made it unprofitable to put her in sea-going condition, and she was converted into a lighter for transferring merchandise about Boston harbor, in which humble capacity she will probably end her days.


Chapter I.

The Monomaniac The homeward passage from New Zealand is made via Cape Horn, and as westerly winds prevail all over the South Pacific, the craft bound back to the States has everything in her favor.  Five weeks had elapsed since the thousand-ton bark Western Belle sailed from Auckland and Wellington for Boston, and on this June morning she was in the South Atlantic, steering a north-easterly course.

It was evidently mid-day, for the captain and mate were squinting at the sun through their sextants; while a young lady p. 114stood near, wondering, as she had often done before, how it was possible for such queer-looking instruments to aid in determining their exact position upon so vast an expanse of water.

She was slightly above the medium height, and decidedly pretty, with a fine color in her cheeks.  The sun’s rays and ocean’s breezes had tanned her fair skin until, as she expressed it, “her dearest friends couldn’t have told her from a South Sea Islander.”  A heavy blue flannel dress, sailor blouse, jaunty cap kept in place by a long pin, and rubber-soled tennis shoes—the finest things in the world to keep one’s footing in a heavy, sea—completed the picture; and there you have Miss Laura Blake.

“What would become of us, Captain, if you and Mr. Bohlman were to fall overboard, or otherwise disappear from the scene?  It never occurred to me before, but there would be no one left to bring us into port.  Mr. Freeman knows nothing about taking sights.”

Miss Blake said this half in jest, half in p. 115earnest.  The captain regarded it as a good joke.

“No, the second mate has never used a sextant, I believe, though he could doubtless navigate the bark for some time by dead reckoning.  Meanwhile, my dear young lady, you and Mrs. Evans could study my Epitome, and learn to take the sun yourselves.”

The idea of her aunt “taking the sun” caused a quick smile to overspread Miss Laura’s features.

“I’m afraid the Western Belle would soon run ashore, or go to the bottom, if we women undertook to sail her,” she replied.  “As the widow of a sea-captain, Aunt Sarah believes she knows all about ships, but I fear it would require even more than her nautical knowledge to bring us into port.”

Captain Maxwell shared this opinion, but he was far too gallant a man to say so.

“Mrs. Evans certainly learned a great deal during the few voyages she made with her husband, and with your assistance, Miss Blake, there is no telling what p. 116you might not be able to accomplish. However, both Mr. Bohlman and I are not liable to fall overboard, so you will probably have no chance to distinguish yourselves as navigators.”

Though considerably past sixty, and with a head of snowy white hair, no one ever thought of Captain Maxwell as elderly.  His dark eyes still shown with the fire of thirty, and every motion of the erect, military figure was surprisingly quick and agile.  In ordinary conversation, his words were spoken with an effective deliberation that is none too common now-a-days, while a fine courtly air—“old fashioned” some people called it—lent additional dignity to his presence.

Mrs. Evans appeared at this moment emerging from the companionway, and Captain Maxwell hastened to place a chair for the widow of his old friend.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day, Captain?” the lady exclaimed.  “I cannot recall a more delightful morning.”

“I agree with you, madam; it certainly p. 117is a fine day, although, as your niece says, a trifle cool perhaps.”

“Possibly.  But we are approaching the Line, Laura, and it will become warmer as the bark sails north.  For my part, I think this bracing air delightful, and have not regretted returning to Boston in this manner rather than by steamer to San Francisco.  It reminds me of the two voyages I made with the late Captain Evans.”

The widow’s good-natured face beamed with amiability and placid content.  She was a comely matron, and though not endowed with a great amount of intellect, its absence was in a measure supplied by the charms of a thoroughly feminine and womanly nature.

The ladies had been visiting relatives in Sydney, and had expected to return to America by the Oceanic Liner Monowai.  Happening to meet Captain Maxwell on the street one day, he had jokingly proposed that they take passage with him to Boston.  Mrs. Evans had known him well in past years, and she instantly regarded the plan with favor.  Her niece, however, p. 118knew no more of sailing vessels than does the average landsman, who judges all craft of this description by the coasting schooners which he has casually noticed, and had a vague idea that it was flying in the face of Providence to go anywhere in one.  Yielding to the joint entreaties of her aunt and Captain Maxwell, and considerably reassured by a view of the Western Belle, she at length consented, and had so far enjoyed the novelty of the trip exceedingly.

“Neither do I regret it, Aunt,” she said, “although it would be agreeable to know about what time we may expect to reach Boston.  That is the one drawback to going anywhere on a sailing vessel—you can’t tell how long the voyage may last.”

“The time required to go from New Zealand back to the States does not vary much,” the captain answered, “and I think I can promise you, Miss Blake, that the trip will not greatly exceed ninety days.  We have made a good run nearly every day so far, and ought to pick up the southeast trades next week.”

p. 119“Even if the voyage should require four months, it would be nothing dreadful, Laura.  We seamen do not mind a few days more or less, do we, Captain?” said the widow.

Carl Bohlman, the portly mate, seemed a little surprised at this reckless disregard of time, while Captain Maxwell stroked his beard and looked rather doubtful.

“Perhaps not, madam.  Your wide experience enables you to judge of such matters.  I remember one time, though, when your late husband had the Davy Crockett, and I commanded the Sunrise, we were racing from Hong Kong to New York; and I can assure you that every minute and every hour were of the utmost importance.  We both passed St. Helena on the fifty-eighth day out, but the Sunrise was beaten on the home stretch by twenty-four hours.”

“How exciting!” exclaimed Mrs. Evans.  “Think of it—racing clear around the world!  That was before I met my husband, but I have often heard him mention the affair.”

p. 120“It must be dangerous, Aunt.  We have the pretty Cape pigeons to race with, which satisfies me perfectly.  How sorry I shall be when we see the last of them.”

“You are timid, Laura, which is excusable in one of your limited experience.  You have crossed the Atlantic twice, but running over from New York to Liverpool is a mere bagatelle.  Crossing the Pacific is something, to be sure; but when you have doubled both Capes, and crossed the Line six times—well, then you can lay claim to being a sailor, and will not be easily alarmed.”

The widow glanced from one to the other and settled back in her chair with pardonable pride, after giving this account of her achievements.  She was rewarded with a bow from Captain Maxwell, who then said:

“To change the subject, Mrs. Evans, you must have been very busy this morning.  Unless I am mistaken, we have been deprived of your society since breakfast.”

“That is true, Captain.  I have been putting the finishing touches on that rug, p. 121which I consider quite an addition to the cabin furniture.  After that, I wrote for some time—and ah! that reminds me.  I feel certain that the fresh-water tank in the bathroom has again been filled with salt water.  While endeavoring to remove an ink-stain from my fingers, I found that the soap made no impression.  That careless boy seems unable to remember which tank is for fresh water, and which for salt.”

The captain frowned.

“This is the second time since leaving port that Dick has made the same mistake. When I have worked out my sights, the matter shall be attended to.”

“That Dick Lewis needs a rope’s end,” observed the mate, as soon as Captain Maxwell had gone below, “and if the captain would let me, I’d give it to him.”

“There is something peculiar about that boy,” said Miss Blake.  “Sometimes I think his mind is not quite right.  You know what a mania he seems to have for fire-works, Aunt.  We were not a week out before he was found to have matches and fire-crackers concealed in the p. 122forecastle.  Then one afternoon not long ago he was discovered in the lazarette, although no one had sent him there.”

“That’s so, miss; and the captain thought Dick might have been fooling with the signal-lights and rockets.  I hardly think that, though.  Most likely he was after the eatables.”

“You can see, Laura, what sort of sailors the future generation of captains will have to contend with.  Do you suppose such things ever happened on my husband’s ship?  Fresh and salt water mixed together, matches and fire-works in the fo’k’sl, rockets and signals in the lazarette?  Why, it is awful to think of!”  And the widow shook her head, as she reflected on this extraordinary state of affairs.

“That boy in the second mate’s watch is worth a dozen of this one of mine,” Bohlman observed.  “Freeman predicted he would be the day we divided up the watches, and he was about right.  Don’t tell him I think so, though.”

The second mate had just come on deck, and Miss Blake said mischievously: “I p. 123shall tell Mr. Freeman what you said unless you promise to rig up a bo’s’un’s chair this afternoon, and hoist me up one of the masts.”

“I’ll do it, miss, if you say so,” replied Bohlman, “though you got scared the other time before you were a quarter of the way up.”

“Laura, I will not allow such a thing again.  What would you think if I were to go aloft and haul over a buntline?”

“I should laugh, Aunt; I know I should,” and Miss Laura did laugh aloud, while the mate turned away to avoid showing his merriment at the comical idea of the widow overhauling buntlines.

“But really, Aunt, there is no danger in it, and Mrs. Brassey, in ‘Around the World in the Yacht Sunbeam,’ speaks of being drawn clear up to the mast-head in a bo’s’un’s chair.  It is said, also, that Bernhardt climbed the rigging of a steamer one day when on her way to Australia.”

“Genius is always eccentric, my dear, and may do anything with impunity.  But there—dinner is served.  Let us go.”

p. 124One could not pass through the bark’s comfortable cabin without knowing that women were on board.  The very arrangement of the chairs showed it.  No matter how neat and tasteful a man may be—and Captain Maxwell was both—he can seldom give to a room or dwelling that indescribable air of home-like comfort and domesticity that a clever woman finds it so easy to impart.  There was something cheerful in the appearance of the widow’s open work-box, with its pretty blue lining, and an anchor worked on the inside cover,—for Mrs. Evans affected everything nautical,—while a large rug or mat made of spun-yarn and sennit bore witness to her skill.  The vessel’s name was neatly worked in the center.  Several water-color paintings by Miss Laura ornamented the walls, and a globe of goldfish swung from the ceiling.  An upright piano occupied the space between two doors.  There was nothing especially elegant or luxurious, as the bark had never been intended for a passenger vessel, but everything was very pleasant and comfortable.  The ladies had p. 125separate state-rooms, each of which contained but one berth, and was considerably larger than the average state-room on a passenger steamer.

After dinner, Captain Maxwell sent for Dick Lewis to come to the quarter-deck.  This boy belonged to the mate’s watch, which was now off duty.  He had not turned in, however, but could be seen with two others of the crew, washing his clothes in the lee scuppers.

It had rained hard the night before, and many of the hands availed themselves of the chance to catch the water for laundry purposes.  Two lines were stretched from a starboard backstay to one on the port side, on which were hung shirts of various colors and patterns, patched overalls, towels, socks that had never been mates, and various other articles of apparel.

Dick came aft presently, and stood before the captain; a lanky, unprepossessing youth of sixteen or seventeen.  A carroty head of hair, low forehead, white eyebrows and lashes, very pale complexion, and keen blue eyes which constantly p. 126shifted about—these were the most noticeable points of his appearance.

“Dick,” said Captain Maxwell, “for the second time within two weeks, you have put salt water in the fresh water tank. This must not happen again.”

“I must have put the funnel in the wrong hole, sir,” said Dick, not appearing much abashed.

“That is evident.  Get a marline-spike from the second mate and then go out on the end of the jib-boom.  Stay there and pound the rust off the chains until three bells strike.  That may help you to remember.  Go forward.”

The captain told Mr. Freeman what Dick was to do, and then went below for his nap. Out on the jib-boom, Dick performed his allotted task.  What was passing in the boy’s mind, it would be hard to tell from the expression of his face.  Resentment against Captain Maxwell?  Scarcely. He seemed rather to be studying over some project.  Now his lips moved, as though talking to himself.  Then would p. 127follow a low chuckle, as of satisfaction at solving some intricate problem.  At such moments, his knitted brows became smooth, and the chains were pounded with a vigor that seemed to give a kind of pleasure to the worker.  Once or twice his revery was disturbed by a fancied footstep, and he furtively glanced around to see if anyone was watching.

Three bells had struck some little time before a hail from the deck attracted Dick’s attention.

“Jib-boom, there!”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Time’s up, Dick.  You must like to pound chains.” It was the second mate who spoke.

Dick felt for the foot-ropes, and remembering Mr. Freeman’s injunction not to let the marline-spike go overboard, he slung it round his neck, and made his way to the deck.

“Where are your ears, Dick?”

“On my head, sir.”

p. 128“No impudence, you lubber!  Next time I’ll let you work till we make port. Hand over that marline-spike.”

“Yes, sir.  Will you please tell me something, Mr. Freeman?”

“Maybe so, if I can.  The mate says I don’t know anything.”

“I want to know, sir, how you send off those signal-lights, what I was forbid to touch.  Are they like Roman candles?”

Freeman took hold of the youth’s arm, and said sternly, “Dick Lewis, don’t you ever think of those things.  Why, d— it, you’re as crazy as a loon about fire-works! If you’ve got any more stowed away in the fo’k’sl, it’ll go hard with you.  I’ve got nothing against you, Dick, but if I hear any more talk like this, it’s my duty to report to the captain.  You’ll soon be in irons, at this rate.”

“I was only fooling, sir.  Please don’t give me away.”

“’Vast talking, and go below.  The watch is half over now.”

Dick disappeared into the forecastle, and Freeman meditated for some time p. 129over the possible meaning of the boy’s peculiar talk.

“He’ll bear watching,” he mused.  “I’d better tell Bohlman not to send him into the lazarette, on any account.  No, I won’t, either; the Dutchman’s too d—d arrogant, and thinks he knows it all.  I’d only be told to mind my own business.”

Freeman had just reached this decision in regard to Dick, when a Greek sailor called Asso approached, and asked for more bath-brick.

The officer went to see how his watch were getting on with their job of cleaning the paint-work on the deck-houses, and found that buckets of water, swabs, and bath-bricks, were being used to such purpose that the white paint was rapidly assuming the appearance of new-fallen snow.  Then there was a section of wire cable to be spliced, and other work to be seen to.  Thus the afternoon passed, and Dick’s talk about the signals was banished from the second mate’s mind by the various duties of the hour.

p. 130Chapter II.

It was a fine evening.  The full moon had risen out of the ocean in matchless splendor, and was rapidly changing its blood-red hues for more silvery tints, as it soared into the cloudless sky.

The captain and passengers were on the quarter-deck, while Mr. Freeman hung over the rail with the comfortable assurance that the bark was making a better run in the second dog-watch than she had in the first, when the mate had been in charge.

“I told you, Miss Blake, I should get a good breeze in my watch, and you see I’m as good as my word.”

“So I perceive; and now that you have it, see that it doesn’t fail us before morning.  Otherwise I shall think your fine breeze all the result of luck.  How pleasant it is to hear the water gurgling around the ship.”

“The full moon had risen in matchless splendor”

Eight bells struck, and the dog-watch was over.  The wheel and lookout were relieved, and Freeman went below, while p. 131Carl Bohlman came on duty to stand the first watch, which lasted until midnight.

“What are you thinking of, Aunt?  For ten minutes you have not spoken a word.”

“The beauty of the night has cast a spell over me, Laura, and I was thinking of a favorite poem of mine.  I never realized the significance of the first stanza more than on this evening, when we are out on the great ocean with every object bathed in white light.

“‘The dews of summer night did fall,
   The moon, sweet regent of the sky,
Silvered the walls of Cumnor Hall,
   And many an oak that grew thereby.’”

“Excellent, my dear madam,” said Captain Maxwell.  “You have a fine poetic instinct.”

“The oaks that grew around Amy Robsart’s luxurious prison are replaced here by the bark’s masts and sails, captain, but the effect is not less beautiful.”

“A fine conception, Mrs. Evans, but we must remember that it is not summer in these latitudes, even though the dew is gathering, and you may take cold sitting there.  Will you take my arm?”

p. 132“With pleasure, captain.”

They had paced the deck for some minutes, and the widow was relating some story that seemed greatly to amuse the captain, when the latter stopped suddenly, dropped on one knee, and stared at one of the deadlights’ near his feet.

“Good heavens!  How you startled me, captain.  Robinson Crusoe couldn’t have been more astonished when he saw the footprint in the sand, than you seem to be. What is it?”

“Worse than a footprint, Mrs. Evans. The moonlight prevented our noticing it sooner.  Stand here—where your shadow falls on this deadlight. [132]  Now what do you see?”

“A light reflected from below.  Oh, Laura, the lazarette is on fire!”

Captain Maxwell was already disappearing through the hatchway, while the mate and Miss Blake ran up at the widow’s exclamation.  Even the silent figure at the p. 133wheel started at the mention of the word fire.

It was but a moment before the master of the bark reappeared, bearing a lighted lantern in one hand.

“The cause for alarm is removed, ladies,” he said quietly.  “There is no fire in the lazarette, though nothing short of a miracle prevented it.  This lantern was standing on the floor beneath the deadlight and caused the reflection to appear.  Mr. Bohlman, have you any idea how it came there?”

He spoke with apparent calmness, which Miss Blake readily saw was more feigned than real.

The mate hesitated a moment before answering: “Dick must have left it there, sir.”

Dick must have left it there!  So that bright boy of yours has been in the lazarette again without permission?  If I don’t have him triced up to the spanker-boom in irons early to-morrow morning, my name’s not John Maxwell.”

p. 134“He was in the lazarette, sir, but not without permission.  I sent him there just before supper to bring up a coil of old rope that was to be ravelled out.  He wasn’t there ten minutes.”

Both ladies glanced at the mate in surprise at these words, and Captain Maxwell looked at his chief officer in a way that was anything but complimentary to the latter.  The captain had a temper of his own, which was under excellent control, but he found it necessary to cross the quarter-deck twice before trusting himself to speak.

“After that occasion a week ago, when this boy was discovered in the lazarette doing God knows what, I should have thought your own judgment would have prevented your sending him there again.  There are plenty of men in your watch, and if none of them knew where this old rope was, you should have gone yourself, rather than let that fool of a boy take a light into such a place.”

Bohlman smarted under this speech, though he maintained a discreet silence, p. 135knowing it would be useless to attempt to justify himself in the captain’s present humor.  Inwardly, however, he cursed Dick Lewis for having forgotten the lantern, and thus bringing his superior’s censure upon himself.

Orders were given for Dick to come aft, and the youth shortly appeared on the quarter-deck for the second time that day in the role of culprit.  He quailed before the captain’s glance, and nervously shifted his old felt hat from one hand to the other.

“Do you know why you have been sent for?”

Dick pointed to the accusing lantern, and said in a frightened tone: “Yes, sir.  I—I remember now I forgot to bring up the lantern when—when I fetched the rope.”

This was a lie.  He had turned the wick low and then left it in the lazarette purposely, knowing well that no one would enter the place after the day’s work was done.  But for the accidental circumstance of its having been placed too near one of the deadlights, the presence of the lantern would never have been suspected.

p. 136“Do you know what I ought to do with you?”

The captain’s tones were so stern that Dick was hardly able to articulate “No, sir.”

“I ought to take a rope’s end and beat you within an inch of your life.  That’s what any captain would have done twenty years ago, and what some would do now.  You left this light down there among bales of oakum, sennit, old sails, rockets, signal-lights, and other inflammable stuff, and if there had been enough sea running to heel the bark over a trifle more, the lantern would have upset, setting the whole place on fire—and we out in the South Atlantic, a good week’s sail from the nearest port!”

The captain’s passion mastered him, and he shook Dick until the boy’s teeth chattered.  Suddenly releasing him, he turned to Mrs. Evans and her niece.

“I ought to apologize, ladies, for this outburst; but I lost one ship by fire years ago, and this boy has tried me beyond endurance.”

p. 137“I do not blame you in the least, captain,” said the alarmed widow; “I feel sure my husband would have inflicted a severe punishment for such an offense.  It is as bad as Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot.”

“You see, madam, we officers have to put up with a good deal from sailors now-a-days,” said Captain Maxwell, sarcastically.  “If I punished that boy as he deserved, he would have me arrested the moment we reached port.  Then, aided by some unscrupulous lawyer and the testimony of various members of the crew, I should be convicted of ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ and fined heavily, or imprisoned.  The evidence of yourself and niece might clear me in this case, but all the papers would print articles about the barbarity of captains and mates in general, and the lot of the poor, abused merchant-sailor,—forgetting to mention the fact that a vessel, her cargo, and all hands, had narrowly escaped a terrible disaster at the hands of one of these persecuted saints!

p. 138“Dick, you were warned a week ago that if you entered the lazarette again without permission you would be put in irons.  But it seems you had permission,” with a glance at the mate,—“and so we shall have to let you off easier.  Go up on the fore royal yard and sit there until the watch ends at midnight.”

Dick was unable to repress a sigh of relief as he turned away, but his sharp ears heard Captain Maxwell say to the mate: “As soon as it is light enough to-morrow morning to see objects in the lazarette without a lantern, bring up that canister of powder and those four boxes of rockets and signal-lights.  They shall be kept in a locker in the cabin during the rest of the voyage.  Another thing—never again let that boy go anywhere with a light.”

“Yes, sir.”

The cause of this trouble went forward, muttering to himself: “Powder! the captain said powder!  I might have found it to-night if they hadn’t caught onto the lantern.  How did they know it was there, I wonder?”

p. 139He climbed the fore rigging, unmindful of the taunts of the crew at his second punishment that day, and the captain’s words kept ringing in his ears.

“To-morrow morning they’ll all be put where I can’t get at ’em,” he muttered, “and if only they hadn’t found the lantern, I could have got away with some of them rockets to-night.  And the powder!  I can’t do nothing without a lantern, though, and I ain’t even got a match.”

He perched himself upon the royal yard, with a lunatic’s cunning, inventing various schemes for getting at those fire-works.  That was his mania.  Although as sane as anyone on other subjects, he was an absolute monomaniac in everything relating to such matters; and since the day when he had overheard a remark relating to the signal-lights and rockets, his fingers had itched to investigate them and see what they were like.  Not even the certainty of punishment could stand in his way.

Some people, when they ascend to the roof of a high building, have an almost irresistable desire to leap from it.  It is p. 140not that they wish to do so, but some strange power seems urging them to it in spite of themselves.  Others have a similar feeling when in close proximity to a swiftly-moving railroad train, and require all their will power to keep from casting themselves before the locomotive.  So it was with Dick Lewis.  He could no more keep his mind off the lazarette and its contents, than steel can resist the influence of a magnet.  He sat there as the hours passed, looking ahead into vacancy; thinking and thinking; and imagining just how the rockets must look, as they lay side by side in their boxes down in the midnight darkness of the lazarette.  How quiet and silent they were!  And yet the touch of a match—

He put up a hand before his eyes and turned his head to one side, as though to ward off a blow.


“Aunt, we really must go below.  It cannot be far from twelve o’clock, and we have staid on deck nearly two hours past the usual time.”

p. 141“That is true, Laura; and yet I feel strangely wakeful.  But, as you say, it is very late, and high time that we turned in.  So good night, captain, and pleasant dreams.  Good night, Mr. Bohlman.”

Mrs. Evans paused as she reached the companion-way.

“How beautiful the moonlight is,” she said, so low that no one heard; “and from what an awful peril have we this night been delivered.”

She slowly followed her niece to the cabin.

Captain Maxwell did not linger long on deck after his passengers had turned in. He, too, usually retired early, and arose at daylight.  But the incident of the lighted lantern disturbed him.  To the master who has once experienced fire at sea, the mere possibility of another visitation conveys a dread that the worst hurricane cannot inspire.  He paced the deck for some time, and then, after a glance aloft, went below.

Midnight came; and the mate was relieved by Frank Freeman, who found his superior in no very pleasant frame of mind.

p. 142“You’ve still got a fair wind,” Freeman observed; “she’s slipping through it in good shape.”

“I suppose you expected to come on deck and find a dead calm, with me and my watch ahead in the long-boat, towing the bark.”

Bohlman left the quarter-deck with this good-natured rejoinder, while the second mate smothered a laugh as he lit his pipe.

Dick climbed down the fore rigging with alacrity, and entered the forecastle with the rest of the port watch.  His plans were matured.  There was a triumphant light in the boy’s eyes, and a furtive smile on his ill-favored features as he crept into his bunk and feigned sleep.


A lantern swung from the dingy ceiling, casting a flickering light upon the tiers of bunks, and upon various other objects in the forecastle.  There were oilers and rubber boots thrown about here and there, old books without covers, and sea-chests of various patterns.  The numerous initials, names, and dates, cut into the walls p. 143indicated that the Western Belle had sailed the seas for many years.  On one side some one with a talent for drawing had recently executed a chalk picture of the whale swallowing Jonah, which was a marvel of realism.  Near this artistic production was tacked a printed card setting forth what rules the crew were expected to obey, what compensation they were to receive, and other matters of like import.

Sea air and insomnia are deadly enemies, and before one bell struck, a chorus of snores assured Dick that his companions were asleep.  He suffered a few minutes over the half hour to elapse, and then slipped noiselessly from his bunk.  Gliding to the open door, he looked stealthily out.  That side of the deck was thrown into shadow by the forecastle, and no one was to be seen but two of the watch on duty slowly walking up and down the main deck, as they conversed in low tones.  The others were doubtless on the opposite side of the forward-house.

Dick turned from the door, waited a moment to be sure that all were asleep in p. 144the bunks around him, and then produced a towel.  Next he took down the lantern from its hook overhead, and wrapped the towel about it so that the light was invisible.  That done, he made for the door,—stepped out on deck,—and crept forward in the shadow of the building.

Upon reaching the corner, he stopped and listened The distant murmur of voices was heard on the opposite side of the house, but the moonlit stretch of deck ahead was untenanted.  Apparently no one was about the extreme forward part of the vessel except the lookout.  The boy’s unshod feet made no sound as he darted across the strip of moonlight that fell between the forward-house and the forecastle deck.  Now he was standing by the open fore hatch.

In large sailing vessels that stand well out of water, it is customary to leave the fore hatch off at all times unless some very severe gale is threatened.  The forecastle deck overhead prevents rain or salt water from entering, and as it is often necessary to go down to the fore peak half a dozen p. 145times a day, it would be a useless trouble to move the hatch-cover each time.  This was the case with the Western Belle.

Dick well knew he could not enter the lazarette at the customary place without being seen by the man at the wheel and the officer on duty, and had conceived the laborious, but perfectly feasible plan, of descending through the fore hatch to the ’tween-decks, and then crawling aft over the cargo the whole length of the vessel to accomplish his purpose.

Without losing time, he placed his foot upon the first step of the flight of stairs that led down to the fore peak, and then rapidly descended.  It was black as Erebus when he reached the bottom, and before taking another step he uncovered the lantern and stuffed the towel in his pocket.  Cautiously walking over old sails, ropes, barrels, casks, etc., the boy was soon out of the fore peak proper, and at that part of the ’tween-decks where the cargo began to be stowed.

The foremast looming up ahead gave him quite a start, and a sort of dread p. 146possessed him at thought of the long distance to be traversed in that profound darkness.  Dick had not realized until now the magnitude of the task before him, but he only wavered a second, and pushed on.

It soon became impossible to walk, and he dropped on his hands and knees, creeping along on all fours; at the same time holding the handle of the lantern between his teeth.  Its rays illumined but a short space in front, though they served to make the gaunt deck-beams assume all sorts of strange and fantastic shapes that he could not help noticing.  Thus he crawled along over bales of flax and tow, boxes of Kauri gum and sacks of horns; picking his way carefully, and impatiently wondering how far he had progressed.  This was at length made plain, though in an unexpected manner.

In attempting to accelerate his speed, the boy had grown a little careless, when he suddenly felt his left hand go off into space, and barely saved himself from plunging headlong downward.  The shock was a severe one, and he drew a deep p. 147breath of relief when he had backed away from the yawning aperture.

“Fool!” he muttered; “I clean forgot the main hatch.  I like to have fell all the way down to the lower hold and broke my neck.  Well, Dick, you’re half way, anyhow.”

He crawled around the square opening and proceeded.  In a few minutes the way was blocked by a great object that the youth could not account for, but which was really the iron tank containing drinking water.  He avoided it and continued to advance, having stopped a moment to stretch his cramped limbs.  Next he came to the after hatch, but was on the lookout for it and pushed on steadily, though he began to ache all over from crawling so long.  Once a startled rat scurried across his stockinged foot in its haste to escape, causing another momentary scare.  Had it not been for the increasing excitement under which he labored, the boy must have been chilled, for a draft of cold air like that in a cellar swept through the p. 148’tween-decks from one end of the bark to the other.

The mizzen mast told Dick his journey was nearing its end, and he stopped a few seconds to take breath.  His heart beat so quick and fast that he felt stifled, and his limbs trembled in a way that he could not account for.  But the thought of the fire-works nerved him, and cans of powder danced before his disordered imagination.

There was not much further to go, so after shoving back the hair from his damp forehead, he crept on until the peculiar formation of the vessel’s timbers proved that he was in the stern.

He looked up.  Directly overhead was a small opening.

“That must be it!” he whispered.

There were no stairs nor any ladder, but standing erect, his head was just on a level with the aperture.  First arranging the towel about the top of the lantern so that the light should not be cast upward, he reached up and set it down on the floor above.  Then, panting with excitement p. 149and bathed in cold perspiration, Dick placed both hands on the edge of the hatch.

One agile spring, and he was in the lazarette.

Chapter III.

So quiet was the night, that Freeman’s measured footsteps, as he trod the quarter-deck, sounded with strange distinctness to the guilty occupant of the space beneath.  No other sound disturbed the silence but the gentle swish and gurgle of the water alongside, and an occasional creak from some block or pulley.

The piles of swelling canvas; the mast-heads nodding against the stars; the white paint-work of the poop; the delicate shadows cast upon the deck by the ropes and shrouds; the motionless figure of the man at the wheel;—all were beautified and softened by the white flood of moonlight. Drops of dew glittered everywhere, and when Freeman laid his hand upon the main brace, it was wet as though from rain.

He had been reading odd items in an p. 150old copy of the Sydney Herald, and put it down just as two great rats that had come up from the hold scampered across the deck.  This was nothing unusual, and after stamping with his foot to scare the bold creatures, he glanced at the binnacle.

“Keep her at N. N. E., Matt; you’ve let her go off a point.  Watch the card, man.”

“Keep her at N. N. E., sir,” the fellow repeated, shifting his quid to starboard as Freeman walked away.

“I’ll see how the lookout does,” the officer thought, “though if every night was like this, there’d be little need of any.”

He went forward along the port side.  Happening to cast a glance through the open forecastle door, he noticed that the light was out.

“That’s queer,” he soliloquized; “it burned brightly enough when I passed by a couple of hours ago.”

He entered the door to see if the wick was out of order, or whether all the oil had been consumed.  Neither—the lantern was gone!

p. 151He had just made this discovery, and was leaving the building to ask his men whether any of them had removed the light, when a curious jarring sensation rooted him to the deck.  The idea of a submarine earthquake flashed through his brain, but within a second’s time there was a deafening report,—a blinding flash,—a staggering of the bark,—and then flying timbers and bales of merchandise were hurled skyward with awful power.  The whole after part of the vessel seemed going up in the air piecemeal!

“Great God!” breathed Freeman, grasping the ladder on the forward house.

His self-possession soon returned.  Already some of the crew had begun to act like lunatics.

“Call all hands, and behave like men.  The bark’s still afloat, and now three of you come aft with me.”

His cool decision inspired confidence, and half a dozen of the crew followed.

The canvas began to flap—the bark was badly off her course.  Freeman bounded on as he noticed this fact.

p. 152“That cowardly Matt’s deserted the wheel,” he thought—“or else the poor devil’s been killed.”

But the officer stood motionless when he reached the place where the quarter-deck had been—the spot where he had been standing not five minutes since.  The whole deck was gone, and in its place was a great cavity that reached from one side of the vessel to the other, and seemed to go down to the very keelson.

It was a time for action, and he crept along on the starboard side, walking on a few jagged splinters, and holding to the main brace with his hands.  The wheel had been shattered and was useless, while Matt lay against the rail where the force of the explosion had hurled him.

“Men, sheet everything home, and move d—d quick!  The wheel’s smashed and we can’t steer the bark.  Let go all the halyards and sheets, and get her stripped.  Work for your lives!”

Had the wind been stronger, a serious accident would probably have resulted before the unmanageable vessel could have p. 153been relieved of her canvas, but although she careened badly, it was but a few minutes before enough sails had been taken in to avert the threatened danger.

The unaccountable disaster that had befallen was sufficiently appalling to those who were on deck at the time it occurred; but imagine the feelings of the others—roused from a sound sleep at three in the morning by a shock as of an earthquake.  The mate’s watch were asleep in the forecastle, a considerable distance from the lazarette, but to the captain, passengers, mate and steward, who occupied the after house, the sensation was indeed awful.  What wonder that the screams of Mrs. Evans and Miss Blake rent the air?  Or that Captain Maxwell, experienced seaman that he was, found himself utterly stunned and bewildered?  But he was on deck in no time, issuing orders with the confidence of one who has long been accustomed to command.

Nothing so quickly restores our presence of mind in great crises as the knowledge that others look to us for advice and p. 154help.  When the terrified Miss Blake rushed into her aunt’s cabin, it must be said to the widow’s credit that she left off screaming, and endeavored to pacify her niece.  She tried to think what Captain Evans would have done in such an emergency, although having no clear idea as to what manner of evil had befallen the vessel; and after hastily assuming her dressing gown and slippers she issued forth with a boldness that surprised even herself.

The sight that presented itself utterly confounded the good woman, and it was only after passing her hand across her eyes several times, that she could believe the evidence of her senses.  The cabin partition towards the stern was blown entirely out, together with the companion-way, and skylight above.  The roof of the cabin had been splintered in places and lifted up, until Mrs. Evans could see a patch of sky here and there, while the floor under her feet was so uneven she could hardly walk upon it.  She stood holding to the center table, blankly wondering what could have p. 155happened, when the steward came from Captain Maxwell’s room.

“Oh, steward, in the name of heaven, what has happened?  Are we sinking? Have we been pooped?  Is the bark stove to pieces on a rock?”

“It’s not that bad, Madam Evans. There’s no rock in this part of the ocean, and if we’re sinking it’s very slowly.  Are you hurt?”

“No; only badly frightened.  I cannot realize yet what is the matter.  Is anyone killed?”

“We can’t tell yet, ma’am.  But I must not stop here talking.  The after wall of the captain’s room is blown out and the head of his bed torn off.  The room was set afire, too, and in putting it out he burned his hands badly.  Will you hold this lamp while I get some linseed oil and batting?”

Captain Maxwell’s injuries were more painful than dangerous, and considerable relief was afforded as soon as Mrs. Evans’ deft fingers had applied the dressing.  He then returned to the deck.  It still lacked p. 156over two hours of dawn, and the moon was low in the west.  Total darkness would soon descend, and there was much to be done.  Already the carpenter was at work on a new wheel, and the moment it was in position the captain resolved to steer for Rio de Janeiro, where repairs could be made.

The strong smell of powder, and the shattered timbers, left no doubt in the captain’s mind that an explosion of some sort had caused the catastrophe.  Fortunately, its greatest force had been upward; otherwise the vessel’s bottom might have been blown out, thus ending her career and those of all on board in short order.  The signals in the lazarette were the only explosives on board the bark, but how they could have become ignited was not easily seen, unless a fire had started.  Everyone was on deck but the ladies; there was no more sleep that night.

“Mr. Bohlman, you will muster all hands amidships, and you and Mr. Freeman will then call the names of those in your respective watches.  Some one may p. 157have been killed.  Whose wheel was it at the time of the accident?”

“Matt’s, sir,” answered Freeman.  “He was badly hurt by being blown against the bulwarks.  We’ve put him in his bunk, and two hands are rubbing him.”

While the crew were assembling, the captain questioned his second mate closely as to whether he had noticed any signs of fire about the after part of the vessel, or seen any person enter the lazarette.  Freeman was certain, however, that he should have smelled smoke had there been any fire, while as for anyone entering the place without being seen by himself or the man at the wheel,—it was impossible.  It will be remembered that he had gone below just before Captain Maxwell discovered the lighted lantern, and therefore knew nothing of that circumstance.

“About how long was it after you left the quarter-deck until the explosion took place?”

“It wasn’t five minutes, sir.  I was going forward to the fo’k’sl deck to see that everything was all right, when, happening p. 158to look in the port door of the fo’k’sl, I noticed the light was out.  I stepped in to see whether the lantern was empty or not, but found it gone.  Then—”

“You found the lantern gone!” exclaimed the captain, an idea striking him.  “Did you notice whether Dick Lewis was gone, too?”

“Dick Lewis?  No, sir; why should I?  It was his watch below, and he was probably in his bunk.”

“We shall see.  Come with me to the main deck.”

All hands were assembled around the capstan in various degrees of astonishment.  Several of that motley crew had probably been shipwrecked during various stages of their careers, but it may be doubted whether any had ever witnessed an accident similar to that which had just taken place.

“Dick Lewis, step forward!”

The captain’s stern command produced a sensation, and all hands wondered what was coming next.

“Dick Lewis, step forward!”

p. 159The words were repeated, but no response came from among the crowd of men standing about in the raw morning air.

“That settles it,” said the captain, decisively.  “Let the fo’k’sl be searched, and every other part of the bark.  If that boy is not to be found, he has paid the penalty of his rashness.  He may be dead in the hold, or he may have been blown through the quarter-deck and into the ocean.”

Freeman remembered the conversation of the previous afternoon, when Dick had betrayed his curiosity regarding the signals.  Yes, the captain’s theory must be correct, and he shuddered to think how long the boy might have been at work in the lazarette while he walked the deck above.  But how had he entered the place?  Matt was not so badly hurt but that he was able to swear no one had passed through the hatch, and he, Freeman, had left the quarter-deck but twice during the watch, and then only for a few minutes.  The true solution of the problem passed p. 160through the minds of Captain Maxwell, his mate and second mate, at almost the same moment, but the two former at first dismissed it as too improbable.  Freeman, however, insisted that Dick must have gotten into the lazarette, if at all, by crawling all the way aft through the hold; and as Matt insisted that no one had gone below by the usual way, this view of the matter was the only possible one left.

“God only knows what ailed that boy,” Captain Maxwell said, as Dick’s devilish ingenuity became apparent, “but he’s found out by this time how those signals work, and what twenty-five pounds of powder can do.”


Crossing the Line After two weeks of tribulation, the barkentine Mohawk was through the Atlantic Doldrums.  The hot, murky atmosphere, and the low-hanging rain-clouds that seem always ready to open and let fall a deluge, were left behind, and the fact that a breeze had blown from the same point of the compass for three successive hours was another certain indication that this tormenting region of calms, rain-squalls and variable winds was a thing of the past.

When one bell struck, and the steward brought Captain Charles Pitkin his morning cup of coffee, the skipper felt as p. 162light-hearted as a boy, and knew, without looking at the compass, that the craft was speeding along towards Buenos Ayres, instead of drifting aimlessly about in the calm belt or beating to the southeast against a head wind.

“We ought to cross the Line to-day, at this rate,” he said to himself.

The steward heard the words, and made bold to say: “Will we, sir?  I only wish Father Neptune would come aboard and make subjects of those three lubbers in the fo’k’sl.  They are the worst greenhorns I ever did see.”

“You mean the two Swedes and the Austrian?”

“Yes, sir; especially that Christian Anderson, in the mate’s watch, that claimed to be able to steer and then couldn’t box the compass to save his life.”

The captain made no answer, and the steward withdrew.

“George! it’s not a bad idea,” mused Pitkin.  “It would do those three ‘able seamen’ good to meet the Old Man of the Seas, I honestly believe.”

p. 163The more thought he gave the matter, the better he liked it; and by breakfast time, when the captain, his sister, and the mate gathered about the table, the former had arranged in his mind the principal details of the ceremonies which he decided should take place that morning.

Miss Pitkin did not receive the narration of her brother’s plans with the approval he had expected; in fact, she was in a decidedly unpleasant frame of mind.

“Why, Rosy, you seem out of sorts this morning.  I thought you’d be pleased to hear that Neptune was coming aboard.”

“Neptune, indeed!  The Flying Dutchman will be the next thing on the programme, I suppose.  And as for being out of sorts—Charles Pitkin, are you aware that this is the first morning for two weeks that you have not resembled a thundercloud?”

“Perhaps; but I’ve had reason to look black.  Now the Doldrums are done with, I’m as merry as a lark, and you ought to be, too.”

p. 164“You are mistaken.  That beast of a cat has killed my poor canary.”

Miss Rose said this in a tone of mingled anger and grief, looking hard at her coffee-cup meanwhile.  She seldom indulged in the feminine weakness of tears, or a few would doubtless have been shed now as a tribute to the departed canary.

“Pshaw! that’s too bad, Rose,” said the captain, sympathetically.  “Shall we kill the cat?  I detest the stealthy, cold-blooded creatures, and this one does nothing but lie around in the sun all day instead of catching rats.”

“No, Charles, we will not do that.  I came near throwing her overboard myself, but I suppose the creature was only following her instincts.  I must try and bear it.”

Miss Pitkin had celebrated some forty birthdays, but the years had touched her lightly, and her charms, though mature, were not inconsiderable.  A plump, well-rounded figure, fresh complexion, black eyes and hair, combined with regular features, made an attractive whole, the one p. 165serious blemish of which was an habitual expression of firmness and decision which was so strong as to be almost masculine.  She had four brothers, all younger than herself, and on the early death of their father and mother, Rose assumed the cares of housekeeping and the bringing up of the younger children.  Thus she had come to be looked up to by her brothers, and regarded rather in the light of a parent than as a sister.

As they left the table she said: “I am going to overhaul the store-room.  It needs to be done, and will keep me from thinking of poor Goldie.”

“But you’ll return to the deck when Neptune comes aboard?”

“I’m in no humor for any such tomfoolery.  Perhaps, between you all, you may manage to get up a snowstorm, or have an earthquake when we cross the Line.”

“But wait, Rosy, I want to ask a favor.”

The lady vanished, and was soon delving among lime-juice, guava jelly, apples, potted meats, and sundry other stores.

p. 166There was something strangely incongruous in such a woman being addressed by so childish and undignified a name as Rosy, but her brother had so called her when scarcely able to toddle about, and now that he was thirty, she was “Rosy” still.

Time was, when no craft of any description crossed the Equator without having all the landsmen on board introduced to the royal Neptune; but the good old custom has been gradually falling into disuse, and in this prosaic age the ceremony of “Crossing the Line” is rarely observed.

Captain Pitkin decided that Fritz, the carpenter, should be metamorphosed into King Neptune—principally because he was large and massive, and had a long, thick beard.  Fritz was an excellent carpenter, though his mental development was far from being on a par with his physical.  However, he would look the part, and that was no small item.

His majesty always comes aboard with an attendant, and here it was that Pitkin hit upon an original and brilliant idea.  He p. 167had been humming an old song whose first verse runs:

“’Twas Friday morn when we set sail,
   And we were not far from the land
When the captain spied a lovely mermaid
   With a comb and a glass in her hand.”

These words ran in his head some time, until he finally exclaimed: “Well, I’ll ‘spy a mermaid,’ too, though she may not be very lovely.  Yes, a mermaid shall come aboard this bark to-day with Father Neptune.”

He congratulated himself upon this happy thought and set about carrying it into execution.  There was but one woman aboard—his sister—and her assuming the role of mermaid was, of course, not to be thought of.  Among the crew was a bright, good-looking fellow, known as Mike—just the man to make an acceptable mermaid.  In stature he was somewhat below the medium height, but well proportioned and with rather attractive features.  He was much tanned, of course, and his expression was decidedly bolder than is thought pleasing in one of the fair p. 168sex; but these were minor difficulties in comparison with the great question, How to obtain suitable clothes?  The captain solved this, as he thought, by deciding to ask his sister for the loan of some of her old skirts and waists, but she had buried herself in the store-room before he had time to prefer his request.  This was just as well, he concluded, for in her present humor he would have met with a peremptory refusal.

So, having ascertained that Rose was engaged in hauling the steward over the coals for misplacing a case of honey and leaving matches where the rats could get at them, the captain entered his sister’s room.  He felt rather guilty, but suitable attire for the mermaid must be had, and he tried to think that “Rosy wouldn’t mind,”—hoping, nevertheless, that the ceremonies would be over before she came on deck.

“What a lot of clothes women have,” he soliloquized, examining the various gowns and other apparel hanging on pegs.  His sister’s best garments were laid away p. 169in her trunks, and he spent considerable time in trying to choose what seemed to be the least valuable skirt and waist among the lot.  He finally selected an old black alpaca for which Rose cared little, and a red dressing jacket for which she cared a great deal—it was the one she slipped on every morning when combing her hair.  Just as he was leaving a green veil caught his eye.

“That will make Mike look mysterious,” he thought.  He took it, bundled the things up in a newspaper, and Mr. Rivers, the mate, conveyed them forward.

The morning was hot, but a fine breeze tempered the heat and prevented discomfort.  The seas chased each other along the vessel’s sides, and occasionally sobbed and gurgled in the lee scuppers as the bark leaned over to port.  Just as the man at the wheel struck five bells, two strange figures climbed over the bows and gained the forecastle deck.  They were the Old Man of the Seas and his companion.

The royal Neptune’s head was encircled by an elaborate wooden crown, painted p. 170green, about which were twined several pieces of sea-weed.  His long beard was carefully combed out, and swept down upon his chest with a truly patriarchal air.  The principal garment was a long green toga (formerly a piano-cover), which extended from the neck to the heels, and was ornamented with sea-weed stitched on in various fantastic shapes.  The arms and feet of the royal personage were entirely bare, and in his right hand he carried a substantial sceptre some five feet in length, having three prongs at the upper end.

Neptune’s companion was a sight to behold.  From the crown of her head to her waist, floated a wealth of yellow hair, of which any mermaid might well have been proud.  This telling effect had been achieved by unbraiding and combing out several strands of sennit.  The dressing-jacket and the alpaca skirt did not seem exactly “the thing” for a sea-nymph, and yet they fitted as well as could have been expected, except that the jacket was too tight across the shoulders.  A straw hat covered with sea-weed was perched upon p. 171the damsel’s head, and the green veil concealed the fact that she had been freshly shaven.  Her feet were encased in a pair of knit slippers.  Depending from a belt around her waist were a small cracked hand-glass, a comb, and a flying-fish which had fallen on the deck that morning.

“Mariners, behold Neptune, the Ruler of the Seas, and his daughter, the beautiful Mermaid of St. Paul’s Rocks!”

Neptune made this announcement in a deep bass voice, and Captain Pitkin and the mate bowed low before the two august personages.

“Your majesty has conferred an unspeakable honor in deigning to come aboard,” answered Pitkin.  “Will it please you to accompany us to the main deck, where some slight preparation has been made for your reception?”

The captain and mate led the way, followed by Neptune and his daughter.  The former held his head high in the air and looked neither to the right nor to the left, while the Mermaid walked with a mincing p. 172gait and twined her long hair about her fingers.

All hands were assembled in the waist, eager to see the siren and her father, and as the quartette approached, the crew winked, nudged each other, and cast meaning glances at the three “candidates,”—Oscar, Christian and Josef, who formed a little group by themselves.

A low platform had been constructed about the capstan, and when Neptune took his seat upon the brass surface of the latter, his appearance was really imposing.  A cloth-covered box had been provided for the Mermaid, but she disdained it, and leaned gracefully against the throne.

“And what bold craft have we here, which thus invades our domain and hopes to cross the Line with landsmen aboard, for the wrinkles in this vessel’s copper prove that more than one lubber stands before us!”

Neptune delivered this speech in accents of wrath, and brought his sceptre down with such force that those nearest fell back a few steps.

“Let the landsmen come before us!” commanded Neptune

p. 173“We are the barkentine Mohawk, sire, from Portland for Buenos Ayres, and your majesty’s keen perception has not erred in assuming that there are landsmen aboard.  I cheerfully relinquish to you the freedom of the vessel, and trust that all aliens here will shortly be transformed into loyal subjects.”

The captain bowed and withdrew to the poop, where he had an excellent view and could hear all that was said.

“Let the landsmen come before us,” commanded Neptune.

But the trio hesitated, evidently not relishing the aspect of affairs.  All three possessed a certain amount of common sense,—though mostly latent,—and half-suspected that King Neptune and the carpenter were one and the same.  But the silent female figure puzzled them completely, for the Mermaid, although unconventional in appearance, was so cleverly arrayed that the illusion was quite perfect.

Josef timidly whispered a few words to Oscar, but before he could reply, Neptune stamped his foot.  Royalty cannot brook p. 174delay, and at this token of displeasure, half a dozen of the crew seized Oscar, Josef and Christian, and dragged them before the throne.  The two former were conducted to one side in obedience to Neptune’s gesture, while Christian remained standing before the frowning monarch.

A slight hitch now occurred, caused by Neptune forgetting his lines.  He was unequal to the task of extemporizing, and the more he tried to remember what “came next,” the more confused he became.  His majesty glared about, his face meanwhile becoming red with embarrassment, which poor Christian attributed to rage.  The Mermaid was equal to the emergency, and came to her father’s rescue.

Mike was something of a ventriloquist, and when the order was issued “Minion, box the compass!” Christian was not the only one who stared in amazement, wondering whence the strange voice proceeded.  He had never been called by such a name before, and was in much doubt as to p. 175whether he was the one addressed.  The Mermaid whispered something in Neptune’s ear, and the latter, tapping the culprit with his sceptre, commanded: “Answer, varlet, and quickly!”

The compass was a Chinese puzzle to Christian, [175] but he dared not remain silent, and began desperately: “North, northeast, east by north-east, east by east,—”

Here the crew set up a roar of derision, and the mate remarked: “A fine able seaman you are.  The shipping-master that put you aboard this bark ought to p. 176be sent around the world as mate of a ship with two dozen like you for a crew!”

Neptune had by this time got his bearings, and asked:

“Does the sun cross the equator on the 21st of June, or the 21st day of December?”

“June,” hazarded Christian.

“What route must a steamer take to go from New York to Honolulu in eight days?”

“The middle route.”

“Why is the gulf-stream always full of sharks?”

“I never knew the reason, sir.”

“What year was the Panama Canal discovered?”

“I—I don’t know.”

“What time does the moon rise at the South Pole?”

No answer.

“How many wrecks are there on the bottom between here and Pitcairn Island?”

“There must be a good many, sir.”

Half a dozen equally absurd questions followed, most of which the wisdom of p. 177Minerva could not have answered correctly.

“Enough; away with him to the shaving-chair!” finally cried Neptune.  “He’s the most unpromising subject we ever came across, and calls me ‘sir,’ instead of ‘your majesty!’”

An old steamer chair had been tilted back, and the victim—for such he now considered himself—was marched to it, and requested to sit down.  Behind this chair stood a large wash-tub filled with water, but the tarpaulin spread over it concealed this fact.

The Mermaid now produced a tar-pot, in which she swished a brush about until the “lather” was of the right consistency.  A piece of sacking having been spread over the occupant of the chair, the operator brandished her brush and prepared to begin.

“I don’t need to—to be shaved,” gasped Christian.

This was true, for he was one of those men—mostly Finns and p. 178Scandinavians—who couldn’t have raised a beard had his life depended on it.  A few colorless hairs appeared on his cheeks and upper lip, which the Mermaid proceeded to count aloud.

“Twenty-nine!” she announced, contemptuously.  “Rather different, father dear, from the visages of Columbus, Magellan, and Vasco de Gama, upon whom I operated in centuries gone by.”

She now lathered the face of the squirming Christian, laying on the tar with the peculiar slapping sound made by an experienced painter when applying a coat of paint to a flat surface.

The patient had by this time resigned all hope, and betrayed little interest when the brush was laid aside for the razor.  This was a marline-spike, and the Mermaid gave it an edge—if a round object can be said to have an edge—by stropping it on a capstan bar which one of the crew had placed in the capstan.  She then held the cracked hand-glass before Christian’s face, that he might see how he looked, and proceeded to shave him.  This was a p. 179decided relief, and the man wondered if it was not the end of the performance.

Vain hope!  Scarcely had the lather been scraped off, when two of the crew advanced to the tub and removed the tarpaulin.  They then tipped the chair back suddenly, causing its occupant to slide into the tub, where he was immersed all but the feet.  He was quickly drawn out and hustled forward on the port side, directly beneath the fore yard.  A bowline had been rigged up at the extremity of the yard-arm overhanging the water, and the ends of the rope hung down to the deck.  One end was made fast around Christian just beneath the arms, and a dozen hands grasped the other end amidst the most uproarious hilarity.

An old salt with bare feet, brass rings in his ears, and a red cotton handkerchief wound about his head, now ascended to the roof of the forward house and played a wild air upon a wheezy violin.  He danced about at the same time, and sang in a hurricane voice and with great gusto, the first verse of a song whose subject was: “The p. 180Baptism of Captain Kidd.”  Everyone joined in the chorus, even Neptune and his daughter, while the shrieking Christian was hoisted up to the yard-arm.  There he remained suspended between sea and sky while the old salt rendered another verse, and then, as all hands took up the refrain, the rope was slackened away.  Three times was the Swede ducked in the heaving swell, before being drawn up and lowered on deck again.  He was then released, and patted on the back by the Mermaid, who said patronizingly:

“My son, you are a lubber no more,—in name at least,—and can now consider yourself a true subject of Neptune.”

The new subject was past speech, but he drew a deep breath of relief and got upon the galley roof, where he sat down to dry, as well as to see what befell Oscar and Josef.  He had not been hurt in the least, but, as some one has said, “A man might as well be killed as scared to death.”

The other two felt that their time had come.  At first they had watched the proceedings with great interest, which p. 181gradually changed to dismay, and finally gave place to absolute terror.  That Christian was to be hanged or drowned, they did not in the least doubt; and just as he was ducked for the third time, Oscar gave a yell and broke from his guards, who were absorbed in watching the rites.  He ran to the main rigging and darted up it as though Satan were at his heels.  The guards were about to pursue, when they remembered Josef, and the latter’s break for liberty was nipped in the bud.

Neptune, the Mermaid and attendants now came aft, and many volunteers presented themselves to bring Oscar down from the top-mast head, whither he had climbed with an alacrity entirely foreign to his nature.  The royal personages consulted together and announced that Josef would be “finished” before Oscar was taken in hand.  So everybody gathered about the throne; even the cat, who sat gravely upon her haunches and licked her chops as though desiring another canary.

A number of ridiculous questions were propounded to Josef, who had a very p. 182imperfect knowledge of English, and made worse work than Christian in answering them.  He was hurried to the chair, and the tar-bucket again brought into requisition.

Meanwhile Miss Pitkin had inspected the store-room thoroughly, and now came up the companion-way with a comfortable sense of duty performed.  She scanned the horizon line for a sail, took a look at the compass, and then started to find her brother.  There he was on the poop, and she ascended thither.

“Why, what is the matter, Charles?  Why are all hands in the waist?  Oh, I remember,—Neptune.”

The captain was relieved at seeing his sister smile, and began to hope that she was rallying from the grief and ill-temper into which the canary’s death had thrown her.  Suddenly, through the crowd of figures pressing around the throne, she caught a glimpse of the Mermaid.  Surprise at sight of this extraordinary vision kept her silent a moment, when she called p. 183out: “Mr. Rivers, what is that creature,—man or woman?”

The Mermaid’s wit got the better of her discretion, and she answered, before the mate could reply, “Neither one, ma’am: I’m ’alf and ’alf, like the ale and stout we mix together in Liverpool, or like one of those morphodite [183] brigs, that’s part brig and part schooner.”

The crew respectfully fell back at sight of Miss Pitkin, and the nymph was exposed to view.  Rose instantly detected the deception, and in spite of the cleverly disguised voice, her feminine facility for jumping at conclusions told her that Mike was the speaker.  Without knowing why, she was as absolutely certain of this fact as of her own name.  Then she recognized the dressing jacket!  The lady could hardly believe the evidence of her senses; but it was not her habit to remain in doubt if it could be avoided, and she hurried from the poop to verify her suspicions.

The captain was considerably disturbedp. 184by the expression of his sister’s face, and called out: “Don’t do anything rash, Rosy; it’s only a mermaid.

“Hang that fool of a Mike,” he muttered.  “Why couldn’t he have kept quiet?  I wish I’d never heard of mermaids or anything of the sort.”

Miss Pitkin sought her room and took a hurried inventory of her possessions.  Yes, what she deemed impossible had occurred; one of the crew had actually dared to invade the sanctity of the cabin—her own room, even—and deliberately steal her clothes!  The theft, audacious as it seemed, was yet of secondary importance compared to the outrageous breach of discipline it involved.  At this rate the crew would soon want to dine with the captain, or sit in easy chairs upon the quarter-deck!

“And there sat my brother on the poop with his eyes open, and never even noticed that that creature was wearing his sister’s clothes!” she thought, surprise for the moment taking the place of indignation.

She gained the main deck, and advanced towards the capstan, where the ceremonies p. 185had been resumed the moment she went below.  Her black eyes flashed ominously, and the crew, with a common impulse, fled in all directions, though none could have told precisely what they were fleeing from.  The two mates thought it prudent to withdraw to their rooms, and the guilty Mermaid set down the tar bucket and escaped, leaving Josef in the chair with but one side of his face lathered.  Neptune alone remained to face the enemy, not being actuated by bravery so much as by astonishment at the sudden rout of his attendants.  While the Ruler of the Seas sat upon the throne trying to decide what to do, Miss Pitkin stepped up and surveyed him with scornful amusement.  There was her green veil in his left hand, whither it had been thrust by the Mermaid!

Unable longer to control her indignation, Rose seized the tar brush, exclaiming, “Take that, you great overgrown dunce.”  Suiting the action to the word, she gave his majesty’s cheek a sound slap; which insult, instead of rousing him, appeared to befog his faculties still more.  p. 186She plucked the sceptre from the monarch’s palsied hand, knocked the crown from his head, and threw both overboard.

Neptune’s daughter had taken refuge in the carpenter shop, but the red jacket caught Miss Pitkin’s eye as she passed the window.  Pursued and pursuer darted through the room and out of the opposite door, but as Rose was used to skirts and the nymph was not, the latter was at a disadvantage.  Thrice was she nearly thrown down by the alpaca, until gathering it up in one hand, she dashed to the rigging, and attempted to ascend.  Miss Pitkin was close behind, and made a pass at the Mermaid with a harpoon she had picked up; the end catching in the damsel’s hair, which all came off, together with her hat.  The looking glass fell to the deck and was shivered into fragments.  There was the erstwhile siren part way up the rigging, all her wit, confidence and gayety gone; while the very members of the crew who had so lately admired her, now jeered and derided from the other side of the deck.

p. 187“It will go hard with you when we reach port!” cried the irate lady, when she had recovered her breath; “and if Captain Pitkin doesn’t have you in irons before night, he’s not the man I take him for.  You brazen thief, to steal my clothes!”

“I never did steal a thing of anybody aft since I came aboard, ma’am.  Do you think I’d be going into the cabin where I’ve no business, and risk being caught?  I’m no fool.  The captain told me all I had to do was to be a mermaid (may the Virgin forgive me), and he’d furnish the togs.”

“Do you mean to say that Captain Pitkin gave you those clothes?”

“He sent them to the fo’k’sl, ma’am, this very morning.”

“Would my brother do such a thing?” Rose asked herself, as she again took her way aft.

The captain was invisible.  In fact, he had retired to his room, and was endeavoring to banish the present by a perusal of the fascinating adventures of D’Artagnan p. 188and his reckless companions.  He was roused by a knock at the door, but before he could say “Come in,” his sister entered.

The captain took in the situation at a glance, and knew he was in for it.  The years seemed to roll back, and as Rose marched him to the sofa he imagined himself a boy of ten, and the subject of well-merited chastisement.  He made a full confession, asked to be forgiven, and swore never again to hold any intercourse with Neptune or his relatives.  He could not help adding: “It was partly your fault, though, for if you hadn’t flounced out of the room at breakfast, I should have had a chance to ask for the use of the clothes. Are they completely ruined?  Can’t they be washed?”

Are they ruined?  Do you suppose I will ever touch them again after that Mike has worn them?  And have they not been in the forecastle?”

Rose whispered a single word in her brother’s ear.  It was the name of a creature all mention of which is strictly tabood in good society; or, if referred to at all, it p. 189is usually between housewives exchanging confidences, and then only with bated breath.  “I cannot name ’t but I shall offend,” and it suffices to say that it is a certain little animal which invariably inhabits ships’ forecastles, though on all well-regulated craft it never invades the cabin.

“Good heavens, Rose, I never thought of that,” replied the captain, looking serious.  “But never mind, it can’t be helped, and you shall have what clothes you want in Buenos Ayres, if you can find anything to suit.”

Rose was fond of her brother—in her own way,—and his straight-forward confession mollified her considerably.  She did not yet allow this to appear, however, but announced sternly:

“After the manner in which you have made away with my garments, Charles, I very much doubt whether I shall make another voyage on the Mohawk.  It would serve you right if I left you to your own devices.  You could mend your clothes, lose your pipes, go without my desserts, p. 190and live on hash and lobscouse for years to come, besides having the satisfaction of knowing that the steward was secretly drinking bottles of ale and beer, and making way with provisions.”

The captain made a gesture as if to banish some disagreeable remembrance.

“Don’t, Rosy,—I couldn’t endure to live the way I used to.  It seemed all right then, but since you’ve taken the cook, and steward and cabin in hand, it’s like a different vessel.”

This admission pleased Rose, and she answered, “Well, we shall see,” in tones which informed the captain that he was forgiven.

He put his arm about his sister’s waist and escorted her to the deck, with a sensation of having recovered a treasure whose worth had not been fully appreciated.

“It’s curious how one woman can upset everything, and raise Pandemonium in no time,” he said, aside to Mr. Rivers, a few moments later.

Orders were given for the wash-tub to p. 191be restored to its proper place, the platform about the capstan to be removed, and for everything to resume its wonted appearance.

As for Christian, Oscar and Josef, they might very appropriately have been likened to the three degrees of thankfulness.  Christian, drying himself on the galley roof, represented the positive degree, and was merely thankful that Neptune had got through with him without taking his life.  Josef, with one cheek lathered, felt like a fish that has been hooked, and then succeeds in escaping.  He looked rather woebegone, but was thankful indeed to have escaped with such comparative comfort.  But Oscar, who had now ventured part way down the main mast, had fairly baffled Neptune and his daughter; and had there been any degree beyond the superlative, it could not have been too strong to express the state of his feelings.  Henceforth he regarded Miss Pitkin as a deliverer, and had she been a goddess, his veneration could scarcely have been greater.

p. 192The Mohawk crossed the Line during the afternoon on the 30th meridian of west longitude, and for all we know, Oscar and Josef are lubbers yet.

p. 193MISSING.

Missing The trades of the Indian Ocean usually blow with great regularity except at the semi-annual change of the monsoons, and the bark Harvester was slipping easily along at a six-knot rate on her voyage from Singapore to New York.

It was the second dog-watch; that time at sea when, the day’s work being over, decks swept up, and supper eaten, all hands bring out their pipes and gather in groups to discuss passing events, or to while away the twilight hour in telling stories.

p. 194Job, the negro cook, sat in the galley door singing one of the plaintive melodies of his race.  An old banjo, played as only a darky can play that instrument, furnished the accompaniment.  The singer’s voice was rich and mellow, and the simple notes floated out on the still evening air with a soothing charm that went straight to the heart, and struck many a forgotten chord in the breasts of the four rough seamen who comprised his audience.  Near the booby hatch were gathered the mate, the bo’s’un and the steward; each relating in turn some reminiscence or bit of adventure connected with his past life.  Many of these provoked roars of laughter, while the conclusion of a few was followed by a period of silence rendered more eloquent by a shake of the head or a sigh.  That was the way these hardy men received the narration of some half-forgotten ocean tragedy.

“Yes, Mr. Morgan,” the steward was saying, “I recollect hearing of those two gales off Cape Flattery, now you speak of it.  About ’87, wasn’t it?”

p. 195The mate thought a moment before he answered: “It was in the spring of ’87, in the first of those gales, that the ship St. Lawrence went to the bottom.  If I live to be a hundred I’ll never forget it; but if I should happen to, here’s something that’ll make me remember.”

He pushed back the thick hair from his forehead and revealed an ugly-looking scar of a peculiar reddish-brown color. “Now you know why I wear my hair long even in the tropics,” he said.  “I’ve not got much beauty to boast of, maybe, but I’m a little sensitive about that cursed mark all the same.  I hate to think of it!”

The steward seemed astonished.  “The St. Lawrence!  You were on that ship, Mr. Morgan?” he exclaimed, in accents that betrayed his incredulity.

“I was mate of her on her last four voyages.”

“We were in Antwerp at the time, but I always understood that all hands were lost with her.”

“All but the carpenter and me.”

p. 196He rose, emptied his pipe, and appeared anxious to drop the subject, but the curiosity of the steward led him to ask how those two had managed to escape.  The bo’s’un seconded the request, so Morgan again seated himself, and after a short silence related the affair in these words:

The St. Lawrence was a neat little ship—you may have seen her,—and Captain Fairley was one of the finest men I ever met,—quiet, and a man of few words, but when he said a thing he meant it.  I didn’t like his wife so well, but his daughter, Miss Marion,—oh, she was a lovely girl.  She’d never lived on shore much, and had that shy, retiring disposition that you often see in such cases, where the captain’s children always go with him and have nobody of their own age to associate with.  She never hankered after shore life though, and seemed perfectly happy to be always at sea.

Miss Marion had quite a liking for me, and many and many an evening would she pace the deck in my watch, telling me the names of the different stars and how far p. 197off some of them were, and all such things.  That was her favorite study—astronomy. Then she read a great deal and used to tell me about her books.  All the tidies for the cabin chairs were made by her hands.  You remember that silk handkerchief I showed you,—that one with the M embroidered on it?  She worked that letter and gave me the handkerchief on my birthday.  It was the first birthday present I ever got, and I guess it’ll be the last. Poor girl! she wasn’t quite seventeen when the accident happened.

We came across from Hong Kong to San Francisco and found that the ship had been chartered to load coal on Puget Sound.  We arrived at Nanaimo near the end of March.  In those days there were no stevedores at most of the coal ports on the Sound, and it was the captain’s or mate’s business to superintend the work of the crew in loading the vessel.  Captain Fairley had to go to Tacoma on some business matter, and as ill-luck would have it, I was taken sick the day after we got to Nanaimo, and the doctor made me p. 198turn in.  I wasn’t able to get out of that bunk for ten days, with the result that the second mate had charge of loading the ship.

I won’t say anything here against Ike Summers,—all of us have our failings,—but what I do say is this: his being drunk while she was loading caused one of the worst accidents on record, and the loss of one of the finest ships I ever saw.  Half of the crew were drunk of course, and twenty-six hundred tons of coal were pitched in at random.  I’ll swear she wasn’t half trimmed, though I was just able to get about the morning we sailed.  Captain Fairley, his wife and Miss Marion got back from Tacoma the afternoon before, and I told him that night it was my opinion that the second mate had been drinking a good deal.  He looked serious, but Ike swore everything was all right,—he’d got pretty well sobered up that afternoon,—and as the clearance papers had been taken out, the captain concluded to sail next day.  He wanted to get to San Francisco as quickly as possible, for we’d p. 199been chartered to load from there to New York.  If it hadn’t been for that, I’ve always thought the captain would have looked into the way the cargo had been stowed.  He must have suspected something was wrong, for he wanted Mrs. Fairley and Miss Marion to go back by rail, but they wouldn’t hear of it.

So we were towed to sea one fine April morning, having for company a crazy old bark named the Lizzie Williams.  The St. Lawrence was rated A-1 at Lloyd’s, and that bark probably had no rating at all, but the old hulk was a good deal more fit to go to sea that morning than we were, as it soon turned out.  Her cargo was stowed right, even if she did have to be pumped out three times a day.

Ike Summers had the afternoon watch, and when I turned in after dinner the tug had just cast us off, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky.  I heard Captain Fairley tell his wife that we must be going to have a blow on account of the falling glass, but he thought it wouldn’t amount to much.  Miss Marion was doing some p. 200fancy work, I remember, and Ike had just ordered some of his men to spread an old cro’-jack out on deck to be mended.  It was a warm, pleasant day, and the sun shone on the sails of the Lizzie Williams as she slumped along like an old canal boat a few miles to leeward.  She was the last thing I saw before I went to my room and turned in.  I soon dropped off, being dead tired and not very strong yet after my sickness.

How long my sleep lasted don’t matter,—it seemed about ten minutes, but must have been several hours,—when I was roused by the steward shaking me and yelling “Come on deck, Mr. Morgan, for God’s sake!”  That brought me to my senses in an instant, and only stopping to throw on my shoes, I ran out.

What a change!  A heavy squall was bearing down, and all hands were working like demons to get the ship stripped.  Some were aloft cutting away the earings so as to let the sails go overboard, while others were letting go halyards, sheets and tacks. A kind of fog or mist was settling down, p. 201and the sails slatting against the masts and shrouds made a horrible din, to say nothing of the hoarse orders that the captain and Ike were bawling out.

I ran up the shrouds to help Summers cut away the mains’il.

“Good G—, Ike, you must have been mad to let that squall catch the ship with all sail on.  Where was the captain?” I cried.

“He was below.  I just called him.  It came faster than I reckoned on.”

“You’ve done it this time!  If we ar’n’t dismasted it won’t be your fault.”

We got the mains’il loose, and I had just slid down the backstay to the deck when Miss Marion came running up with face as white as a sheet, but perfectly cool.

“Tell me what I can do to help,” she implored.

“Close the lazarette hatchway,” I answered, “and see all the cabin windows and skylights shut.  Then stay below.”

Mrs. Fairley was a very nervous woman, and the suddenness of the affair had upset her completely.  There she stood at the p. 202break of the poop clinging to a tops’il brace, and literally paralyzed with terror.  Miss Marion went to her mother’s assistance, and at the same moment the captain ordered me to take my watch and haul up the fores’il.  They were the last words I ever heard him speak.

All this had happened within two or three minutes of my coming on deck, and but few of the light sails had been cut away when I got some of my watch at work on the fores’il.  The first thing I knew, an extra heavy gust struck the ship and heeled her over about twenty-five degrees.  That wasn’t much, but I tell you a lump came in my throat the next second when I heard a dull roar in the hold beneath.  All of us knew what that muffled sound meant—the cargo had shifted!

“The ship went clear over on her side”

Of course the ship went clear over on her side then, and the squall broke on us in earnest right after.  Everybody grasped whatever he could lay his hands on to keep from sliding down the deck.  There was no sea running to speak of, and the chances of saving the ship were fair p. 203provided the squall soon passed over; but as the thought of Ike Summers having caused all this came over me, I was in such a fury that if he’d been near by then, I could have pitched him overboard, and not been sorry.

I won’t speak of what we all felt as we clung there on different parts of the ship,—it had all been so sudden, but before anything could be done to right her, the main mast broke off underneath the deck, ripping her all open amidships.  The water poured in at an awful rate, and all hands knew the ship was doomed.

“The boats!  Cut the lashings before she founders!” I yelled.

Myself and two or three more sprang up on the forward house, where three of the life-boats were made fast, and as we whipped out our knives I happened to look aft and saw the captain and steward on the poop trying to get the gig free before the ship went down.  Miss Marion and her mother were holding to the spanker boom, both bearing up nobly in this awful crisis.  I knew they would be safe in the p. 204gig along with the captain, which was a great load off my mind.

“How shall we get water and stores for the boats?” someone cried.

How, indeed?  It was impossible.

We had just got one boat free when the ship gave a plunge, and we felt her going.  Everyone was tugging at the boats; a few were yelling and screaming; and then all hands were in the water.  I had hardly come to the surface when I felt a terrible blow on the head, and dimly realized that a piece of wreckage had struck me.  There was a gurgling sound in my ears,—that was the last thing I recollect.


I was lying on my back with my eyes open looking up at the sky.  The new moon was shining, and a large bright star twinkled not far away.  I vaguely felt that one of my hands was in the water, and knew that my limbs were being chafed by some person.  A kind of dreamy stupor was on me, and though these ideas passed slowly through my brain, they seemed to p. 205make no impression, and I didn’t even wonder where I was, or how I came there.  Some one spoke to me.

“Mr. Morgan, try and brace up a bit.  You know Simms, the carpenter—”

The voice sounded strange and unnatural.

“Yes, I know Simms, the carpenter,” I muttered; but the words meant no more to me than does some senseless phrase to the parrot that mechanically repeats it.

“Them’s the first words you’ve spoke, sir.  Now let me pour a little whiskey down your throat.”

The whiskey must have done me good, for I began to get my senses back after a while and became conscious of a terrible throbbing in my head.  Putting my hand to my forehead where the pain was, my fingers came in contact with blood.  That brought me round more than anything else, and I shut my eyes and tried hard to remember where I was.

“Mr. Morgan, it won’t do to give up like this.  We can’t be over sixty miles p. 206from the coast, and right in the track of the coal fleet at that.”

The voice sounded familiar now, and I knew it was the carpenter speaking.

“How did we come here, and where are the rest?  Where is the ship?” I asked, still a good deal bewildered.

There was a groan and a short pause before the answer came.

“No mortal man will ever set eyes on the St. Lawrence again, Mr. Morgan, nor on any of her crew but you and me.”

It took me some minutes to realize those awful words.

“But Captain Fairley and his family—they escaped?”

“All gone, sir; all but us two.”

“How were we saved?” I asked, as soon as my mind had grasped the fact that out of two dozen lives, ours alone had been spared.

“Everything was sucked down in the vortex—boats and all.  I held my breath till I nearly burst before I came to the surface, and there you was close beside me.  You was just going down again, I p. 207judged, when I grabbed you.  A good ways off was Jim Parsons, but not another soul was to be seen.  Two capstan bars floated near by, but I struck out for this big piece of the poop-deck that we’re on now, which was half a ship’s length off.  It must have been wrenched loose when she went down.  I made shift to get on it after a hard fight, for I daren’t leave go of you for fear you’d sink.  You was so limp I allowed you must be dead, and your head was bloody besides.  Then I looked for Jim, but the poor fellow was nowhere to be seen.”

I owed my life to the carpenter, that was certain.

“Don’t thank me any more,” said the brave fellow.  “You’d have done as much for me.”

“How long have we been here?” I said. “Is this the first night after the accident?”

“Yes, sir; this time yesterday the ship was at Nanaimo.”

It seemed incredible.  A mere squall had wrecked that fine ship—a blow not one twentieth part as strong as she had p. 208weathered hundreds of times before—and all on account of a shifted cargo.

“Is there any water to drink?”  I knew very well there couldn’t be, yet I asked the question.

“No, Mr. Morgan.  I happened to have this flask and an apple in my pocket, which is all we’ve got.  If we were in mid-ocean now, our logs would soon be wrote up, but I make no doubt we’ll be picked up in a day or so at the most.  There’s no sea on, so our chance is good.”

We didn’t talk much for a long time, but just before daylight the carpenter, who had been standing up, said: “Don’t be excited, sir, but there’s a vessel bearing down.”

“Where away?  Point her out!”  I struggled up, though it made my head swim.

None but a sailor would have recognized a vessel in that dark blotch away in the north.  My heart thumped pretty loud when I sighted it, and realized that the craft was coming our way.  We prayed p. 209for daylight,—or I did, anyway,—and it was the first prayer I’d said for years.

Well, the sun came up, and there was a large Englishman not four miles off.  She couldn’t help seeing us, but we never stopped waving the carpenter’s coat—I had none—till they signalled us.  No need to tell how we got picked up, or how glad we were to have a ship’s deck under our feet again.  She proved to be the Scottish Glens, bound from Tacoma to Hamburg, and all hands were mightily interested in our story, several having seen the St. Lawrence sail the morning before.

There we were not a hundred miles from shore, but of course the captain wouldn’t put back, so there was nothing for it but to start on an eighteen-thousand-mile voyage.  We worked our passage, and an awful one it was as far as length goes.

While entering the harbor of Hamburg, one hundred and ninety days later, a small boat came alongside with mail for the officers and crew.  There was a large assortment of letters and papers bearing p. 210postmarks from all parts of the world; but the carpenter and I got nothing, nor did we expect anything, for our relatives must have long since given us up.  One of the officers handed me a late copy of the Marine Register, and in the department of Disasters I found this item, which sounded like my obituary:


St. Lawrence (ship), Fairley, which sailed from Puget Sound April 7 for San Francisco, has never been heard of since, and is supposed to have foundered with all hands.  Posted at Lloyd’s as missing.


A Dangerous Cargo The south-east trades of the Pacific usually carry the north bound vessel well across the Line.  But they had been failing gradually for some days; and now the long, low steel hull of the British ship Lochleven had almost ceased to move, although she was yet a good two degrees south of the equator.  It was very provoking; the more so that she had made very fast time thus far, and Captain Stafford had entertained hopes of making an unusually quick passage.  But these hopes were slowly vanishing.

The remarkable feature of a calm in the equatorial latitudes of the Pacific is the interesting appearance of the water, which literally teems with various forms p. 212of animal life.  It is clear and limpid as crystal, and, viewed from the Lochleven’s deck, an endless procession of strange creatures slowly floated by with the current.  Two shapeless blotches of film appeared, whose only sign of life was a great red eye at one end.  They seemed to have less than the consistency of jelly, and represented one of the lowest forms of animal life.  Next was a curious jointed creature of a deep orange tint, coiled up like a snake.  Then a fragile nautilus was borne along, with the delicate pink shell projecting above the surface like a sail,—“Portuguese man-of-war” seamen call it,—while a bunch of long tentacles hung down beneath.  Just over the stern were two active little fish the size of a brook trout, whose bodies were blue, with wide brown stripes.  The pair swam side by side, occasionally darting away capriciously, only to return in a moment.  How harmless and innocent they looked!  And yet their presence was a certain indication that a shark lurked beneath the ship.  One or two of these pilot-fish always accompany a shark to find his prey and lead him to it, for their ugly protector is lazy and nearsighted, and would fare badly without them.  Close to the ship’s side a p. 213magnificent dolphin floated motionless in the translucent water; the beauty of his steel-blue and pale lemon tints being enhanced by the clear element until the splendid creature seemed too glorious to be real.  So quiet was the ocean, so still the fish, that one might easily imagine it only the image of a dolphin reflected in a vast mirror.

Several hundred miles to the eastward of where the Lochleven lay becalmed were the Galapagos Islands, where thousands of turtles assemble, lay their eggs in the sand, and then float away with the current; sleeping on the water most of the time.  A dozen were now in view at various distances from the ship, besides a big one that had just been captured, and was crawling awkwardly about the deck.  Its great discolored shell, dead-looking eyes, and beak massive enough to sever a man’s wrist, gave little indication of the rich steaks and agreeable soup into which the cook promised to convert it on the morrow.

Howard, the captain’s seven year old son, considered the turtle a new kind of steed, and bestrode its broad back in great glee.  The bare-footed youngster was brown as a berry, and carried a toy sailor which had been christened Lord Nelson.  p. 214The fact that his lordship was minus an arm only increased the affection with which he had been regarded for two years past, when he supplanted a golden haired doll, which Howard soon after consigned to a watery grave.

Captain Stafford had been standing by the main hatch, watching the turtle, and seeing to it that his reckless son did not get a finger bitten off, when he became sensible of a faint, almost imperceptible odor.  It was so vague as to be almost intangible—probably not half a dozen on board would have noticed it even had they stood where the captain did then.  At first he tried to think it might be only imagination, and this view of the matter was strengthened when he walked to another part of the deck not far off and detected no odor whatever.  He returned to his former position and sniffed the air as a hound does when scenting danger.  Again that slight smell of gas.

Captain Stafford knew what sort of a cargo was stowed under his feet, and from that moment he thought no more of the turtle.  Walking to the carpenter-shop, he beckoned to its occupant.  “Carpenter, get the main hatch off at once.”

Cardiff coal is extraordinarily liable to p. 215spontaneous combustion, and not a few of the many ships that carry it from Cardiff and Swansea all over the world catch fire.  Often the danger is discovered in time to be checked, but one of the peculiarities of this cargo is, that it may burn for days and even weeks in the center of the mass without giving the least sign, only to break forth at last in uncontrollable fury.  The Lochleven carried 4,000 tons of this commodity, consigned to San Francisco.

The carpenter brought out his tools and began removing the hatch-cover, while such of the crew as were aloft “tarring down” the rigging wondered what this unusual proceeding meant.  The moment the aperture was laid open the nostrils of those who looked down were saluted by a smell like that of a sulphur match that has been lighted and then immediately extinguished.  It was not overpowering, and the captain was the first man to descend the ladder.  The carpenter followed with an iron testing-rod, and then the mate, with several of his watch.  The latter were equipped with spades.  Placing his hand upon the coal, the captain found it slightly warm on the surface, and the crew commenced digging according to his directions.  Then the carpenter inserted the p. 216testing-rod, which was withdrawn presently, and showed that no fire existed thereabout, although the coals were badly heated.

“Now, carpenter, take off the other hatches, and use the tester in the other parts of the ship.  And you, Mr. Maitland, get the rest of your watch down from aloft.  Let them bring below every spade on board, and dig trenches wherever the coal is heated.”

The captain’s lungs were not strong and he was seized with a fit of coughing, brought on by inhaling gas.  This compelled him to go on deck for a time, and he saw Mrs. Stafford approaching.

“What is wrong, Edward, and why are the hatches being opened?  You look troubled.”

“Nothing serious, I hope.  The cargo is badly heated, but we find no fire as yet.”

Mrs. Stafford glanced at her husband interrogatively, as if to divine whether he concealed anything.  She was a woman of commanding presence, and though hardly thirty-five, her abundant hair was perfectly white.

“There is no smoke,” she said, looking down into the hold.

p. 217Even as she spoke the carpenter removed the third hatch, and instantly a thin, yellowish vapor ascended into the air.  “That’s a bad sign,” said McKenzie, the third mate, aside to the carpenter, who was preparing to descend.  But he drew back, holding his nose, and before it was possible to go down a wet sponge had to be bound over his mouth and nostrils.  Those who accompanied him took the same precaution.

It was nearly noon, and time to take sights.  Still no wind, and the rudder-chains creaked and rattled as though to remind everyone that a calm prevailed.

While Captain Stafford waited for the sun to reach the zenith, the carpenter approached, with a serious face.

“There looks to be a fire, sir, in hatch No. 3.  The further down the men dig the hotter the coal gets, and the smoke is so much thicker we can hardly keep at work.  All hands are digging trenches, but I’m afraid, sir, that opening the hatches is making it worse.”

“Begin now and pump water into the trenches.  We will see what effect that has.  I shall be there as soon as possible.”

He hardly dared to think what would become of the ship in case it should prove p. 218impossible to subdue the fire.  She was a fine new vessel, having been built on the Clyde only two years before.  Should a fair wind spring up and the fire continue to burn inwardly, there might be some hope of making Callao or Panama, and thus saving the ship; but here they were in a dead calm, at a place where a steady wind of any sort was practically out of the question.

All the afternoon water was pumped into the hold, being led over the coal by means of the trenches, and when pumping ceased early in the evening it appeared to have done much good.  The coal in the main hatch was cooled off, and the smoke had disappeared from the one next to it.  But the morning would prove whether the fire was to be subdued or not, and the crew were ordered to bring up their mattresses and sleep on deck.  Then all the hatches were tightly battened down in order to exclude air from the hold, and supper was served two hours later than usual.  But no one in the cabin except Howard was able to do justice to the turtle-steak, the others hardly knowing what was before them.  Anxiety and suspense destroy appetite, and not until morning arrived would it be known whether or not the fire had p. 219the ship at its mercy.  If the coal was merely heated and not actually burning, the water pumped on it would probably suffice to avert combustion.  The fact of the vapor having vanished was of little importance—the exterior of a volcano may be treacherously fair and peaceful at the very moment the interior is a mass of molten fire.

Howard turned in at the usual time.  He vaguely understood that something was wrong, and wondered why all were so grave.  But the boy saw neither fire nor smoke, and his childish mind had not yet grasped the peril which threatened the ship.  Clad in his white nightgown, he knelt at his mother’s knee; and, burying his face in her lap, said the evening prayer she had taught.  He repeated the words more slowly than usual, and after reaching “Amen” continued earnestly, “God, don’t let us be burned up, and please let us catch another turtle to-morrow.”  Then he ran into his little room next to that of his parents, and bounded into bed in a way that made the slats rattle.

Ten minutes later, when Mrs. Stafford stole in on tip-toe, the child was sleeping peacefully; the bed-clothes were all kicked off, and the cherished figure of Lord p. 220Nelson—without which he never went to sleep—had just fallen from one little hand.  There he lay in the sweet forgetfulness of childhood, while his mother stood beside him thinking of the many nights he had slept in that little bed; in storm and calm, in heat and cold, in the Atlantic, in the Pacific, in the Indian Ocean.  How many more nights would he sleep there?  She softly imprinted a kiss on the tanned forehead, and left the room with moist eyes.  Ascending to the quarter-deck, she lay down in a hammock underneath the awning.

Captain Stafford and William Wells, the second mate, were standing by the rail discussing the chances of saving the ship, and speaking of other vessels that had caught fire under similar conditions.  One, a large British ship, called the Kenilworth, had been abandoned after being burned entirely out inside.  She was afterwards picked up, towed into San Francisco, and sold at auction.  An American firm was the purchaser; she was rebuilt, and is sailing the seas to-day under the stars and stripes.  Another, less fortunate, was entirely consumed in the South Pacific, her officers and crew escaping to the island of Juan Fernandez.

p. 221The two men thought Mrs. Stafford was asleep, but she heard every word, and the relation of these disasters depressed her spirits exceedingly.  She struggled with this feeling, for she was not a woman to despair easily, and at length succeeded in forgetting everything in a deep, dreamless sleep.

Dawn put an end to suspense.  Through two of the closed hatches a thin cloud of smoke was filtering, proof conclusive that fire had been slowly consuming the cargo for days and days past.  Now it was eating its way to the surface The hatches were opened, but dense clouds of hot, suffocating yellow smoke belched forth, driving all back.  It was overpowering, and they were covered up again as fast as possible.  It was useless to pump more water into the hold, for the removal of the hatches, by creating a draft, would simply fan the fire.  Nothing but a miracle could now save the ship.

Orders were given for the crew to bring all the stores and provisions up from below,—all their bedding, sea-chests, and whatever else there was in the fore peak.  The smell of gas down there was intolerable, and besides, it was necessary to keep every hatch closed in order to smother the p. 222fire as much as possible.  When everything had been brought up, the cover was put on and secured, and the seams caulked with oakum.

One of the apprentices did not realize until it was too late, that the crew must live entirely on deck from that time forth; evidently supposing it would be possible to go below again after an interval.  When he discovered his mistake the boy asked to be allowed to fetch his sea-chest, but the hatch was secured permanently, and his request had to be refused.  He was the only son of a widowed mother, who had fitted him out finely on this, his first voyage, and tears filled his eyes when he thought of all the things she had made for him with so much care.

The calm continued—there was no sign of the longed for wind.  Several men were kept aloft all day to scan the horizon for a sail, even the captain ascending the rigging; but not a solitary object was in sight.

The endless procession of yesterday floated by with horrible monotony.  The red-eyed blotches of film, the jelly-fish, the orange-colored snakes, the large turtles asleep on the water or paddling slowly about,—it was precisely the same.  The p. 223previous day the water and its strange inhabitants had possessed a fascinating interest to many of those on the ship; now this same scene of tranquil beauty had become an aggravation.  As Mrs. Stafford’s anxious eyes fell on these curious sluggish creatures contentedly floating with the current, she wondered absently whether they derived any pleasure from such a passive and aimless existence.  The two pilot-fish still swam by the counter; the invisible shark still lurked beneath the ship; the dolphin alone, was gone.

It was the Sabbath,—usually a day of perfect rest on the Lochleven, for Captain Stafford was a man of strong religious convictions.  Every soul on board, from Mrs. Stafford and Howard down to the apprentices, was required to be present at the Sunday morning services.  In pleasant weather these exercises were conducted on the main deck, where all hands were accustomed to assemble at six bells (11 o’clock), but to-day was an exception, for the crew was hard at work.

Every deep-water ship, before she reaches port after a long voyage, is thoroughly cleaned and painted from stern to stern.  This is a job requiring at least a couple of weeks.  The Lochleven had p. 224expected to reach San Francisco within a month, and ship-cleaning was nearly completed at the time the fire was discovered.  The iron yards and lower masts were freshly painted, the wooden top-masts and top-gallant masts had been scraped, sand-papered and oiled, the rigging tarred down, the life-boats and deck-houses cleaned and painted, and the decks holystoned and oiled up to the top notch.

Now each man in the crew was working as only desperate men can, to heave overboard every inflammable article about the ship.  Buckets of tar and paint; cans of benzine and linseed oil; spare spars and planks; empty barrels; old sails; oakum and sennit;—all covered the placid surface of the ocean.

Howard was very silent all the morning.  He knew now something very serious had happened, and his surprise was great at sight of so many useful articles being made way with.  More than once had he been punished for thus disposing of belaying pins, brooms, swabs and marline-spikes.  He trotted around near the mate, who was an especial favorite of his, and followed the example of the others by throwing into the sea such light articles as were suited to his strength.  But when p. 225six bells struck and the work still continued, he ran to find his father.  Never before could he remember a Sabbath when services were not in progress at that hour.

“I thought this was Sunday, papa?”

“So it is, Howard.”

“Then why don’t we have church?  Have you preached all the sermons you know?”

“It is not that, my boy.”

“And shan’t we have duff for dessert, either?”

“I suppose we shall; we usually do on Sunday and Wednesday.  The reason services are not held to-day is because there is much work that cannot be delayed. The Lord helps those who help themselves, and instead of stopping to pray for deliverance we must first do everything in our power to lessen the danger.”

The boy thought a moment, and then ran off to inform his mother.  “Mama won’t believe it; she’ll think I’m fooling her!” he called out to his father.

During the afternoon the boats were watered and provisioned, and made ready for launching, though Captain Stafford was determined not to abandon the ship until the last extremity.  It is appalling p. 226to think of leaving a large vessel in mid-ocean for a few frail cockle-shells, and the master of the Lochleven entertained a desperate hope that some sort of a breeze might soon spring up that would at least carry the doomed ship nearer the Galapagos Islands,—the only land within a radius of a thousand miles of the spot where the vessel lay.  A few white wind clouds could be seen on the south-western horizon, but they rose very slowly.

The fire was evidently gaining very rapidly, for when Mrs. Stafford went below towards evening she noticed a strong sulphurous smell pervading the cabin and sleeping rooms.  The captain had not reckoned on this so soon, and took the precaution to bring his sextant, chronometers, the ship’s papers and some of the charts on deck, where all hands made arrangements to pass the night; the crew being in the extreme forward part of the long vessel, the officers amidships, and the captain’s family on the quarter-deck.  This in itself was no especial hardship, for the weather was warm, though not excessively so.

Magnificent beyond all description was the sunset.  The sky reflected every possible tint—indigo, light blue, pink, p. 227magenta, light and dark green, yellow, orange, gray and other hues—all blended and shaded so harmoniously that it was impossible to tell where one began and another left off.  In the midst of the indigo blue hung the moon, a crescent of burnished silver.

As midnight approached, great banks of purple clouds massed themselves in the heavens, while forked and sheet lightning shot across the lurid sky.  A dozen hands were aloft furling the skysails and royals.

“Only a squall, Mary,” Captain Stafford said, in answer to his wife’s question, “but there is wind behind it, though perhaps not much.”

In the early morning hours the first great drops pattered heavily on the awning, and a puff of wind was perceptible soon after.  Mr. Wells had the deck, and the men joyfully sprang to the braces to trim the yards in accordance with his orders.  By the time this was accomplished the tropical rain descended in perfect torrents,—blinding sheets,—and the ship was well heeled over, running before a heavy squall with nearly squared yards.  The rain hissed into the foaming ocean, the lightning flashed, and for four hours the Lochleven seemed literally to fly, as if p. 228trying to escape the demon of destruction within.  The awning was new and shed the torrents of water well, though the heaviness of the deluge threatened to split it.

The squall passed over slowly, having helped the ship along nearly fifty miles towards the islands.  Then the rain ceased and the wind nearly so, leaving only a two-knot zephyr.  Even this was better than a calm, but soon after sunrise it increased to a steady breeze which held all that day.

The captain and Mrs. Stafford undertook to go below and bring up some of their clothes and other possessions, but were rendered nearly insensible before they had crossed the cabin.  Up through the floor came volumes of poisonous gas, rendering the atmosphere so stifling that both hastened back and stumbled up the companion-way to the purer air.  The books, trinkets and souvenirs that Mrs. Stafford had picked up all over the world,—many of which were rendered dear by their associations, rather than by their intrinsic value,—all these things she prized so highly were utterly lost.  The captain had private charts belonging to himself p. 229that could scarcely be replaced.  It was impossible to get at them.

All the scuppers were plugged up and water pumped on the main deck until it fairly swam, There was nothing else to be done but to scan the horizon and hope that the crisis might not come until the wind had carried them nearer the islands, which were yet a good three hundred miles to the eastward.

Another squall from the southwest towards evening increased their speed, though everyone was in constant fear lest the wind should fail entirely when it passed over.  Captain Stafford resolved to take to the boats the moment it fell calm, for it was already perilous to remain on the ship.  They were literally living over a volcano, and nothing but the desire to get as near land as possible induced him to stick to the vessel so long.

Occasional heavy puffs of smoke and sparks came from two of the hatches towards morning, and all hands were on the qui vive, momentarily expecting the order to get the boats over.  The wind grew lighter, and as it failed the poisonous vapors nearly choked those on board.

The man at the wheel struck eight bells—it was 4 A.M.  Never again would p. 230those spokes be clasped by human hands, or that bell be heard to ring.  From away forward floated the answering sound of the bell on the foremast.

Then came the order “Abandon ship!”

The ocean was calm, and three of the boats were launched without difficulty; Captain Stafford, Mr. Maitland and Mr. Wells each taking charge of one.  There was no time to take a last look, no time for anything but to hurry away from the ship, before the accumulation of gas in the hold should burst the decks open or blow the hatches off.

The Lochleven’s sails were flapping softly in obedience to the gentle swell.  Her four tall masts with their great spread of canvas, and imposing three hundred feet of dark hull, lent a deceptive appearance of security and majestic strength.  She had not been deserted any too soon, for just as the stars were fading in the east before the swift tropical dawn, the expected rending of her decks took place.  Clouds of smoke and sheets of flame leaped up, the canvas and rigging caught, and in an incredibly short space of time, the great vessel was blazing fiercely.

The Burning Ship

p. 231The blowing up of the decks released the imprisoned flames, which roared and crackled; writhing up the ropes and shrouds to the very mast heads, as though eager for more material to devour.

Those in the boats watched the awful spectacle with fascinated eyes.  The heat became unbearable, burning brands fell into the ocean, and a little breeze springing up, they took advantage of it to get under way.  Fanned by the rising wind, that four thousand tons of burning coal lighted up the ocean for miles and miles around, while the boats seemed to be floating on a sea of blood.  To their awe-struck occupants, it seemed that the great beacon must be visible from the Galapagos Islands,—the haven which they were destined to reach three days later.

Suddenly a cry came from Howard.  In the hurry and excitement of departure, Lord Nelson had been left behind!  He begged his father to put back—implored his mother, with choking sobs, to let him save his cherished companion.  They tried to comfort him, but in vain.  In speechless grief the boy held out his arms towards the burning ship, gradually melting into the horizon line; and if Howard Stafford lives to be four score, he will never shed more bitter or scalding tears than fell from his eyes at that moment.

p. 232 “Abe hurled the duff at the astounded minister”


The Parson’s Text Her Majesty’s ship Crocodile was anchored in Plymouth Roads one fine Sunday morning, and a couple of seamen had obtained shore leave for the afternoon.

Bill and Abraham (called Abe for short) were jolly good fellows of more than average intelligence, and they determined to enjoy their day to the utmost.  To this end they had refused to join the mess at dinner, in order that their appetites might be the keener for the viands at the Royal George, to whose hospitable doors they directed their steps upon landing.  Both were rigged out in their best togs, and took their seats at a table with the p. 234pleasant consciousness that their personal appearance was just about at high water mark.

“Heave us one o’ them programmes, Sally,” said Bill.  “A mighty trim lass you are, if I does tell you so.”

“Me name is Lucy, your honor,” replied the buxom waitress with a smirk, as she placed a bill-of-fare before the twain.

“Married?” asked Bill.

“No, sir.  I’ve not yet met me fate,” answered Lucy, demurely.

“Crackey!  You must be stage-struck.”

“’Vast there, Bill, and quit your foolin’,” interrupted Abe.  “I’m ’ungry.  Wot will we ’ave?”

He was considerably older than his companion, and had reached that stage in life when not even the charms of a pretty waitress could make him lose sight of the fact that it was past the time for dinner.

It seemed to Abe that their orders would never arrive, so he spent the time in devouring a bottle of little round pickles which occupied the center of the table. Bill kept trying to attract the attention of a golden haired fairy who was opening numerous bottles of ale in another part of the room, and only desisted when Abe remarked: “Seems to me these ’ere pickles are awful salty.”

p. 235“Them ain’t pickles, you bloke; them’s holives,” said Bill, grinning.

“Wot’s that but another name for—”

Abe’s answer was cut short by the long-expected appearance of Lucy, and both men were soon doing full justice to the dinner, which included beefsteak and onions, fried sole with anchovy sauce, and a pot of stout; besides half a dozen minor dishes, all of which they relished as only men can who have lived for some time on ship’s stores.

At last Bill said: “Well, Abe, ain’t you most done?  I’m full to the hatches.”

“Oh, sir, your honors ’asn’t ’ad the sweets yet,” expostulated Lucy.  “We’ve got some lovely tarts, and a duff, and—”

“Duff!  Bring us a whole one, quick!” cried Abe.

“We’ve eat too much,” said Bill.  “I never thought of the duff, or I wouldn’t have eaten all this other truck.  We’ll never be able to finish a whole one.”

“Yes we will, too,” Abe maintained; so the dainty was placed before them, and they fell to with a will.  But both soon found that their eyes were larger than their stomachs, and though Abe ate more than his companion, even he had to stop p. 236before more than a third of the duff had been dispatched.

“It’s too bad we ’ave to leave it,” he said regretfully.

An alarming idea suddenly struck Bill.  “Suppose we ain’t got money enough to pay for all these things we’ve ’ad,” he whispered fearfully.  They asked for their reckoning, and alas! Bill’s surmise proved correct.

“If we ’adn’t hordered a whole duff, we’d ’ad money left,” said Abe, “and now wot’s to be done?  We ain’t eat a quarter of it.”

Lucy thought of the shilling that Bill had recklessly slipped into her hand unknown to Abe.  After a moment’s consideration, she said confidentially, “I’ll leave out the price of the duff, for it’s mostly all left, and very few calls for a whole one.  Nobody’ll be the wiser if I brings ’em a piece of this.”

A load was removed from the minds of the sailors, both of whom thanked the fair Lucy fervently, and if Bill had had any money left she would have gotten it. Their table was in a corner near the entrance, and as they rose to go a commotion in the rear of the room attracted Lucy’s attention.  Bill was already at the p. 237door and Abe about to follow, when the tempting duff again caught his eye.  He wavered a minute.  “I’ll be blowed if I leaves it,” he muttered, as he unbuttoned his loose blouse.

All hands seemed to be gathering in the back of the large room, and after a stealthy glance to be sure that he was unobserved, Abe seized the remainder of the duff and placed it in his bosom.  Then he buttoned up his blouse, drew his loose jacket together as much as possible, and boldly walked out of the door with head well in the air.

Bill was a little uneasy at first upon hearing what his companion had done, though he agreed that the duff would be delicious eating a few hours later.  Finally he was rather glad of Abe’s action, and only hoped that Lucy would not get into a scrape on account of it.

They walked along for some time, until they came to a church.  Many people were entering, and the sound of the organ announced that services were about to begin.

“Let’s go in, Abe,” said Bill.  “We looks decent, I guess, and I ain’t been in a bloomin’ meetin’-house since Mag. Halton’s weddin’, when I was a youngster.”

p. 238“All right.  We’ll cast anchor in this ’ere church for a while.  We’ll be safer, too, for I’m kind afeerd of the hofficers of the law nabbing us if we stays on the street.”

They passed through the vestibule and into the church; when an usher took them in tow, and the pair were given seats in the extreme forward part of the edifice—in the second row of pews.  Everything seemed strange to Abe and Bill in that dim half-light, and their eyes had scarcely become accustomed to the change from out doors when the grand music of the organ again pealed forth, and the services began with a hymn from the surpliced choir.

The novelty of the scene wore off after half an hour or so, and the exercises began to seem a trifle tiresome.

“There ain’t nothin’ to’t but singin’ and then gettin’ down on your knees, and then jumpin’ up and singin’ again,” whispered Abe.  “Awful poor singin’ I calls it, too.  I’d like to give ’em a good chorus now—somethin’ like ‘W’isky is the Life of Man’—just to show ’em wot real singin’ is.”

“I can’t say as I admires the parson much, neither,” answered Bill.  “He looks p. 239almighty severe, he does.  I’d hate to sign articles with a craft he was skipper of; he’d hang two or three to the fore yard-arm every morning, just for the fun of the thing.”

“I’m agreed on that, Bill.  But look—the old boy’s goin’ up them steps.”

The minister entered the pulpit; the sermon was about to begin.

The members of the congregation settled back in their seats with looks of expectant interest (or resignation) as the reverend gentleman gave a preparatory cough.  After adjusting his spectacles and calmly surveying his flock, he announced: “Brethren, my discourse this afternoon will be from the text, ‘Abraham, Abraham, what is in thy bosom?’”

The two sailors convulsively grasped the pew cushions as they exchanged glances of consternation.

“Good G—, Bill!” whispered Abe, “the parson knows I stole that duff!”

Bill sat as though petrified, and the silence in the house of worship was such that you could have heard a pin drop.

After giving the congregation a few seconds to digest his words, the pastor brushed a troublesome fly from his nose, p. 240and repeated more slowly and impressively, “Abraham, Abraham, what is in thy bosom?”

This was too much for Abe, who jumped to his feet exclaiming: “You know I’ve got it, parson, so, d— you, take it!”

Suiting the action to the word, he hurled the duff at the astounded minister, and followed by Bill, fled incontinently from the church.


Chapter I.

Rounding Cape Horn The full-rigged American ship Sagamore was now sixty-seven days out from New York bound for San Francisco, and on this September evening in one of the closing years of the nineteenth century, she was flying along in the South Atlantic under a stiff top-gallant breeze, at a rate that no steamer in that part of the world could eclipse, if, indeed, any could equal.  With the wind a trifle abaft the beam, yards well off the backstays, and showers of spray whirling over the weather bulwarks to leeward, the stately ship swept on—an animated picture of whose majesty and grace no one may conceive who has p. 242not seen a large square-rigged vessel driving through the water at full speed.

To the right, scarce fifty miles away, stretched the bleak and inhospitable coast of Patagonia; to the left, equally distant, lay the rugged and desolate Falkland Islands; behind, growing every instant more remote, were civilization and government; while ahead lay an almost boundless waste of storm-swept waters frowned upon by grim Cape Horn itself—firm ruler of a region which for three centuries has tried the patience of mariners, and tested the endurance of the stoutest ships that man can build.

The usual preparation for rounding the Horn had been made.  The old patched-up sails had been taken down, and strong new ones bent in their places—for a ship, unlike a person, wears her best suit of clothes in foul weather;—lanyards and standing rigging had been renewed and strengthened; preventer braces attached to the principal yards; and life–lines stretched all over the main deck.

It was the second dog-watch from 6 to 8 P.M.—and a grand but stormy-looking sunset had given place to the long twilight that prevails in these high latitudes.  A solitary star of great size blazed p. 243in the zenith, while on the northern horizon, resembling an immense open fan, there was a fine display of the Aurora Borealis, which appeared to rise out of the sea and was becoming more beautiful as the twilight deepened.

Up on the poop-deck, clad in warm ulsters, the two passengers were taking their evening constitutional, occasionally pausing to make some comment on the myriads of Cape pigeons whirling about the ship, or to watch a lordly albatross swoop down from above and dive beneath the waters—seldom failing to seize the hapless fish that his unerring eye had spied from afar.  Both were young fellows of perhaps twenty-five, who in this long voyage had sought rest; the one from college studies too closely pursued, and the other from the countless worries and nervous tension of American business life.

Will Hartley and Frank Wilbur had never met until the day before leaving New York, and as both were of rather reserved dispositions, their relations at first were those of acquaintances rather than friends.  But all that was now changed, for gradually they began to thoroughly like each other; and by this time were nearly inseparable.  Several months’ daily p. 244intercourse between two young men shut up in a ship together is a severe test of companionship, but in the present case it had resulted most happily.

Hartley broke a short silence by saying; “To think that ten weeks have passed since I saw a newspaper!  All sorts of events have happened on shore that no one here dreams of.”

“What do we care?” answered Wilbur, with a laugh.  “We are in a world of our own, and as for me, I don’t bother about what is going on in the United States.  It seems as if I had always lived on this ship, and my whole past life appears a vague dream.  What I would like to know is, whether the Arabia and Iroquois are ahead of us or not.  It will be too bad if they beat us to San Francisco.”

“No danger of that if we keep up this rate of speed.  George! but we’re traveling.  Let’s take a look at the log.”

Captain Meade, a fine-looking man of fifty, joined the passengers, remarking as he rubbed his hands in a satisfied fashion, “Well, gentlemen, this is a good start around the Horn.  We were 50° 45’ south this noon, and if this wind would only draw into the north a trifle and then hold, we might be across 50 in the Pacific a p. 245week from to-day.  I made it in six days once, but never expect to again.”

When a seaman speaks of rounding Cape Horn he does not mean simply passing the Cape itself, as one might Cape Cod or Cape Flattery.  Looking at a map of South America, we find that the Horn is situated in 56° south latitude; but from the moment a ship crosses the fiftieth parallel in the South Atlantic until she has passed down around the stormy Cape and up in the Pacific to the fiftieth parallel in that ocean,—a distance approaching a thousand miles, she is said to be “rounding Cape Horn.”  Until she is across 50 in the Pacific, the vessel is never safe from being blown clear back to the Cape by the furious western gales and hurricanes that rage almost continuously in this region.  Thus the Sagamore had already started to round the Horn, although she was yet several hundred miles from the place itself.

The wind had increased to nearly a gale, and the ship was beginning to take some good-sized seas on board.  The big surges struck the vessel’s sides with a shock that made her tremble as she sped on, and the mate soon bawled out, “Clew up the mizzen to’-gallant s’il!”  The work p. 246of stripping the ship continued until nothing remained but a few storm-sails.  All hands had been called, and it was indeed a sight to see the men aloft on the yards in the gathering darkness, as they tugged at the flapping canvas, trying to lay it on the yard so as to pass the gaskets round; while the wind howled through the rigging like mad, and the Sagamore, as she plunged on, began to roll at a lively rate under the influence of the big sea which was being kicked up.

“I’m glad I’m not a sailor,” said Wilbur, preparing to go below.  Just then a comber broke against the stern, and a good-sized lump of water plumped down on his back, drenching him thoroughly.  Hartley laughed; so did the bo’s’un, who passed at that moment, and the passengers quickly descended the companion-way to the cabin, whose warmth and security were in sharp contrast to the bellowing gale and streaming decks without.

An exquisitely wrought lamp of Benares brass—it had once graced a viceroy’s mansion in Calcutta—shed its soft light on the marble-topped center table.  The captain’s compass affixed to the ceiling silently indicated the vessel’s course, and a number of fine geraniums which p. 247ornamented the wheel-house windows in warm weather now occupied a rack about the inside of the skylight.  The ends of the room were occupied by two cozy sofas, with lockers underneath; one containing old copies of “Harper’s” and “Scribner’s,” while a liberal supply of ale, beer, and similar comforts filled the other.  Upon the walls, handsomely finished in panels of natural woods, were a brace of revolvers and several glittering swords and cutlasses belonging to the captain,—excellent weapons to have on a ship far removed from all civil law for months at a time.  The floor was of Oregon pine, beautifully oiled and polished.  Contrary to custom, it was on this voyage covered by a carpet that the steward had put down soon after leaving port, “so as the passengers wouldn’t break their necks when she got to rolling off Cape Horn.”  Nearly all the way from New York to the Falklands the weather had been glorious, and the ship stood up like a church in the few squalls that were encountered; but now the young men began to think the steward had known what he was about when that carpet was laid.  Walking or even sitting still had become an accomplishment, so Hartley brought out the fifth volume of “Les Miserables,” p. 248while Wilbur produced one of the numerous books he had provided.  With chair-backs to the table, and feet braced against the sofas, they defied the elements temporarily and read on—to the accompaniment of groaning timbers, an occasional crash from the steward’s pantry, and the muffled roaring of the gale without.

The storm gained strength as the night advanced.  While the mizzen topsail was being furled, bo’s’un Merrell went forward under the forecastle deck to put additional lashings on several casks of provisions stowed in the vicinity.  He was assisted by two foremast hands, and the trio had just secured a barrel of flour when the ship was struck by a heavy sea, and gave a vicious roll that threw all three men against a water-butt standing near.  The sailors gained their feet uninjured, but before the stunned bo’s’un could recover himself, a half-filled cask of beef broke loose and was hurled through space as though shot from a cannon.  With a cry of warning, the two seamen stumbled out of the way, but before Merrell could escape he was felled like an ox, and his lantern smashed to fragments.  The motion in that extreme forward part of the ship was very great, and the cask soon took p. 249another dive in a different direction; when the men, guided by the groans of the injured bo’s’un, groped their way to where he lay and contrived to drag him behind the hatch-coaming.  He was able to sit up, and gasped out “Call the mate, Jack; I’ve got a bad hurt.”

It was about two o’clock in the morning.  Captain Meade had been on deck most of the night, and went forward upon hearing of the accident.  The suffering man was borne into his little room near the galley, where he underwent an examination which resulted in the discovery that the left leg was broken midway between knee and ankle.

Few men have commanded deep-water ships for twenty years without having had to deal with broken limbs occasionally, and the master of the Sagamore was no exception.  Twice before had he successfully met a similar emergency, and in the present case there was a valuable assistant at hand in the person of Mr. Hartley, who had just completed a course of study at a New York medical college, and was now en route to the Pacific Coast to practice.

Having made his way aft across the dark and steeply-inclined deck, the captain called the steward, and then apprised p. 250Hartley of what had occurred.  That young man had not slept for some hours, and upon learning of the accident was most anxious to render all the assistance in his power; for the bo’s’un was a good-natured fellow, liked by all.

While Hartley struggled into his clothes, Captain Meade procured splints and bandages from the medicine-chest.  When both were ready, they opened the storm-door leading onto the main deck, and awaited a favorable moment.  The night was black, but the gloom was relieved somewhat by the foam-covered water surging about the deck.  Holding to the life-lines with one hand, they dashed forward along the lee side, stopping once to seize the line tightly and haul themselves up off the deck to avoid a deluge that tumbled over the weather bulwarks, and poured down to leeward.

The steward was already in attendance on the patient, and Hartley at once set about uniting the broken bones and applying the splints.  What Captain Meade would have considered a painful and disagreeable necessity, he regarded from a professional standpoint only, and went about his work with a coolness and assurance that greatly relieved both captain and p. 251patient.  The abominable rolling was the worst obstacle to be overcome, but the task was at last accomplished, and in a highly creditable manner.

Merrell was resting easier when Captain Meade and “the surgeon” proceeded aft.  The former stretched the chart of the Cape Horn region upon the cabin table and examined it long and closely; for Staten Land—rocky, uninhabited, and with no lighthouse to reveal its position—was rapidly being neared, and great caution was necessary.

There was now an apparent lull in the gale, but it was not for long.  At daylight the Sagamore entered a “tide-rip” whose waters, lashed into fury by the gale, presented an awful spectacle.  The ocean resembled a gigantic mill-race; the tide flowing one way, while a swift current set in the opposite direction, forming a whirlpool.  Huge waves came from all directions at once, pouring tons of water on the main deck and forecastle.  Progress was well-nigh impossible, but the captain kept resolutely on, knowing that the ship’s only salvation lay in running through the tide-rip before she should be hurled upon her side by some sea more mountainous than the rest.  This nearly happened once when p. 252a towering wave half as high as the fore yard broke on board, staving in the heavy door of the galley and flooding the interior, washing everything movable from the decks; while the ship went over, and over, and over, till her yard-arms almost touched the water, and her decks were like the sloping roof of a house.

But the crisis was safely passed, and the maelstrom left behind.  The gale blew itself out during the forenoon, the sky cleared, the sun shone brightly through the clear frosty atmosphere, and land was visible from the deck.


If you have never been so situated that for many weeks your eyes have not beheld a solitary foot of ground you can hardly appreciate the emotions of all on board the Sagamore as they looked on that bleak and forbidding promontory rising out of the mist—Cape St. John.  A few hours later, the ship was opposite the treacherous straits of Lemaire, and very near the shore.  The entire length of Staten Land from Cape St. John on the east to Cape St. Bartholomew on the west, was stretched out like a grand panorama; forty miles of low mountains, jagged rocks, and broken valleys, without a sign of animal p. 253or vegetable life, and with naught save great patches of snow to relieve its black nakedness.  The straits of Lemaire separate this body of land from Tierra del Fuego, and on the latter might now be seen Bell Mountain,—a distant but lofty peak, on whose snow-capped summit the sun shone in wintry splendor.

Hundreds of large sailing vessels pass Cape St. John every year on their long voyages from New York, the British Isles and Continental Europe to our Pacific coast.  It is a great rendezvous, and the Sagamore presently found herself in the midst of an imposing fleet of merchantmen of all nations.  Here, at the southern extremity of the American continent, were ten ships and three barks, carrying the world’s products to San Francisco.  Scores of eager faces lined the bulwarks, while on the poop of the nearest craft stood a woman—the first representative of the fair sex that anyone on the Sagamore had seen for three months.  As the large vessels, with all their canvas set, slowly mounted the regular swell, a murmur of admiration burst from the passengers, who longed for a far-reaching camera to preserve the beautiful picture through years to come.  Those ships had completed the p. 254first half of their long journeys, and now sailed in company for a few hours, soon to be scattered far and wide upon the mighty Pacific, to meet again at the Golden Gate, thousands of miles away.  It was a sight to make the pulses thrill.

Chapter II.

“Come on deck if you want to see Cape Horn!” called out Captain Meade to the passengers in the cabin, who instantly hurried on deck, for one can’t see the famous Cape every day.

The captain silently pointed his finger, and there, looming up out of the morning mist, the passengers saw Cape Horn.  It was nearly twenty miles off, but so deceptive are distances at sea that it seemed not half that distance away.  Who can behold without a feeling of awe, that black and naked rock, rising precipitously from a low islet to a height of five hundred feet!  Like some grim and frowning sentinel, it stands guard where the waters of the two great oceans meet; tyrannizing over and sorely harassing the staunch ships which even its power is rarely able to destroy; drawing on, but to beat roughly back; and occasionally permitting one of them to fly past without even a protest, as if to p. 255say, “I can be gracious when the mood’s upon me.”

It was a sharp, bracing morning.  Everything wore a peaceful aspect, in spite of the peculiar moaning and whistling sound in the rigging which is always heard here.  To the south, a vast ice-floe glittered in the brilliant sunlight; to leeward, two thin columns of smoke-like mist rising from the water showed where a couple of whales were blowing; while much nearer the ship, five splendid albatross sat gracefully upon the heavy swell—their black wings in striking contrast to their snow-white backs and necks.  This grand looking creature is to the birds of the ocean what the eagle is to the birds of the land, and the martial look in its piercing black eye suggests a prince in disguise from some fairy tale.

The cabin breakfast had just been concluded, and the Cape pigeons were swarming around the ship, or swimming in the water alongside.  The cunning horde knew the hours meals were served as well as they did day from night, and at such times all were on hand, waiting for the scraps which they knew would be thrown overboard by the cook and steward.  They are pretty creatures, uniting the eyes and p. 256feet of a duck with the head, bill, and other characteristics of the domestic pigeon.  The breast is white, the head and back a bluish black, while the wings are dappled black and white.  Beneath the feathers, the bird is covered with a wonderfully thick, soft down, which is so dense that not a drop of the icy water in which the creatures delight to swim and dive, can ever penetrate to the skin.  Soon after a ship has passed the latitude of Rio de Janeiro, the pigeons begin to make their appearance, and they follow that vessel for weeks and weeks, until she has passed around the Horn, and far up into the Pacific.  Then they disappear gradually as the warm latitudes are reached, transferring their allegiance to some craft bound back in the opposite direction.  How they obtain sleep and rest is a mystery, for one never lights on a ship; but no matter how fast a vessel may go, or how severe a gale may rage, the whole tribe is in attendance every morning, like an army following its general.

The cook threw overboard a quantity of table scraps, and instantly every pigeon flew to the spot; all keeping up a discordant scolding and chattering, as each tried to keep the others from getting a bite, at p. 257the same time gulping down anything it could get hold of.  Several dived far down after sinking morsels.  The passengers deciding to catch some of the birds, a line, with a small baited hook, was trailed out astern, and seven pigeons were soon hauled aboard, being caught in the mouth precisely as a fish is.

The first thing any ocean bird does upon being put on the deck of a ship, is to become sea-sick; and the prisoners unanimously followed this program.  After parting with their breakfasts, they felt better, and one could not help laughing at the ludicrous expression of astonishment in the creatures’ eyes as they surveyed their novel surroundings.  In the air or in the water, they were the personification of grace; but now they seemed to be all legs, and fell down, or plumped into something, after waddling a few yards.  Then they ran along flapping their wings, as they tried to get sufficient start to enable them to soar, but only one succeeded in clearing the bulwarks.  An old necktie was torn into strips, one being fastened around the neck of each bird.  Thus ornamented, the captives were tossed up into the air, and off they went to tell their companions amongst what strange barbarians they had fallen.

p. 258The barometer had been falling for some days, and in spite of the fine morning, there were strong indications of an equinoctial hurricane.  A heavy snowstorm hid Cape Horn from view that afternoon, a contrary wind sprang up, and the ship was driven entirely off her course, being compelled to head for the South Pole.  The passengers arrayed themselves in oilers, not forgetting to tie strands of rope about their boot-tops to keep the water out, and paced the quarter-deck, where George Marsh, the mate, entertained them with tales of torrid Singapore.

But spray was flying over the Sagamore, the gale’s roaring made conversation difficult, and though the speed was exhilarating, the young men were soon driven below, leaving the mate to his lonely vigil.

He paced the deck with no companion but his own gloomy and bitter thoughts, for his life had been a hard one.  Confined to a seamen’s hospital for many weary months by a terrible accident, he had thus lost command of a fine bark; and when at last he left the sick room, it was only to receive the crushing intelligence that all his earthly possessions had been destroyed by fire.  Though a splendid seaman, he p. 259had since been unable to obtain a master’s berth, and now as a subordinate, trod the deck of a ship which he was in every way fitted to command.

By midnight the ship was rolling so frightfully that it was feared some of the masts would go.  Great seas were coming aboard, the main deck resembled a lake, and the crew had hair-breadth escapes from going overboard.  The bellowing of the hurricane was awful, and a constant succession of snow-squalls struck the ship, sending the white flakes driving through the air and upon the decks in a feathery cloud.  The carpenter was proceeding to the pumps to sound the well when he fell upon the slippery deck, fetching up in the lee scuppers a moment later, where he was buried in foam and water.  He had presence of mind enough to grasp a rope, and when the ship rolled in the opposite direction he emerged from his unceremonious bath as though nothing had happened.  The hurricane continued to gather force; the decks were swept of everything movable, and the possible shifting of the cargo caused continual apprehension.  But a more serious danger threatened the ship.  When the temperature of the water was taken, the thermometer registered a sharp p. 260drop, indicating the proximity of a large body of ice.  A sharp lookout was kept, but the blackness of the night and the fury of the hurricane made it impossible to see any distance from the ship.

Among the Icebergs

Just before daybreak, the thrilling cry of “Ice dead ahead!” came from the lookout, and there was hardly time to give the wheel a few turns before a great gray mass loomed up on the port bow.  A moment more, and one of the gigantic ice mountains so dreaded in these southern seas came into plain view.  It towered far above the mast-heads, culminating in a circle of fantastic pinnacles which resembled the turrets of a castle.  The waves, breaking against its base with a noise like thunder, hurled themselves far up its steep sides, soon to descend in the form of foaming cataracts and water falls.  High up on the near side, overhanging the water, was a threatening mass of ice that seemed ready to fall on the ship, and blot her out of existence.  So perilously close to the great berg was the Sagamore, that its freezing breath chilled all on deck to the marrow, and the ship’s red port light, as she swept by, shone weirdly on the frozen mass, revealing gruesome caverns that penetrated far inward.  Everyone breathed p. 261easier when the monster was passed, and several recalled the names of missing ships that mysteriously disappeared in the South Atlantic.

The first streaks of dawn revealed five more bergs, which formed an icy barrier through which it was perilous to attempt a passage; while the dangerous group of rocks known as the Diego Ramirez effectually blocked the way to the north.  At any moment the flying ship might crash into one of the bergs, so it was decided to heave to, thus lessening the danger of collision.

Tacking a large square-rigged vessel is considerable of a job at any time, but at night, and in a hurricane, it is an arduous task.  The stiffened braces, wet with icy salt water, got tangled up, and occasionally a man would make a mistake amid the maze of ropes, thus adding to the confusion.  But at last the work was finished, and the ship brought to a standstill.  Several times she went over so far that captain and mates hardly dared to breathe for fear she was on her side and would never right.  But after remaining in that precarious position for a moment, the ship would keel over with a sickening velocity from one side to the other; the mast-heads p. 262reeling dizzily against the sky, until she brought up with a jerk, as a sea pounded against her side.  At each roll, the bulwarks went far under, allowing a flood to come roaring and tumbling aboard; washing about the main deck, tangling up ropes, and knocking men off their feet.  Several seamen were kept busy attending to the oil-bags, whose contents were poured upon the waters in large quantities, but without the usual effect.  The exposed position of the forward house subjected it to the full fury of the hurricane.  The helpless bo’s’un lay in his bunk listening to the roaring and screeching outside, and once when an unusually big sea descended on the roof overhead, making the oak beams crack ominously, he set his teeth and thought of the calamity that had recently befallen an American ship, when the whole forward house with its sleeping inmates was carried overboard, and half the ship’s company annihilated at one fell blow.

Pandemonium reigned in the cabin.  A sea stove in the companion door, the water pouring down stairs and flooding everything.  Several pieces of furniture broke loose, and were banged against the partitions half the night.  Everything was upside down; oatmeal covered the floor p. 263of the steward’s pantry, and the bathroom was littered with broken glass.  Both passengers were thankful when daylight dispelled the most anxious night either had ever passed.

For a long time, the steward could not get forward, nor was the cook able to get aft.  Consequently, there was no cabin breakfast until nearly nine o’clock.  Such a meal!  It was eaten by lamplight, for great seas were thundering down on the poop overhead and the storm shutters to the windows could not be taken off.  It had been found almost impossible to keep anything on the galley stove, but the cook and steward between them managed to prepare some coffee, biscuits, ham and potatoes.  The biscuits were lost when the steward fell on the deck as he conveyed the breakfast aft, but those who gathered about the table were satisfied, as they had their hands too full to eat anything at all, and Wilbur kept thinking of the line, “Some ha’ meat, and canna eat.”

All that day and night the hurricane lasted.  The following afternoon, the barometer, after falling for a week, came to a stand at 28:20, and the climax had been reached.

p. 264“I thought I had seen storms before,” said Wilbur, “but this equinoctial has opened my eyes.  It passes my comprehension how any ship can stand such a pounding and wrenching as this one has endured for three days and nights.”

“You have both been wishing for a genuine hurricane ever since leaving New York, and now that wish has been gratified,” replied the captain.  “In my twenty-six voyages around the Horn I have never seen such weather, though some ships catch it even worse; but with the Sagamore under my feet, and plenty of sea-room, I fear nothing.”

The captain turned in early that night, for his clothes had not been removed for seventy-two hours past, during which trying interval he had had no rest but a few short naps.  The passengers were thinking of retiring also, when they heard a call from the steward, who requested them to come into the dining room a moment.

“I want to show you a fine sight,” said he, standing by the door leading onto the main deck, which he cautiously opened part way as Hartley and Wilbur approached.

The hurricane had spent its force, and the young men looked out upon a night p. 265scene of rare beauty.  Every cloud in the sky had vanished as if by magic, and the blue vault of the firmament was brilliant with countless myriads of stars.  Some were large, some small; and to the admiring gaze of the watchers it seemed as if they had never seen so grand a sight, even in the Southern Hemisphere, where the numerous planets, constellations, and single stars illumine the night sky with a splendor surpassing anything of the kind to be seen in the North.  But among all those stars, and groups of stars, none could compare with that blazing constellation that had now nearly reached the zenith—the Southern Cross.  It is first seen just before crossing the equator, but is then dim and very low in the horizon, and visible but a short time each evening.  Gradually, as Cape Horn is approached, it rises higher and higher, its appearance each night being foretold by its two flashing “pointer” stars, which, like heralds announcing the coming of their sovereign, are visible above the horizon a short time before the Cross itself appears.  In the vicinity of the Horn this matchless constellation may be seen high in the heavens, in all its glory—the stars composing it not larger than several others in the sky, but as completely p. 266eclipsing them in brilliancy as diamonds do pieces of glass.  Now, after three days and nights of warring winds and waters, that Cross looked down upon the Sagamore’s naked masts and flooded decks like an emblem of promise and of peace.  Not a great way off were the two curious patches of luminous film known as the Magellan Clouds, looking strange and mysterious as they floated among that sea of stars.

The foam-covered water washed about the deck as the ship rolled, and a heavy sea tumbling aboard caused the steward to close the door in a hurry.  Then the passengers took a gin-fizz as a night-cap, and turned in.

Chapter III.

Becalmed off Cape Horn!

This may sound paradoxical, but calms do occur, though they are not common.  But for indescribable grandeur, and as a manifestation of the powers of nature, there are few things that will compare with a calm in this region.

One degree south of the Horn, on the 57th parallel, there is no land around the whole earth’s surface—not even an island; and this is the primary reason why the largest waves to be found anywhere are p. 267met with in this locality.  Here, unchecked and unconfined, they sweep entirely around the globe; gathering strength and size as they move on, with nothing to bar their resistless march or to make them swerve aside even a hair’s breadth.  Lashed into fury by a gale, these waves are sufficiently remarkable, but they are then in such a state of turmoil as to destroy all regularity, making it impossible to tell where one begins and another ends.  So, strangely enough, it is in a dead calm that one is more nearly able to conceive of their vast proportions.  These periods generally follow a hard westerly gale, and then it is a sight no words can depict, to stand upon a vessel’s deck and watch the approach of those vast walls of water; each one sharply defined, and wonderfully regular in form.  From the base of one to the base of the next following is frequently a space of one thousand feet—a great valley, which, contrasted with the long hills on either side, gives one some idea of the magnitude of these waves.

Such a condition of things prevailed on the day after the equinoctial hurricane.  The Sagamore had not even steerage way, and lay broadside on to the heavy swell, rolling as only a vessel can roll in a p. 268Cape Horn calm.  The great blue hills came on slowly but regularly; and each one, as it came beneath the ship, lifted her up on its crest as though she had been a feather, instead of a vessel three hundred feet long, drawing twenty-six feet of water, and with four thousand tons of railroad iron and other heavy stuff in her hold.  Then, as it passed on, there was a rattling of blocks and the heavy reports of canvas banged against the rigging, as the Sagamore slid down the side of the hill with her decks at an angle of fifty degrees.

She had the usual nondescript crew found on deep-water ships, and after hearing some of them talk, one might well agree with Mr. Marsh “That the captain or mate who goes to sea now-a-days, should understand Chinese, Greek, Hindostanee, Russian-Finn, and a dozen other tongues, besides having the patience of Job.”  It being Sunday, no one was required to do any work but what was necessary in navigating the ship, and the men improved their leisure time in various ways.  A few spruced up a bit; among them, Gene, the Frenchman, who was far above the rest in intelligence and ability.  After arraying himself in a scarlet woolen shirt, new trousers and shoes, he lay down in his p. 269bunk to read, unmindful of the turmoil about him.  Several produced sewing materials and mended their clothes, keeping time with their feet while an agile young fellow danced; others sang coarse songs, or told stories.  Jack, a tow-headed Scandinavian, devoured “Demon Dick, the Dare-devil.”  He had purchased a number of these hair-raising effusions, and read them in preference to the tracts and pious books furnished by the Sailors’ Aid Society, only one of which had been opened, and that was being used up for cigarette papers.  Some played gambling games, using plugs of tobacco for stakes, while Jumbo, the smallest man on board (formerly a trapeze performer), gave an exhibition on a tight rope which won applause.  One group discussed the subject of provisions, and though all agreed that the “grub” on the Sagamore was satisfactory, some found great fault with the cookery.  Then they abused the mates, decided that Captain Meade was afraid to carry sail enough, and speculated as to how much Hartley and Wilbur were worth—for whenever there are passengers on merchant ships the crew seem to consider them millionaires.

p. 270But the great “character” in the forecastle was Andrew,—usually called San Quentin, from the fact of his having “done time” in the California penitentiary of that name.  He was a hoary-headed old sinner, whose three-score odd years would have rendered him of little account before the mast had he not belonged to that past age when merchant sailors had to know their business, and were able seamen in something besides name.  Andrew was a voluble talker, and frequently related with gusto how he had once “knifed” a fellow sailor who had roused his ire.

“A man ought to die when he gets to be fifty,” he remarked, rubbing a rheumatic joint.

“Better jump overboard, then,” answered a voice.

“I’m gettin’ too old for this work,” Andrew continued, “and if the cap’n says a good word for me, I’ll try and get in the Sailors’ Snug Harbor when we comes back to New York.  Sure, I’ve been goin’ to sea forty-six year, and I’m no better off now nor I was when I began.  They teached me tailorin’ when I was in the pen, but I’d ship on twenty more voyages afore I’d shut myself up in a little shop on shore where they ain’t room to breathe.  p. 271But I’m a lucky old cuss” (with a laugh), “for I ain’t never been wrecked in all my time at sea,—no, nor ever seed a wreck.”

“Andrew’s going to turn into a tough old albatross when he slips his cable,” put in Gene, a smile on his clear-cut features.

“Be careful ye don’t turn into a molly-hawk yourself, ye French devil,” retorted San Quentin, hurling his sheath-knife in the air, and dexterously catching the descending point on the tip of his little finger.

“Tumble out, mates,” called a sailor, poking his head through the door.  “There’s somethin’ up.  All hands aft is squintin’ through the glass at what the matey says is a boat.”

This news brought everyone out on deck in a hurry.  Quite a distance from the ship, a small object floated on the swell,—now lifted high on a sea, then disappearing from view in the trough.  The officers had been examining it through the telescope for some time, Mr. Marsh finally declaring it to be a boat.  The sight of a solitary boat in such a place gave rise to much speculation, and when the calm was replaced by a gentle breeze, the course was changed so as to bring the waif alongside.

p. 272Within an hour the tiny craft was close by, and a melancholy spectacle she presented.  Bottom upward, with jagged splinters projecting from her shattered sides, she floated by on the sportive waves—an eloquent symbol of recent disaster. How had she come there?  Where were her late occupants?  None could tell but old ocean, glittering in the frosty sunshine.  Upon her stern were the words “Dundee, of Liverpool.”  The captain was about to go below in order to look up the Dundee in the shipping register, when a sailor hailed the deck from aloft.  A vessel was visible far to the south!

The mate ascended the rigging, followed by the passengers; and sure enough, the naked eye beheld a shadowy ship on the horizon which the glass magnified into a wreck.  All was excitement; the course was again changed, and the ship bore down for the distant vessel.  She was nearly twenty miles away; the breeze was provokingly light, and it seemed an age before the Sagamore drew near the stranger.

Distress signals were flying from her foremast—the only spar left standing.  The others hung over the side, their weight helping to careen the vessel at a p. 273dangerous angle, besides pounding against her like battering-rams every time she rolled.  Six men could be seen, one of whom stood apart waving a flag, while most of the others ran about in the most frantic transports; now falling upon their knees, then rising and extending their arms toward the Sagamore.  The wreck was apparently full of water, so there was no time to be lost.

Nothing short of a case like this could have induced Captain Meade to launch a boat off Cape Horn, for the huge waves and the liability to sudden squalls make it a perilous proceeding at all times.  Mr. Marsh took command of the gig with a carefully selected crew, but it required half an hours’ maneuvering to launch her.  At length a successful start was made, and the gig went racing up the side of a big sea, was poised giddily on its crest, and then darted down the incline as though bound for the bottom.  On she went, her crew rowing like demons, while two men bailed out the water that constantly threatened to swamp her.

As the rescuers neared the sinking vessel, the mate bawled “Wreck ahoy! what bark is that?”

p. 274“The Dundee, of Liverpool, bound from Buenos Ayres to Valparaiso.  We are foundering.”

“We are the American ship Sagamore, from New York for San Francisco.  Heave us a rope and we’re ready for you.”

The gig was now on the lee side of the bark, and as near the stern as prudence would allow; so the men rested on their oars while Mr. Marsh deftly caught the rope flung from the wreck by her captain.  In order to enter the boat it was necessary for those on the Dundee to slide down the rope, and then be hauled aboard when the end was reached.  The steward and three seamen constituted the first load; descending in safety, one by one, though most of them were submerged twice before they were at length pulled into the boat.  Two seamen, an apprentice and the captain remained on the wreck, the latter declaring his intention of standing by his craft to the last, though he well knew she was about to take the final plunge.  Already that uncanny moaning sound heard only on a foundering vessel was ascending from the black depths of the hold, as the rising waters forced out the sustaining air through every crevice.

p. 275It was a hard pull back to the Sagamore,—against the wind all the way,—and while the mate steered the heavily-laden gig, the steward narrated the story of the catastrophe.  The Dundee, commanded by Captain Murray, had sailed from Buenos Ayres without a cargo, taking aboard for ballast eight hundred tons of dirt scooped from the river bottom; and to this improper ballast the disaster was due.  She labored heavily during the first day of the hurricane, and sprang a leak in several places.  The incoming water soon converted the ballast into a liquid mass, which surged about in the hold, finally hurling her upon her side, and rendering her unmanageable.  While in this position, great seas swept over her, smashing all the boats and loosening heavy spars, which washed about the decks, knocking down the crew.  Two sailors and the carpenter received broken limbs in this manner, and before they could be rescued, all three were washed into the sea and drowned before the eyes of their shipmates.  The mate was killed the following night by the falling main mast, and to complete the horror of the situation, the pumps became choked with mud, rendering them useless.  With water pouring p. 276into every open seam, those aboard the settling bark had resigned all hope, and were passively waiting for death when the Sagamore hove in sight.

The ship’s side having been safely reached, the rescued men were quickly drawn up to the deck, and the boat again started for the Dundee.  It was a desperate chance whether she remained above water until the gig could reach her; and each time the little craft was lifted upon a wave the mate looked anxiously towards the wreck, half expecting her to have vanished while his boat was in the trough.  What kept the bark afloat during this interval was a mystery, but float she did, though suspended as it were by a single hair above the fathomless depths.

When the gig brought up under her stern, the rope was again placed in position, and the apprentice told to descend.  The youth was half way to the boat when he became panic-stricken at sight of a great sea coming on him, and cried for help.  The wreck rolled heavily towards the boat, slackening the rope still further; the wave rolled over the apprentice, and when it passed, there was the rope all on the surface, but the hands that had grasped it a moment before were gone.  The bark’s p. 277captain ran to the rail with a coil of rope ready to fling to the youth the instant he should appear, but he was not seen, and hope of his rescue had about gone, when Gene, with a sudden exclamation, reached over the boat’s side.  He had the drowning man by the hair!  After a struggle which nearly capsized the gig, the apprentice was dragged into it, more dead than alive.  Then the two remaining seamen made the trip without accident, and the captain was ready—the last man to leave.

He paused an instant, his eyes slowly taking in every detail of the familiar scene.  For fourteen years had he been master of that bark, and even his unsympathetic nature was stirred to its very depths at the moment of leaving her forever.  Now, in these last seconds of their long association, a hundred past events were kindled into life again, and flashed through his brain like the successive views of a panorama.

Hastily turning away, he tossed into the boat a package containing his sextant, a favorite chronometer, and the bark’s papers.  He grasped the rope,—was soon in the water,—at the boat’s side,—and then safely on board.  At a signal from the mate, Gene severed the line with his p. 278sheath-knife, and the Dundee was abandoned to her fate.

“Now then,” cried Mr. Marsh, “give way with a will—look out! she’s going.  Row, row for your lives!”

The wreck gave a sudden lurch and then recovered herself with a staggering motion just at the moment when those in the boat so dangerously near expected to see her founder.  The oars were plied vigorously, and the gig was more than half way to the ship when Jumbo exclaimed, “Look at her now!”

The bark’s last moment had come.  Her bows rose gradually out of the water, and she rolled slowly over, disappearing stern foremost, as easily as though she were being launched into that element which she had sailed so many years, and which was now ending her existence.  The fore mast, with the distress signals fluttering in the breeze, was the last thing to vanish; and as it sunk beneath the whirling vortex a groan escaped Captain Murray.  As chief owner of the Dundee, his financial loss would be considerable, but there was another stronger feeling.  In the vessel which had just descended to unknown depths he had traversed all the waterways of the globe; she had been his only home p. 279for many years, and seemed almost a part of himself.  Kindred he had none, and the old bark had absorbed whatever of latent affection there was in his cold nature. Now she was gone as completely as if she had never existed; a few spars, an empty cask, and the torn British ensign, alone remaining to show where she had last been seen.

There was a dead silence in that little boat (save for the sound of the oars) for many minutes after the final scene.  All seemed awed, and when at length the ship’s side was reached, Captain Murray raised his head for the first time since he had looked on his lost vessel.  His eyes were moist with the only tears that they had known since childhood.  As he climbed over the bulwarks, Captain Meade came forward—the American warmly grasped the Englishman’s hand.  With rare tact, he spoke no word, but led his guest down the companion-way and into the privacy of his own room, leaving Mr. Marsh to attend to the proper disposition of the remainder of the rescued.

Chapter IV.

There are few sights more thrilling than that of a vessel foundering at sea; and p. 280for several weeks the Sagamore’s people thought of little but the lost bark and her crew.  The Dundee’s steward was set to work in the galley, and the able seamen were divided between the two watches, where each day’s numerous duties soon made them forget their recent hardships.  Captain Murray took the loss of his vessel much to heart, and was greatly depressed for some days; but to distract his attention, he voluntarily assumed the bo’s’un’s duties, and became less despondent as time passed.

During the week following the rescue, the Sagamore, with streaming decks, slowly but surely beat her way to the westward against contrary winds.  Sometimes it was useless to attempt to proceed against the tremendous head sea, and she was hove to for a time.  Then a gale would swoop down, sails would be furled or reefed; and after it was over, a few hours of what Captain Meade facetiously called “pleasant weather” would intervene.  Then, if it happened to be day, old Sol shed his kindly warmth upon the ship, and the leaden sky was changed to an alluring blue.  If night, the same glorious harvest moon that shone on fields and vineyards far away, here flooded the angry ocean p. 281with her soft, mysterious light.  At such times, when it was possible to set a few sails, the merry clank, clunk, clank, of the capstan was heard as the heavy yards were hoisted, to the wild accompaniment of a sailors’ chorus.  Every day it was “Tack ship” or “All hands reef sail,” until officers and crew were well-nigh fagged out.  Most of those on board had been through the same experience many times, and knew that until it ended, all they could do was to bear their trials as best they could.

But one day there were indications of a change for the better.  The ship was so far to the west, that a fair wind would enable her to steer north, cross the 50th. parallel, and leave Cape Horn behind.  The state of the barometer, combined with other well known signs, led Captain Meade to predict “a regular old ripper from the southeast,” which was just what was wanted.

A violent snow-storm struck the Sagamore that evening, soon covering the decks with a mantle of white.  After it ceased the wind nearly failed, and it was decided to put the ship on the other tack, so as to be in readiness to receive the south-easter which was felt to be at hand.  When the p. 282passengers came on deck after supper, the whole southern horizon was black as pitch, sea and sky blending together in one dark, lowering mass.  All hands were called to strip the ship; halyards were let go, sheets slackened, buntlines hauled in, and then the men, in rubber boots and oilers, climbed the rigging and went out upon the swaying yards.  The gale struck her before the work was concluded; the icy polar wind was soon screeching through the rigging, to the accompaniment of whirling snow-flakes and flying spray; hail-stones pattered on the deck; and amidst all this, the port watch had to work an hour overtime before it was possible to go below and get supper.  It is not an enviable task,—furling stiff, wet sails, one after another, while a bitter wind blows with a force that makes it necessary to hold on with one hand, to avoid being blown into the sea, while you work with the other—and all this at an elevation of sixty or seventy feet above the deck.  The wind kept getting into the belly of the half-frozen sails, making them slippery as inflated balloons, and causing the men ten times the usual work to get them laid on the yards; while the pelting snow and hail, combined with the wild plunges of the ship, p. 283made it difficult to retain their precarious footing.  But the job was finished at last, and grog served out.

Mr. Marsh came below cold and wet, in spite of his oilers, and his eyes heavy from loss of sleep.

“Isn’t this as bad a gale as you were ever in?” asked Hartley.  “They were stretching life-lines on the quarter-deck when we came below, which is certainly unusual.”

The mate looked at him a minute, and then burst out irrelevantly, “I’d give a month’s pay to have the son of a sea-cook here who wrote ‘A life on the ocean wave.’  Hang me if I wouldn’t heave him overboard!”  And he proceeded to spread a blanket on the floor before the stove, brought a pillow from his room, and threw himself down in his clothes without more words.

The passengers spent the evening at the cabin windows, watching the booming seas roll on board.  Both knew they were in for a night of it, and upon retiring, took the precaution to place the “weatherboards” in the front side of their berths, that they might not be pitched out before morning.

p. 284Under two topsails and a staysail, the ship tore through the water like a race horse; plunging madly forward, while the big seas astern chased her as a pack of wolves might pursue their prey.  The distinctive feature of this gale was that it came from the southeast, instead of from the west, as all the previous ones had done, and was, therefore, a fair wind.  The one danger now was, lest it should increase to such a degree that the ship would be unable longer to run before it, thus losing the benefit of a gale which, had it blown with less fury, would have carried her flying across the 50th parallel in twenty-four hours.

Captain Meade was up all night, anxiously noting the behavior of the ship, and calculating over and over the chances of being able to keep on before the gale.  Two of the three remaining sails had been furled when the watches were changed at midnight, yet still that six thousand tons of hull and cargo was driven through the water at a rate almost beyond belief.  Fast though she went, the seas behind were beginning to travel more swiftly still, and already two had broken over the stern.  Anxious as the captain was to go on, he was too good a seaman to disregard these p. 285warnings.  In another hour the Sagamore might be “pooped” at the rate the sea was running, and so, after consulting with Mr. Marsh, he decided that the ship must be hove to.  He did not come to this conclusion without great reluctance and some foreboding, for with the great sea which was now on, the mere act of turning the ship around was attended with great risk.  In fact, when the mate was asked for his opinion, he did not hesitate to say that he considered running before the gale preferable to attempting to heave the ship to.  Better to stand the chance of being swamped, he contended, than to try an operation which might result in throwing the Sagamore upon her beam ends in the trough of that mountainous sea.  This contingency was what Captain Meade also feared, but he decided that of the two dangers, going about was the least.

Accordingly, soon after daybreak, Mr. Marsh bawled, “Wear ship,” following this order with “Port fore brace!”

The mate was clinging to the ladder on the lee side of the forward house when he gave these orders, and before his watch started to execute them, he spoke a few words of warning.  “Now, men, you all know there’s an ugly sea running, so look p. 286out for yourselves, and don’t shift about without holding fast to the life-lines.  Port fore brace!  Andrew, you stand by the starboard brace ready to slack away.”

Jack and Montana were at the wheel, and Jumbo was at the lookout.  All the others save Andrew, pulled on the brace until the mate shouted “Belay!  Now haul in your slack to starboard.”  They started to cross the swimming deck, the sea being then on the beam.  Some had reached the starboard brace, others were in the middle of the deck; while Gene, who had stopped to make the port brace fast, was not a third of the distance across.  At this moment the ship gave a wild roll, and the next, when her starboard bulwarks were far down, an immense “green sea”—a solid wall of water—broke on board.

What followed baffles description.  Those who had hold of the starboard brace escaped by clinging tightly to it and ducking beneath the bulwarks, where they were buried under several feet of water, but the others fared worse, being exposed to the full force of the sea.  Whether Norris, Smith, and Harry grasped the life-lines or not, they never could clearly tell, but when the ship rolled to port, the great sea swept them before it like flies.  p. 287All three, by a providential circumstance, were knocked down and jammed in between the iron stanchions and a spare spar lashed to the bulwarks,—all that saved them from going overboard.

But poor Gene!  He was caught up like a bit of chaff, and whirled away over the submerged port bulwarks.  Everyone near by, including the mate, had all he could do to save his own life, and none of them knew for a few moments what had happened.  Captain Meade, from the quarter-deck, saw the awful accident, and his cry of “Man overboard!” and Gene’s despairing shriek mingled together.  The captain was a cool man, and he desperately hurled a coil of rope in less time than it takes to tell it, but even had the lost man been able to grasp it, he could no more have held on at the rate the ship was going than he could have seized a flash of lightning.  Before the words “Man overboard” were well out of the speaker’s mouth, the poor fellow was disappearing astern; his white face and yellow sou’-wester being plainly visible for several minutes.

It is frightful to see a fellow creature perish before one’s eyes, and at the same time know that one is powerless to render the least assistance—for before p. 288the Sagamore could have been brought to a stand, Gene would have been a mile or more astern.  But even had he then been in plain sight, no life boat ever constructed could have lived five seconds in that boiling cauldron.  The instant it touched the water, it would have capsized or been crushed like an egg shell against the vessel’s side.  Death is repulsive at best to the young, even when the path leading to it is smoothed over and made easier by loving friends and relatives, or by the consolations of religious faith.  But to be alive and well one second, and then, before sixty seconds have told a minute, to be swept from a vessel’s deck and left to drown—this is horrible beyond conception.  What mental tortures must that poor fellow have suffered before losing consciousness, to see the ship, his only hope, vanishing in the distance; and to know that there was not even one chance in a thousand for his rescue.  Thus was Gene lost off Cape Horn.

Meanwhile, others might share the same fate unless prompt action was taken, and the wonder was that the mate and his whole watch had not perished with Gene.  When the ship freed herself from that sea, Harry and Smith managed to rise unassisted, but p. 289Norris lay as one dead, with blood trickling from a wound on the forehead, where he had been thrown against the iron stanchion.  Mr. Marsh ran to where he lay, and dragged the unconscious sailor from his perilous position, into the forecastle.  Here he had to be left until the job of wearing ship was over, for the Sagamore was in more peril during those few minutes than at any time during the voyage.

She came around without accident, though it was a close shave, and one roll in particular, threw her over until the masts were almost parallel with the ocean.  She lay to, well, shipping comparatively little water, and the mate at once investigated the injuries of Norris.  He had regained his senses, but felt badly, having received a hard blow on the knee, besides an internal hurt which caused him much pain.  The wound on the head proved not to be serious, and after his external injuries had received attention, he was helped to his bunk and relieved from duty until complete rest should have restored him.

The gale blew itself out in twelve hours, and broke shortly after breakfast, a fine day succeeding a night of storm, anxiety, and death.  But an atmosphere of gloom pervaded the ship.  There was one empty p. 290bunk in the forecastle; one man less to stand his trick at the wheel or on the lookout; one hand less to sing out as the watch hauled on the braces; and that one was the merriest and most light-hearted of all.  His intelligence and ready ability were in marked contrast to the ignorance and stupidity which characterized most of the crew, and he was a pronounced favorite with all on board;—most of all with Mr. Marsh, who was difficult to please.  The mate felt very badly over the matter, and would not discuss it, even with the passengers.  Captain Meade deplored the calamity also, and said that during his score of years as master, he had never before lost a man overboard from the deck, though three had been killed at various times by falling from the yards.

The fatality was the subject of much discussion among the crew.

“If he’d of held onto the lines when he was a-crossin’ of the deck, he’d been here now,” said one.

“That’s right,” said another.  “I wonder when the captain’ll auction off his clothes?”

“Not for a month, mebbe.  He had some good togs, but I’d be afeerd to wear ’em.”

p. 291“I never seen such an awful sea; it looked half way up to the fore yard.  Seems like Gene was too slick a bird not to hold on to somethin’, though.  I’ll warrant he jumped for the main riggin’, and missed it.  Only yesterday he was a-tellin’ of me how glad he would be when the ship got into warmer latitudes.”

San Quentin had so far said nothing, but now the old man gave his opinion in a loud and authoritative voice that silenced the discussion.  “There ain’t no use of explainin’ how he was carried overboard, nor sayin’ he’d be here now ‘if’ somethin’ hadn’t happened.  His time had come, and he had to go, and that’s all there is about it.  I’m more’n twice as old as he was, but my time ain’t come, nor it won’t for ten years yet.”  With which prophecy the subject was dismissed.

When the mate wrote up the ship’s log that afternoon, he entered: “Sept. 29th—88 days out—Long. 78° 10′ W., Lat. 52° 22′ S.—barometer 28:65; slowly rising—very severe gale from S. E., with heavy sea.  Ran before it till daylight, then hove to—Pumps carefully attended.”

He though a moment, and added: “Eugene Escarras, able seaman, aged 25, a p. 292native of Algiers, was washed overboard from the main deck, and drowned.”

That was Gene’s epitaph.


The third day after the south-easter, both sea and sky wore a different aspect than either had presented for many weeks past, and the air reminded one of the first balmy spring day after a long winter.  Even the moaning, whistling sound in the rigging was gone, and the Cape pigeons and albatross circled through the air with a seemingly new significance, which was doubtless imaginary, as these Antarctic birds revel in storm and cold.  A gentle wind had come with the rising sun, and that morning, for the first time in six weeks, the Sagamore presented nearly her whole spread of canvas to the breeze; everything, in fact, but skysails.

The bo’s’un’s leg was mending finely, and surgeon Hartley announced that he would soon be able to leave his bunk.  The two mates, ill-tempered from overwork, and worn out from loss of sleep, knew their trials were nearly over, and looked forward to the coming weeks of fair and pleasant weather on the glorious Pacific.  The various members of the crew congratulated each other that their days p. 293of toil were about over.  Soon there would be no further use for mittens, rubber boots and oil-skins, and on Sundays they could lie around the warm dry decks or fish from the bows for hours.  San Quentin and Jumbo made a wager as to how soon they could go barefooted, and everyone on board was in fine spirits.

When Captain Meade worked out his sights that noon, he announced to the passengers that the 50th parallel had been crossed during the forenoon watch, on the 79th meridian of west longitude!

After twenty-six days, the ship was around Cape Horn.

The two captains and the passengers stood about the cabin table with the chart spread out before them, and Captain Meade said, as they clinked glasses, “Gentlemen, let us wish the Sagamore a fifty days’ run from here to San Francisco.”


[17a]  A smooth piece of wood painted black and varnished.  On one side are directions in English telling those on a wreck where and how to secure the hawser and tail-block.  On the reverse side the same directions are printed in French.

[17b]  A running block, in which the breeches buoy travels upon the hawser between the wreck and the shore.

[31]  An expression often heard at sea, which means that there is not sufficient room inside the galley to turn a pan-cake.  It is a joke, of course, but gives a fair idea of the exceeding smallness of the cook’s domain on many brigs and schooners of light tonnage.

[79]  This frail species of craft, which is much used in South American coast waters, is usually formed by lashing several planks together, in the form of a raft, the middle one being longer than the others, and slightly turned up at the forward end so as to form a rude bow.  Empty casks are often lashed around the sides to lend buoyancy, and a single sail completes the outfit.  The Brazilian government will not allow any other form of vessel at Fernando de Noronha—not even one for the Governor’s use—lest the convicts should escape.

[101]  When a seafaring man invites you to splice the main brace, he asks you to join him in taking some liquid refreshment.

[132]  Thick cones of clouded glass let into the quarter-deck.  The lazarette beneath obtains all its illumination from these deadlights, which focus the rays of light powerfully.

[175]  Many readers may fancy this an exaggeration, and marvel that such a man should be accepted.  The author recently left port on a large American ship bound on a long voyage, and next day it was discovered that there were four “able seamen” in the forecastle who knew no more of steering by compass than does an infant, and could not even name the yards and sails correctly.  Like the rest of the crew, they had been signed and placed on board by a U.S. Shipping Commissioner, who had taken the usual precaution of first getting them drunk.  The captain has the privilege of rejecting any incompetent seamen, but in this case the test questions were of no use because of the men being intoxicated.  One of them looked quite intelligent, but next day when they became sober, their defects were discovered.  It was then too late to get rid of them, and for several months the officers had to put up with stupidity and incapacity of the grossest character.  Such cases are not rare, as shipping commissioners can usually mulct “greenhorns” of at least $10 as the price of getting them a ship.

[183]  The common nautical contraction of “hermaphrodite.”