The frigate and corvette were at sea, with the prospect of a quick run to Port Royal. During his quiet night-watches Alick's thoughts were ever occupied with Stella. Hitherto the weather since she sailed had been unusually fine, and she might, he hoped, have escaped the dangers of the sea; but there were others to which she was too likely to be exposed on board a vessel engaged, as he understood the brig was, in landing arms and ammunition, and in running contraband goods. The colonel himself, Murray fully believed, had nothing to do with such proceedings; but he would, notwithstanding, be placed in a dangerous position should the vessel be captured while so employed, and then to what a fearful risk might not Stella be exposed. He shuddered at the thought. Again and again it occurred to him. The two ships had got to the southward of Saint Domingo.
In those piping times of peace there was very little excitement at sea— no enemy to be encountered, no vessels to be chased, except perhaps a slaver from the coast of Africa. There had, however, been a steady breeze, all sail being carried, and the officers were congratulating themselves on making a quick passage, when about noon it suddenly fell calm. The sun struck down from the cloudless sky with intense heat, making the pitch in the seams of the deck bubble up and run over the white planks, while every particle of iron or brass felt as hot as if just come out of a furnace. The chips from the carpenter's bench floated alongside, and the slush from the cook's pots scarcely mingled with the clear water, till a huge mouth rising to the surface swallowed the mass down with a gulp, creating a ripple which extended far away from the ship's side. The atmosphere was sultry and oppressive in the extreme, for air there was none. It was a question whether it was hotter on deck in the shade or below. In the sun there was not much doubt about the matter. The sails hung motionless against the masts; even the dog-vanes refused to move. The smoke ascending from the galley fire rose in a thin column, till, gradually spreading out, it hung like a canopy above the ship. The men moved sluggishly about their duties, with no elasticity in their steps; and even Jack and Adair, the briskest of the brisk, felt scarcely able to drag their feet after them. The ocean was like a sheet of burnished silver, so dazzling that it pained the eye to gaze at it. Ever and anon its polished surface would be broken by a covey of flying-fish rising into the air in a vain effort to escape some hungry foe. A nautilus, or Portuguese-man-of-war, would glide by, proving that the wind had nothing to do with its movement; or the dark, triangular fin of a shark might be seen, as the monster, with savage eye, moved slowly round the ship, watching for anything hove overboard.
Woe betide the careless seaman who might lose his balance aloft, and drop within reach of the creature's jaws. In spite of the heat several of the ship's boys, rather than remain stewing below or roasting on deck, were sky-larking in the fore-rigging, chasing each other into the top or up to the cross-trees and along the yards, now swarming up by a lift, now sliding down a stay. The most active of the boys, and generally their leader, though one of the smallest, was Jerry Nott. He had been over the mast-head several times, keeping well before the rest, when he made his way out to the end of the starboard fore-yard-arm. At that moment Mr Scrofton, the boatswain, coming on deck, and reflecting probably that having been deprived of their tails, they were not as fit as their ancestral monkeys to amuse themselves as they were doing, and might come to grief, called the youngsters down. Jerry, startled by the boatswain's voice, cast his eye on deck, instead of fixing it on the topping-lift. A small body was seen falling, and a splash was heard.
"Man overboard!" shouted numerous voices.
"Lower the starboard quarter boat!" cried Jack Rogers, who was officer of the watch, and having given the order he rushed forward and had sprung into the main-chains, intending to jump overboard and support the boy till the boat could pick them up; when he saw the youngster throw up his arms—a piercing shriek rent the air. That bright face a moment before turned towards him had disappeared, a ruddy circle marking the spot where it had been. With difficulty he restrained the impulse which had prompted him to leap into the water, to which had he given way, he knew that he would probably have shared the fate of the poor boy. The boat, notwithstanding, was lowered, and the men rowed round and round the spot hoping to get a blow at their foe with the boat-hook and an axe with which one of them had armed himself; but neither the shark nor his hapless victim again appeared. The only thing which came to the surface was Jerry's straw hat—crushed and blood-stained.
The heat increased—the sun itself seemed to grow larger—the sky became of a metallic tint, the sea lost its silvery brilliancy, and gradually assumed the hue of molten lead. The captain, having several times examined his barometer, came on deck. "All hands, shorten sail!" he shouted out, and while the boatswain was turning up the crew he ordered a signal to be made to the corvette to follow his example.
The topmen swarmed on the yards, the idlers were at their stations.
"Be smart about it, lads!" he shouted. In a few minutes every sail was furled, with the exception of a closely-reefed fore-topsail, braced sharp up. Royal and top-gallant yards were sent down, and the masts struck.
The captain made another signal to the corvette to hasten her proceedings, but her commander showed but little disposition to do so.
"What's Hemming making such a fuss about?" he was reported to have said. "Why, the sea is as smooth as a mill-pond, and if a strong breeze does spring up on a sudden, which I have my doubts about, we shall have plenty of time to trim sails I should think. I ought to know how to take care of my own ship, and don't require to be dictated to by a young fellow who wore long clothes when I was a lieutenant."
Captain Hemming, in the meantime, as he walked the deck of the frigate, ever and anon cast a vexed glance at the corvette.
"Babbicome will be having his sticks about his ears if he does not look sharp," he muttered. "Obstinate old donkey, were it not for those with him I should be glad to see him receive the lesson he'll get to a certainty."
Still, not a breath of air stirred the dog-vanes—the ocean remained as glass-like as before, but thick clouds appeared in the north, and in a short time rain began to fall. It soon ceased, and a stillness like death succeeded the pattering sound of the falling drops. On a sudden the dark clouds seen before in the distance covered the sky, except in the zenith, where an obscure circle of imperfect light was visible, while a dismal darkness gathered round the ships. The midshipmen of the frigate, and several others, had begun to think the captain over-cautious.
"One would suppose that he had changed places with old Babbicome," observed Norris. "See, they are letting all stand on board the corvette."
"No; they are not, though. See! there's hands aloft, shorten sail!" exclaimed Higson. "Good reason, too—they must be smart about it. Look there!" He pointed to the north-east, where a long, white line was seen sweeping on towards the ship, and rapidly increasing in height and thickness, while a roar like that of distant thunder was heard—yet more shrill than thunder—the sound every instant becoming louder and shriller, till it seemed like that of countless voices screaming at their highest pitch. On came the breath of the mighty hurricane, not seen except by its effect on the ocean, which now began to leap and foam, rising into huge rolling billows, sweeping along in threatening array; the foam which flew from them forming one vast sheet covering the ocean, while vivid lightning bursting from the clouds flashed in all directions with dazzling brilliancy. The furious wind struck the frigate on her broadside. In a moment over she heeled, and the close-reefed fore-topsail, blown out of the bolt-ropes, fluttered wildly in shreds, which speedily lashed and twisted themselves round the yard. The helm was put up. After a struggle the frigate answered to it, and off she flew before the wind, passing close under the stern of the corvette, which lay with her masts gone, on her beam-ends, the sheets of foam sweeping over her, almost concealing her from sight. The crew of the corvette had been swarming aloft, and some had already laid out on the yards when the hurricane struck her. Over she heeled—the tall masts bending like willow-wands. The sheets were let fly, but it was too late. The men called down by the officers endeavoured to spring back into the tops, and those who could descended on deck, but many had no time to escape. In one instant, it seemed, the three masts, with a fearful crash, went by the board, carrying all on them into the seething ocean; and the lately trim corvette lay a helpless meek, exposed to the fury of the raging—which dashed with relentless fury over her. Efforts were made by those on deck to rescue their drowning shipmates, whose piercing shrieks for help rose even above the loud uproar of the tempest, whose shrill voice seemed to mock their cries. Some few were hauled on board, but many were swept away before aid could be rendered to them. The masts, also, were thundering with terrific force against the side, threatening every moment to stave in the stout planks, and to send the ship and all on board to the bottom. To clear the wreck was the first imperative work to be performed. Murray, followed by a party of men armed with axes, sprang into the main-chains to cut away the main rigging, while other officers were similarly engaged on that of the fore and mizen masts. He saw at that instant the captain of the maintop, a fine young seaman, who was at his station when the mast went, still clinging to it. A cask with a line was hove into the sea, in the hopes that it might reach him, but this the mass of spars and sails rendered impossible. Murray shouted to him to try and make his way along the mast.
"No, no!" he answered in return, knowing that he would be washed off should he venture on the attempt. "Cut—cut!"
The reiterated blows of the butt-ends of the masts allowed of no alternative. The bright axes gleamed while the seamen rapidly cut the ropes. As the last shroud was severed the gallant topman waved his hand a farewell to his shipmates, and a faint cheer reached their ears as the tangled mass of spars, rigging, and sails, floated away clear of the ship. They had already, however, committed fearful damage. The carpenter sounded the well; he reported six feet of water. The pumps were rigged, and the hands set to work to try and overcome the leak, while he and his mates went below to ascertain the locality of the injury the ship had received. Meantime the hatches were battened down to prevent the water from the seas, which broke on board, increasing the mischief.
Before long the carpenter returned, his countenance showing the anxiety he vainly endeavoured to conceal.
"There are more leaks than one, sir, through which the water is rushing in like a mill-sluice; and it's more than man can do to stop them from within-board," he said, coming aft to the commander. "You'll pardon me, sir, but it's my duty to say that unless we heave the guns overboard, with everything else to lighten the ship, and can get a thrummed sail under her bottom, she'll founder before the world is many minutes older."
"Very well, Mr Auger, I'll consider what you say," answered Commander Babbicome; who, though obstinate and irritable under ordinary circumstances, was cool enough in moments of danger. Murray, who had been below, confirmed the carpenter's report. The boatswain was ordered to get a sail up and prepare it as proposed, while the drummer beat to quarters. Gladly would the crew have mustered had it been to meet an enemy, but it was to perform a task the most painful of all to a man-of-war's man, and one of no small danger.
"Heave the guns overboard!" shouted the commander. "Watch the right time now."
As the dismasted ship rolled in the foaming seas raging around her, first the guns on one side were allowed to slip through the ports, then those on the other went plunging into the deep. The anchors were next cut away from the bows, and now the attempt was made to get the thrummed sail under the ship's bottom. It seemed well-nigh hopeless, with the ship rolling and the heavy seas breaking over her. Murray and the other officers laboured as hard as any one, setting an example, by their energy and courage, to the men dispirited by the loss of so many of their shipmates. Two hawsers were at length got under the ship's bottom, when the sail filled with oakum was hauled over the part where the worst leaks were supposed to exist. Still the water rushed in. The efforts of the hands at the pumps were redoubled, and anxious eyes were turned towards the frigate, which could still be dimly seen to leeward, but too far off to render them any assistance should the sea overcome all their efforts, and carry the ship to the bottom. That this would be her fate before long seemed too probable; the bulwarks in many places had been crushed in—the boats stove or carried away, scarcely a spare spar remained—everything on deck had been swept off it; indeed, it seemed a wonder that she should still be afloat.
A short jury-mast was got up, fixed to the stump of the fore-mast, and a spare royal was bent to a yard and hoisted in the hopes of getting the ship before the wind; but scarcely had the sail been sheeted home, before it had produced the slightest effect, than away went the canvas, mast, and spar to leeward. A second attempt to set a sail was made with similar want of success, and now not an available spar remained on which another could be hoisted.
"Spell, ho!" was cried more frequently than at first, as the exhausted hands at the pumps summoned their shipmates to relieve them, when they staggered to the stumps of the masts or the remaining stanchions and bulwarks, to which they clung to save themselves from being borne away by the wild surges as they broke on board. Thus the disastrous day wore on, to be followed by a still more fearful night. Even the most hopeful had no expectation of seeing another sunrise, as the increasing darkness told them that it had sunk into the storm-tossed ocean.
Alick Murray had endeavoured to maintain that calmness of mind, one of the characteristics for which he was noted. Thought, however, was busy. He, like the rest, believed that ere long the fierce waves would sweep over the foundering ship, and his life, with the lives of all on board, would be brought to a close; for who could hope to escape with not a boat remaining uninjured, and scarcely a spar to afford support? One thought, however, afforded him consolation; the brig, with his beloved Stella on board, had long ere this got well to the southward of the latitude the hurricane was likely to reach, and she, at all events, would escape its fury. Earnestly he prayed that she might be protected from the many dangers she might have to encounter, and though he knew she would mourn his loss, that she might find comfort and he restored in time to happiness.
The rage of the hurricane was unabated—a dreadful darkness settled down over the deep; the only objects to be seen beyond the deck of the labouring ship being the black mountainous seas, crested with hissing foam, which rose up on either beam, threatening every instant to overwhelm her.
In the meantime the frigate, well prepared as she had been to encounter the first onslaught of the hurricane, flew before it unharmed. As she passed the corvette, Captain Hemming, seeing her perilous condition, hailed, promising to heave-to if possible, and lay by her, but the wild uproar of the elements drowned his voice. To bring the ship to the wind under the full force of the hurricane was, indeed, a difficult and dangerous operation, which only the urgent necessity of the case rendered allowable. The captain of the Plantagenet was not the man to desert a consort in distress, and notwithstanding the risk to be run he determined to make the attempt. Still some time elapsed before the trysails could be set, and during it the frigate had run considerably to leeward of the corvette. The ports were closed, the hatches secured, preventer stays set up; every device, indeed, which good seamanship could suggest, was adopted to provide for the safety of the ship. The boats were secured by additional lashings, as was everything that could be washed away on deck. Relieving tackles were also rove, and four of the best hands were sent to the helm. The crew were at their stations, ready to carry out the intended operation. All was ready, but it was necessary to wait for an opportunity to avoid the fury of the mountain foam-crested billows, rolling in quick succession across the ocean, one of which, striking her bows as she came up to the wind, would have treated the proud frigate with little less ceremony than they would a mere cock-boat. Even during the fiercest gale there are spots on the surface of the sea which are less agitated than elsewhere, while at times there comes a lull of the wind, often the precursor, however, of a more furious blast. For such a lull the captain waited. It came.
"Helm's a lee!" he shouted.
With a mighty struggle the frigate came to the wind, the main and mizen trysails were sheeted home, the fore-topsail was braced sharp up. Every one looked with anxiety towards the next huge sea which came roaring towards the frigate, to observe how she would behave. Most gallantly she breasted it, though its hissing crest burst over the bulwarks, and came rushing furiously aft along the deck, but the lee ports being opened, the water made its way out again, without committing any serious damage. To bring the ship to the wind and heave-to was one thing, to beat her up to her hapless consort was another, and that it was found impossible to do without the certainty of meeting with serious disaster. In the attempt she would probably have missed stays, and making a stern board would have gone down into the yawning gulf which the next passing sea would have left. As it was, though she rose buoyantly over most of the seas, ever and anon the summit of one broke on board, and all hands had to hold on fast to save themselves from being carried into the lee-scuppers, or washed overboard, while at the same time it was evident that she must be making very considerable leeway, and thus be drifting farther and farther from her consort. Jack and Adair could not help feeling very anxious about the corvette, for the sake, of course, of all on board, but more especially on account of Murray. They had last seen her through a dense mass of spray, with her masts gone, and many of her crew struggling in the waves, while the savage seas were breaking completely over her. Commander Babbicome was very naturally not spoken of, either by them or any one else, in the most complimentary manner.
"His stupid obstinacy has got his ship into this mess, and, as far as he is concerned, he richly deserves it," observed Jack, trying to catch a glimpse through his glass of the wreck, as she rose, in the far distance, on the summit of a billow, quickly again to disappear. "It's a sad fate for those poor fellows who have lost their lives, and I am very much afraid that they will not be the only ones. It's a question whether the corvette will weather out the hurricane."
"I am very much afraid that she will not," said Adair. "If there was a prospect of a boat living I would volunteer to board her, and try and save some of the people."
"The best-manned boat wouldn't live a minute in such a sea as this, so there's no use thinking about it," answered Jack. "I have tried to persuade myself that it might be possible, but I know it is not. All we can hope is that should she go down, poor Alick may manage to get hold of a plank or spar, or into one of the boats, and that when the gale moderates we may pick him up. There is but a poor chance of that, I own."
"I'll hope that the corvette won't go down," said Adair. "She is a new ship, and, unless abominably managed, she ought to weather out the hurricane."
"She ought to have been put before the wind by this time, and have followed us; and see, she has not altered her position since she was dismasted," said Jack, with a sigh. "Poor Alick!"
"Poor Alick! and poor Stella," echoed Adair.
Night came on. Few of the watch below—officers or men—turned in, for every one knew that at any moment all hands might be piped on deck to save ship.
The hurricane continued to rage with unabated fury. Hour after hour went by without a sign of its ceasing. The vivid lightning darted around; the whole upper regions of the sky being illuminated by incessant flashes, while darts of electric fire exploded with surpassing brilliancy in every direction, threatening each instant the destruction of the ship. Jack and Terence were standing together, holding on to a stanchion, when the latter gave a loud cry, and some heavy object fell at their feet.
"Hillo! what's that?" exclaimed Paddy, as he put up his hand to his cap. "Faith, I thought a round shot had taken my head off. Catch it, Jack, or it will be away."
"What, your head, Terence?" asked Jack, unable to restrain a joke even then.
"No, but that big bird there; see it's scuttling away along the deck."
Jack sprang forward and caught the bird, which proved to be a large sea-fowl, but he had not the heart to injure it. Presently another dropped on the deck near them, and in a short time a flash of lightning, spreading a bright glare around, showed that the launch and booms, and all the more sheltered spots, were tenanted by sea-birds, which, unable to breast the storm, could find no other resting-place for their weary wings. Some unfortunate ones were caught and carried captives below, but the men generally showed compassion to the strangers, and allowed them to enjoy such shelter as they could find undisturbed.
"Well, I do hope that the hurricane is at its height," observed Jack, as six bells in the middle watch were struck. "I doubt if the canvas will stand much more."
"If it isn't it will be after blowing the ship herself clean out of the water," answered Adair. "We ought to be thankful that our sticks are sound, and the rigging well set up."
"Yes; Cherry deserves full credit, and we should give old Scrofton his due, for, though his theories are nonsensical, he is an excellent boatswain," observed Jack. "I am convinced that every accident on board a ship occurs from the carelessness, and often from the culpable neglect, of some one concerned in fitting her out, or from bad seamanship."
While they were speaking there came a sudden lull of the wind, and the lightning ceased, leaving the ship enveloped in a blackness which could be felt. The two lieutenants, though close together, could not even distinguish the outlines of each other's figures.
"This is awful," exclaimed Adair.
Jack felt that it was so, but said nothing. Suddenly the whole heavens appeared ablaze with fiery meteors, which fell in showers on every side.
"Look look! mercy—what can that be?" cried Adair.
A mass of fire, of a globular form and deep red hue, appeared high up in the sky, when downward it fell, perpendicularly, not a cable's length from the ship, it seemed, assuming an elongated shape of dazzling whiteness ere it plunged, hissing, into the ocean.
"We may be thankful that ball did not strike us," observed Jack. "It would have sent us to the bottom more certainly than Fulton's torpedo, or any similar invention, could have done."
"I hope that there are no others like it ready to fall on us," said Terence.
Scarcely a minute had elapsed when the wind fell almost to a calm, its strength being scarcely sufficient to steady the ship. At the same moment the heavens seemed to open and shower down fire, so numberless and rapid were the flashes of the most vivid lightning which played between the clouds and ocean, filling the whole atmosphere with their brilliancy. The captain had put his hand to his mouth to order more sail to be set, when again the hurricane burst forth with renewed fury, howling and shrieking, as Terence declared, like ten legions of demons in the rigging, while the mountain seas, as they clashed with each other, created a roar which almost overpowered the yelling voice of the hurricane. For nearly an hour the hideous uproar continued, until, as if wearied by its last mighty effort, the storm began evidently to abate, although the darkness was even denser than before, while the seas continued tumbling and rolling in so confused a manner that any attempt to steer the ship, so as to avoid them, would have been impossible. Daylight was looked for with anxiety by all on board, to ascertain the fate of the corvette, the captain eagerly waiting for the moment when he could venture to make sail, that he might stand towards her. Just as the cold grey dawn broke over the leaden-tinted, still tumbling ocean, the wind shifted to the southward. The light increased. The eyes of all on deck were turned towards the spot where it was supposed the corvette would be seen. In vain they looked. She was nowhere visible. A groan of disappointment escaped their breasts. Jack and Adair hurried aloft with their glasses, still in the hopes of discovering her. They swept the whole horizon to the northward from east to west, and every intermediate space, but not a speck on the troubled waters could they discover which might prove to be the hull of the corvette. "Poor Alick! poor Alick!" they both again ejaculated, and descended with sad hearts on deck.
The captain now gave the order to make sail, and under her topsails and courses the frigate began to force her way amid the still rolling billows to the northward. Mr Cherry, and several of the other officers, were speaking of the loss of the corvette as a certainty. Jack, who could not bear the thought that Murray was indeed gone, declared that he still had some hopes of finding her above water.
"I agree with Rogers," said the captain, joining them. "We have made scarcely sufficient allowance for the distance the frigate has drifted during the hurricane. Though I allow that the corvette will have had a hard struggle for it, and that it is too probable she has foundered; yet, as I think that there is a possibility of her being still afloat, I intend to pass over every part of the sea to which she can have been driven, or any boats or rafts escaping from her can have reached."
The remarks made by the captain considerably raised the spirits of Jack and Terence. A look-out was sent to the masthead, and they themselves frequently went aloft with their telescopes, in the hopes of catching sight of the missing ship. As the day advanced the light increased, and the wind gradually fell to a moderate breeze. The captain and Mr Cherry, having been on deck during the whole night, had turned in, as had all who could do so. Jack had charge of the watch, and Terence remained with him.
"A lump of something floating away on the starboard bow," cried the look-out from aloft.
Jack kept the ship towards it. In a short time the object seen was discovered to be a tangled mass of spars and rigging, evidently belonging to the corvette. As the frigate passed close to it the figure of a seaman was perceived in its midst floating, partly in the water and partly supported by a spar, with his face turned upwards, as if gazing at her. Several on board shouted, but no voice replied, no sign was made. Jack, notwithstanding, was about to shorten sail and heave the ship to, that a boat might be lowered to rescue the man, when the corpse—for such it was—turned slowly round and disappeared beneath the waves.
"There goes poor Bill Dawson. He was captain of the main-top aboard the Tudor," observed one of the men. "I knowed him well, and a better fellow never stepped!"
Jack's heart sank as he saw the wreck of the corvette's masts.
"Surely they could not have floated to any distance from her, and as she is not in sight she must have gone down," he thought.
The sea was still too rough to attempt taking any of the spars on board, so the frigate stood on as the captain had directed. Ten minutes or more passed by, when again the look-out hailed the deck in a cheery voice,—"A sail on the port bow!"
The announcement raised the spirits of every one. Terence hurried aloft, and a midshipman was sent to call the captain, who quickly appeared.
"I thought so," he exclaimed. "Depend on it, that is the Tudor."
Some time passed before Terence returned on deck. His report confirmed the captain's opinion. He could clearly make out the hull with a small sail set forward. The last reef was shaken out of the topsails, the starboard studding-sails were set, and the frigate dashed after the corvette. The news spread below, the sleepers were awakened, and all hands turned out. The frigate speedily came up with the lately trim little ship, now reduced to a mere battered hulk. From her appearance it was surprising that she should be still afloat. A mast and yard, composed of numerous pieces, had been rigged forward with a royal or some other small sail set on it. The whole of the bulwarks on one side were stove in; not a gun remained, the boats were gone. Many of the crew lay about the deck exhausted with fatigue, and scarcely able to raise themselves, and utter a faint cheer, as the frigate, now shortening sail, approached, while the remainder were labouring hard at the pumps; and by the gush of water flowing from the scuppers, it was evident that they found it a hard matter to keep the ship afloat.
"Shorten sail, Commander Babbicome, and I'll send you assistance, for I see you require it," shouted Captain Hemming, with a touch of irony in his tone, as the frigate ranged up alongside.
A hawser had been got ready and passed aft; a long line secured to the end was hove on board the corvette, and those who just before seemed scarcely able to stand on their feet hauling on it with right good will; the hawser was passed forward, and quickly secured. In the meantime two boats had been lowered, and fifty fresh hands sent from the frigate relieved the worn-out crew of the corvette. Adair had gone in charge of the men, and Murray was the first person he greeted on deck.
"We had given you up for lost, but, thank Heaven, you are safe!" exclaimed Terence, as he warmly wrung his friend's hand.
"It isn't the first time either that we've had cause to be frightened about each other's safety; and for my part I intend in future, should you or Jack disappear, never to despair of seeing you turn up again alive somewhere or other."
"We have indeed been very mercifully preserved," answered Murray, gravely. "But, my dear Adair, unless we take the greatest care, I very much doubt that the ship can be kept afloat till we reach Port Royal."
And he briefly told Terence all that had occurred. There was but little time, however, for conversation. While most of the fresh hands went to the pumps the rest got up another sail, which, having been thrummed like the first, was passed under the ship's bottom. The result was satisfactory. Though the frigate was towing the corvette at the rate of four knots an hour, instead of the leak increasing, as had been feared would be the case, the pumps rapidly gained on it. Higson, with additional hands, came on board; the hatches were taken off, and buckets being brought into play, passed rapidly up from below by a line of men, the depth of water in the hold was sensibly decreased, the corvette in consequence towing the lighter. Poor Commander Babbicome, who looked as unhappy as a man could do, went to his cabin; and even Murray, with most of the officers, was glad to turn in and leave the ship in charge of Adair and Fligson. Happily the wind remained fair and moderate, and in three days the frigate and her battered consort came safely to an anchor in the magnificent harbour of Port Royal. Their arrival was officially notified to the admiral, living at the Pen above Kingston, and he, shortly after coming down in his barge, having inspected the ships, ordered the corvette into dock to be repaired, while he gave a gentle hint to Commander Babbicome that, as he was not a good subject for resisting an attack of yellow fever, it would be wise in him to return by the first opportunity to England.
JAMAICA—MURRAY APPOINTED TO THE SUPPLEJACK BRIG—PULL UP TO KINGSTON— PORT ROYAL JACK—JOHNNY FERONG'S STORE—VISIT TO THE BRADSHAWS—KIND RECEPTION—RETURN—THE SUPPLEJACK SAILS FOR THE SOUTHWARD.
Jamaica, a hundred and sixty miles long, by forty-five broad, is, as everybody knows, a very magnificent island; but, alas! its ancient glory has departed for a time, though it is to be hoped that one of the many panaceas proposed for its renovation may, ere long, restore it to its pristine state of prosperity. Port Royal, or Kingston Harbour, capable of holding a thousand tall ships, lies on its southern side, towards its eastern end. The harbour has for its sea boundary a low, narrow, sandy strip of land, several miles in length, called the Palisades, running from the east towards the west; at which end is seen the town of Port Royal standing a few feet above the water, and looking complacently down on its predecessor, buried eight fathoms below the surface by the earthquake of 1692. Here, too, is the Royal Naval Yard, hospital, barracks, and the works of Fort Charles defending the entrance, which is rendered still more difficult of access to an enemy by the Apostles' Battery erected on the opposite side, with a fine range of mountains rising directly above it. Kingston, that not over delectable of sea-ports, stands on the northern shore of the harbour towards its eastern end, and is thus a considerable distance from Port Royal; the only communication between the two places being by water, except by a circuitous route along the burning sands of the Palisades, which adventurous mids and juvenile subs, have alone of mortals been known to attempt on horseback. The land rises rapidly beyond the flat on which Kingston stands, the Admiral's Pen being some way above it, while Up Hill Barracks appear beautifully situated very much higher up the mountain.
The frigate lay at anchor off Port Royal, the crippled corvette had just been towed into dock. Jack and Terence were walking the deck under the awning, having got ready to go on shore.
"Faith, now, this is a fine place!" exclaimed Terence, as he gazed over the wide expanse of the harbour, the plain of Liguania covered with plantations, and dotted with white farm-houses quivering in the beams of a tropical sun. Beyond it rose the magnificent amphitheatre of the Blue Mountains, one piled upon another, reaching to the clouds, and intersected by numerous deep, irregular valleys; one of their spurs, with Rock Fort at its base, appearing directly over the ship's port-quarter; while before the beam was seen, at the end of a narrow spit of sand, Fort Augusta, its guns ready to sweep to destruction any hostile fleet which might attempt to enter; and over the bow in the far distance could dimly be distinguished the town of Kingston, at the head of the lagoon.
"Not equal to Trinidad, though," observed Jack. "I don't know what your fair cousin Maria would say if she heard you expatiate so warmly on its beauties."
"I'd just invite her to come with me, and judge for herself," answered Terence. "But why did you speak of her now? I was beginning to fancy that I was getting the sweet creature out of my head, for it's bothering me she has been ever since we left the island. Oh, Jack! you're a hardhearted fellow. I thought that you would have fallen head over ears in love with Stella."
"I saw that Miss O'Regan was not likely to fall in love with me, and, besides, for other reasons, when I found how completely Murray was captivated by her, I soon conquered the admiration I felt," said Jack. "I wish for his sake that they had never met. Dragged about as she is by her enthusiast of a father into all sorts of dangers, it is impossible to say what may be her fate; and it would go nigh to break his heart should her life be lost, or any other misfortune happen to her. Here comes a shore-boat—we'll secure her to take us to Kingston."
Jack going to the gangway met the very person they had just been speaking of.
"Why, Murray, my dear fellow, we expected to meet you on shore!" he exclaimed. "What brings you back?"
"To look after my traps, settle my mess accounts, bid farewell to my late shipmates, and take command of HM Brig Supplejack, fitting out at the Dockyard, and nearly ready for sea, I am told," answered Murray. "I don't know whether to ask you to congratulate me or not. I had hoped to make the acquaintance of some families on shore to whom I have letters of introduction, but as they live some way from Kingston I fear that I shall not have time to call on them. One family, the Ravens, are related to my Antigua friends, the Houghtons; and another, the Bradshaws, to Colonel O'Regan and his daughter, of whom I hoped to hear from them. I feel anxious on the subject, I confess, for there are rumours on shore about the character of the brig they sailed in, which I do not like. I wish that she was safe back again."
"The brig, or the young lady!" exclaimed Terence. "Ah, yes, I understand; the brig with the young lady aboard. I'd like to give her a royal salute as she comes in, which I dare say will be before long; and as to hearing about her, Jack and I will make a pilgrimage to the Ravens and Bradshaws, and bring you back all the intelligence we can collect, if you haven't time to go yourself."
"You may depend on us for that," said Jack. "But I say, Alick, you haven't told us by what good fortune you have been appointed to the Supplejack; for good fortune, I call it, to get an independent command, whatever you may think."
"By no unusual means; through what I suspect the invidious will call Nepotism. When I went to pay my respects to the admiral, he at once hailed me as a cousin, told me he was glad to make my acquaintance, expressed his regret at the loss of poor Archy, who was also related to him, and wound up by saying that he should be very happy to forward my interests. I was taking my leave, wishing to get on to the Bradshaws, when he stopped me, inviting me to dinner, and observing that he should by that time have something to say to me; and wished, besides, to hear about old friends in bonnie Scotland. This, of course, was equivalent to a royal command; so I wrote to Mrs Bradshaw, enclosing my letter of introduction, and expressing my intention of calling on her and Mrs Raven as soon as I was at liberty. You and Terence will, I have no doubt, be welcomed if you can ride over to Saint David's. You can explain more clearly than I could by letter how I am situated, and you will not fail to inquire what has been heard about the O'Regans. After dinner, the admiral, who spoke in the kindest way possible, said that Macleod, who he had intended should have command of the Supplejack having been invalided, as the corvette could not be refitted under three or four months, he had appointed me in his stead, and that he intended to transfer thirty of the corvette's crew to the brig, with any officers I might name. Though I must consider my command but temporary, I may possibly, he hinted, be confirmed in it."
"Congratulate you! Of course I do, and though I'm not jealous, it's just the sort of command I should jump at," exclaimed Terence.
"I am not quite so certain; it is said that if a lieutenant is placed in command of a small craft, he is never likely to get anything better," observed Jack. "However, in your case it is different, as the admiral will look after your interests. Did he tell you how and where you are to be employed?"
"My duty will be chiefly to look after slaves and pirates, of whom a few occasionally appear sailing under the flags of some of the smaller South American States; he mentioned also, that I might probably be sent to the Spanish Main to protect British interests on that coast. My thoughts at once, I confess, flew to Colonel O'Regan and his daughter, and the possibility of meeting them; though I trust that they may have returned safely to Jamaica before I can get to the coast."
"Who knows! By my faith, I should be after wishing the contrary!" exclaimed Terence. "What a romantic incident it would be now some morning just as day breaks, to make out away to leeward a brig which you have no doubt is the Sarah Jane, with a black, rakish, wicked-looking schooner close to, just opening fire. The brig fights bravely; she had, I think, a couple of two or three-pounders on board, but she will to a certainty be captured. You make all sail to her assistance, for the pirate, supposing you to be a merchantman, doesn't up stick and run for it—but the wind drops, you take to your boats, the black schooner has ranged up alongside the brig, you arrive at the moment the brig's crew have been overpowered—the colonel brought to the deck, and the pirate-captain, a huge ugly negro, is bearing off a fair lady in his arms. You cut him down, rescue the lady, drive the pirates overboard, place the colonel on his legs, blow up the schooner, and are duly rewarded for your gallantry."
"Avast, Terence, with your nonsense!" exclaimed Murray, who had before been vainly endeavouring to stop the imaginative Irishman. "You make me miserable in suggesting the bare possibility of such an occurrence. The brig may be attacked, but I might not arrive in time to save my friends."
"Now, Alick dear, you remind me mightily of Tim Doolan, the cowboy at Ballymacree," said Terence. "I found Tim, one bright morning, looking as unhappy as his twinkling eyes and cocked-up nose would let him. 'Tim, my beauty—what's the matter?' I asked.
"'It's a throubled drame, Mr Terence, that I have had,' answered Tim, twisting his nose and mouth about in a curious manner, and giving a peculiar wink with his right eye.
"'What is it, man?' I asked. 'Out with your dream.'
"'Well, your honour, it was just this. I dreamt that I went to pay a visit to his holiness the Pope, and a civil old gentleman he was, for he axed me if I'd take some whisky and water, and on course I said yes. "Hot or cold, Tim?" asked the Pope. "Hot, your reverence," says I, and bad luck to me, for by dad, while the Pope went down to the kitchen to get the kettle I awoke; and now, if I'd said cold, I'd have had time to toss off a noggin-full at laste, and it's that throubles me.'
"Now it strikes me, Alick, that your waking imagination is as vivid as Tim's; but don't let it run away with you in this instance. You'll see the Sarah Jane come safe into harbour before you leave it, and have time to wish the young lady the top of the morning, at all events."
"You are incorrigible, Paddy," answered Murray, laughing in spite of himself. "As I have stood all your bantering, I have the right to insist on your coming with me to inspect the Supplejack before you go up to Kingston."
His two friends of course agreed to the proposal, and their carpet-bags being put into Murray's boat they pulled for the Dockyard at Port Royal. The Supplejack had her lower yards across, and most of her stores on board. In three or four days she might, by an efficient crew, be got ready for sea. Though Murray would gladly have had a longer delay, duty with him was paramount to every other consideration, and he resolved to use every exertion to expedite her outfit. She was not much of a beauty, they were of opinion; but she looked like a good sea-boat, and Jack thought that she would prove a fast craft, which was of the most consequence. Though rated as a six-gun brig she carried only two carronades, and a third long heavy gun amidships, which they agreed, under some circumstances, would be of more avail than the four short guns it had replaced. Terence advised Alick to ask for two more carronades.
"I might not get them if I did ask, so I will make good use, if I have the chance, of those on board," was the answer.
Captain Hemming had been requested to spare Murray five hands from the frigate. He chose Ben Snatchblock, the boatswain's-mate, to act as boatswain, a great promotion for Ben, and four others; these, with a dozen hands before belonging to the brig, the rest having died of yellow fever, sent home invalided, or deserted, made up his complement. He had applied for, and obtained old Higson, a former shipmate who had so taken to heart the loss of the three midshipmen that he was anxious for more stirring employment than he could find on board the frigate, likely to be detained for some time at Jamaica, or not to go much farther than Cuba. The other officers were selected from the corvette. The old mate was highly pleased. He had the duty of a first lieutenant, and was one in all respects, except in name, though not to be sure over a very large ship's company. Hard drinker and careless as he had been sometimes on shore, Murray knew that he could trust him thoroughly when responsibility was thrown on his shoulders, and hoped that by being raised in his own estimation he might altogether be weaned of his bad habits.
Jack and Terence sailed up to Kingston with a fresh sea breeze a-beam blowing over the sandy shore of the Palisades.
"Take care you don't capsize us," said Jack to the black skipper, who carried on till the boat's gunwale was almost under water.
"Neber tink I do dat, massa leetenant. Not pleasant place to take swim," answered the man, with a broad grin on his ebon features, showing his white teeth.
"I think not, indeed," exclaimed Terence. "Look there."
He pointed to a huge shark, its triangular fin just above the surface, keeping two or three fathoms off, even with the boat, at which the monster every now and then, as he declared, gave a wicked leer.
"What do you call that fellow?"
"Dat, massa, dat is Port Royal Jack," answered the negro. "He keep watch ober de harbour—case buckra sailors swim ashore. He no come up much fader when he find out we boat from de shore. See he go away now."
The shark gave a whisk with his tail, and disappeared in an instant. The young officers breathed more freely when their ill-omened companion had gone. Almost immediately afterwards a boat belonging to a large merchantman, lying at the mouth of the harbour, ready for sea, passed them under all sail. Her crew of eight hands had evidently taken a parting glass with their friends.
"Dey carry too much canvas wid de grog dey hab aboard," observed the black. "Better look out for squalls."
He hailed, but received only a taunting jeer in return, and the boat sped on her course. Not a minute had passed when Jack and Terence heard the negro mate, who was watching the boat, sing out—
"Dere dey go, Jack shark get dem now—eh?"
Looking in the direction the black's chin was pointing, to their horror they saw that the boat had capsized, her masts and sails appearing for an instant as she rapidly went to the bottom, while the people were writhing and struggling on the surface, shrieking out loudly for help. Jack and Terence ordered the black to put the boat about instantly, and go to their rescue. Nearly two minutes passed before they reached the spot. Five men only were floating. The ensanguined hue of the water told too plainly what had been the fate of the others.
"Help! help. For God's sake, help!" shrieked out a man near them, in an agony of fear. At that instant a white object was seen rising, it seemed, from the bottom. The hapless man threw up his arms, and, uttering a piercing shriek, disappeared beneath the water.
The other four men could swim, but almost paralysed with fear kept crying out for help, without making any effort to save themselves, striking out wildly, round and round, as if they did not see the approaching boat. First one was hauled on board, then another and another. Jack had got hold of the fourth, and was dragging him in when a shark rose from the bottom. The negro boatman's quick eye had espied the monster. He darted down his boat-hook into the open mouth of the shark, which, closing its jaws, bit off the iron and a part of the stock, while, by a violent effort, Jack and Terence jerked the man inboard, thus saving his legs, and probably his life.
They were now directly over the spot where the boat went down, and so clear was the water, the ruddy stains having disappeared, that they could see her as she lay at the bottom. Jack was standing up, when he exclaimed—
"There is a poor fellow entangled in the rigging—he seems alive. I think that I could bring him up."
Influenced by a generous impulse, and forgetting the fearful monsters in the neighbourhood, he was on the point of leaping overboard, when the black boatman seized his arm, crying out—
"No, no, massa, dat one shark, hisself."
Jack looked again, and the object he had mistaken for a seaman's white shirt resolved itself into the white belly of a shark, the creature being employed in gnawing the throat of its victim.
"Dat is what dey always do," observed the black coolly. "Dey drag down by de feet, and den dey begin to eat at de trote."
Probably because the throat is the part of the body most exposed. Jack and Terence carried the survivors up to Kingston. Except that they uttered a few expressions of regret at the sad fate of their shipmates, the men seemed very little concerned, or grateful to Heaven for their own preservation; and immediately on landing they went into a grog-shop, where they probably soon forgot all about the matter. Such is the force of habit. Jack and Terence were not enchanted with the silent, half-deserted streets of Kingston, through which, having lost their way, they paraded for half an hour or more; but after eating a pink-coloured shaddock, and half-a-dozen juicy oranges, obtained from a smiling-faced negress market-woman, their spirits rose.
"Things begin to wear a more roseate hue, maybe tinged with the juice of the fruit we've swallowed," said Terence, laughing, "and here's Johnny Ferong's store we were looking for, I've no doubt."
They entered, and received a hearty welcome from that most loquacious and facetious of Frenchmen, who offered to supply them with every possible article they could require in any quantity, from a needle to an anchor. They wanted something—it was information—how best to get out to Saint David's, not a profitable article to supply them with, but Johnny Ferong afforded it, with apparently infinite pleasure, and further assisted to raise their spirits, and confirm their resolution of becoming customers, by handing them each a glass of cool, sparkling champagne, and immediately replenishing it when empty.
"And you want to pay visit to Madame Bradsaw? Charmante lady—den I vill order one voiture for vous, vich vill take vous dere, let me see, in two hours and one half; and vous stay dere, and come back in de cool of de morning, or in de evening, or de next day as vous please," said Mr Ferong, bowing, and smiling, as he spoke, in the mode habitual to him.
"It will never do to take people by storm in that fashion," exclaimed Jack. "Unless we can get back to-night we had better put off our visit till to-morrow morning."
Terence, who was modesty itself in such a case, agreed with him. Mr Ferong, however, laughed at their scruples, assuring them that Mr and Mrs Bradshaw would be delighted to see them, whether strangers or not, that he would be answerable for all consequences, and settled the matter by sending off a black boy to order the carriage forthwith, and to fetch their carpet-bags from the inn, where they had been deposited on landing. In the meantime Jack and Terence found several acquaintances among the visitors, chiefly naval and military officers, assembled in Johnny Ferong's reception-room, forming the lower storey of his store or warehouse. There were also a few merchant-skippers, and civilian agents of estates, clerics and others. Countless glass cases, exhibiting wares of all sorts, and goods of every description in bales, packages, boxes, and casks, were piled up, or scattered about the place, serving for seats for the guests, most of whom were smoking and sipping sangaree. While Jack was talking to an old shipmate he unexpectedly met, a skipper and a merchant were engaged in an earnest conversation near him, and he could not help overhearing some of the remarks which dropped from them.
"If Captain Crowhurst can manage to run his cargo before the brig's character is suspected it will be an easy affair for him, but if not he will find it a difficult job. They have got half-a-dozen armed craft, which will watch her pretty sharply, and I know those mongrel Spaniards well. If they catch her they'll not scruple to sink her, and shoot every man on board."
These remarks were made by the skipper.
"But the Sarah Jane is a fast craft, and will, I should hope, be able to keep out of their way," said the merchant, in an anxious voice. "We should be unable to recover her insurance should she be sunk, I fear."
"As certainly as the poor fellows who may be shot would be unable to come to life again," observed the skipper dryly. "To my mind it's not fair to send men on such an adventure."
"They are aware of what they are about, and know the risk they run," said the merchant.
"The captain and supercargo may, but not the rest of the people, and that's what I find fault with," observed the skipper.
Jack heartily agreed with the last speaker, and was on the point of turning round to make inquiries about the Sarah Jane, when the merchant, suspecting that they must have been overheard, drew his companion aside and left the store. Jack asked Mr Ferong if he could give him the information he desired; but the Frenchman, shrugging his shoulders, replied that he knew nothing of the affairs of his customers; his business was to obtain "his littel wares of de best quality and to sell dem at de lowest price possible."
In a shore time the carriage appeared, with their carpet-bags strapped on behind, and covered with a tarpaulin. It was a species of gig, with a seat in front for the driver, and had two horses, one in the shafts and the other prancing in comparative freedom, secured by traces to an outrigger. Away they started at furious speed, and before long were ascending the side of the magnificent Liguania mountains; now proceeding along a romantic valley, with a babbling stream on one side; now passing over a height; now along a level, or but slightly sloping spot for half a mile or so, but gradually getting higher and higher above the plain. Sometimes, when exposed to the sun's rays, they found it hot enough; but frequently they travelled under the long shadow of some gigantic cotton tree, shooting up into the blue heavens; or beneath a grove of graceful palms, the tendrils of the yam and granadillos climbing up them, with fences on either side, covered by numberless creepers, passion-flowers of varied sizes, and convolvuli of countless descriptions. The whole country seemed like an assemblage of orchards, composed of orange-trees in fruit and flower, lemon and citron trees, glossy-leaved star apples; the avocada, with its huge pear, and the bread fruit-tree bearing still vaster fruit, and leaves of proportionate size; while beneath them were seen in abundance the unfailing food of man in tropical climes, the ever cool, fresh, green plantain; indeed, the strangers felt bewildered amid the variety of trees, shrubs, and plants which surrounded them.
"A perfect paradise, this," exclaimed Jack, who was not much addicted, however, thus to express his feelings. "See, the vegetation reaches to the very summit of the highest mountains."
"Inhabited by no small number of ebon-hued Adams and Eves," observed Terence, pointing to several palm-thatched, white-washed huts, a little way off, before which was collected a group of negroes, men, and women, and children, laughing, shouting, and talking, looking wonderfully happy; the former all neatly habited, and though the smaller members of the community were not overburdened with clothing, they looked as plump and jolly as need be. "I only wish that our peasantry in old Ireland were as well off as these people seem to be."
"And those of England, also," said Jack. "Still slavery is an abomination, and I pray that it may some day cease throughout the world."
The lieutenants scarcely believed that the time they expected to be on the road had elapsed, when their driver pointed to a wide-spreading, low mansion, with verandahs all round it, and extensive outbuildings, and said—
"Dere, dat Saint David's."
Somehow or other they had expected to see only a Mr and Mrs Bradshaw. Their surprise was considerable when they met with a reception not unlike that at Trinidad, from a matronly dame and a number of young damsels; except that they did not claim Adair as a relation.
"We were expecting Mr Murray, and regret not seeing him, but his brother officers are most welcome," said Mrs Bradshaw, when she had glanced at Alick's letter.
She then introduced the two lieutenants by name to her eldest daughter Fanny, and to her three little girls, as she called them, but though the youngest was barely thirteen, they all looked like grown women. Adair was quickly at home with them, answering the questions they showered on him. Jack remained talking to Mrs Bradshaw and Fanny. He mentioned Murray's anxiety about the O'Regans.
"I fear that he has good reason to be anxious," answered Mrs Bradshaw. "The colonel promised to bring his daughter here long ago, and we were expecting to see her, when we heard that he had carried her off on another of his wild expeditions. He wrote word from Antigua that he intended to be but a short time away, so that they may possibly arrive in a day or two. We long to have her safe with us, for though Fanny is the only one who knows her, as they were at a finishing school together in England, from the account she gives we are all prepared to love her."
"Yes, indeed," exclaimed Fanny. "She was a delightful creature, the pet and darling of the school, one of the youngest among us; and I should never have supposed that she would have been able to go through what she has done since."
While they were speaking Mr Bradshaw arrived—a stout, bald-headed, middle-aged gentleman, with ruddy countenance, dressed in nankin trousers, white jacket, and broad-brimmed straw hat, which he doffed as he approached the strangers, glancing from one to the other; and then, having settled in his mind that Jack Rogers was Alick Murray, shook his hand, which he grasped with the greatest warmth.
"Happy to welcome you to Saint David's, my dear sir; only wish that our expected friends were here also. A great disappointment to us, and to you likewise, I feel sure, eh!" and he gave a facetious look at Jack, as much as to say. "I know all about it."
"My dear, this gentleman is Lieutenant Rogers. Mr Murray has been unable to come up," said Mrs Bradshaw; and she explained how matters stood.
Jack thought that he ought to speak of going back. Mr Bradshaw laughed at the notion.
"Utterly out of the question. Stay a week, or as long as you have leave. Send your shanredan back to-morrow morning, and I'll drive you down in my buggy when you have to go."
Thus pressed, Jack confessed that he and Adair had brought their carpet-bags, not knowing where they might have to put up, and accepted the invitation for the night; but said that, on Murray's account, they must return the next day to see him before he sailed, and to tell him what they had heard respecting Colonel and Miss O'Regan.
"You may assure your friend that he will ever be welcome here, and I hope that we shall have the young lady with us when he returns," answered Mr Bradshaw. "I will not say the same with regard to her impracticable father, for, between you and I, the farther he is away from her the better. I am no admirer of his wild, harum-scarum schemes, though he is individually a brave and honourable man; and had he not foolishly quarrelled with the authorities at home, he would never have lacked employment under the flag of England, instead of knocking his head against stone walls in quarrels not his own."
These remarks of the worthy planter explained Colonel O'Regan's character to Jack more clearly than anything he had before heard. He had before entertained some unpleasant suspicions on the subject. They were confirmed, and he now only hoped that Murray would not, should he marry Stella, be induced to join any of her father's schemes. Of that, however, if cautioned, he did not think there was much risk. Had Terence been the favoured lover the case would have been different, for, enthusiastic himself, he might easily have been won over by the colonel's persuasive powers. Dinner was soon announced. Jack and Terence, who were very hungry, did ample justice to the solids as well as to the numerous West Indian delicacies and rich fruits pressed on them by their fair hostesses—the shaddocks, the mangos, and, above all, the granadillos, which were pronounced like strawberries and cream, but superior to any such mixture ever tasted in Europe. They enjoyed, too, a most pleasant evening, several friends having come in, among them Mr and Mrs Raven, nice young people, full of life and spirits. Mrs Raven was glad, she said, to make the acquaintance of Lieutenant Murray's brother officers, of whom she had heard from her mother, Mrs Houghton, and only regretted that he himself was unable to come.
"However," she added, "we may hope to see him frequently by-and-by, on his return from his cruise."
They had dancing, of course, as young people never think of meeting in the West Indies without it; and some delightful music, for the younger girls had been taught by Fanny, who was highly accomplished. Mr Bradshaw observed that they did pretty well considering that they had not the advantages of their elder sister. Times were changed in Jamaica, and he could not afford to pay three hundred a year for the education of each of them, as he had done for her.
"No; but they are better housekeepers, and understand far more about preserving and pickling than she does, and there is not a bird or a flower on the estate, or, indeed, in any part of the island, with which they are not acquainted," remarked Mrs Bradshaw, with motherly pride. "Thanks to Fanny, too, they are really, considering their ages, not so very much behind her in book knowledge. We need not regret having kept them with us."
"I agree in all you say, Mrs B," rejoined her husband, rubbing his hands and laughing; "and as I am eighteen hundred pounds the richer, or, let me see, in three years, with the addition of their voyages and dress, the cost of sending them home would have amounted to three thousand or more. I do not complain, I assure you."
The young officers listened with surprise, and not a little amusement, at this eulogium on the young ladies, and the accompanying remarks— uttered they believed correctly without any ulterior object. It gave them some idea of the expense to which West Indian parents were put for the education of their girls, of which they before had no conception.
"Faith! more than double a lieutenant's pay," ejaculated Terence, as he was turning in at night. "If he would make that allowance to Fanny, the eldest of the three, I'd do my best to win her before the ship sails. I can't stand it, Jack. I must either stay aboard and do duty for Cherry, or never set eyes on these houris again, or knock under to one or the other."
"'There's luck in odd numbers, says Rory O'More,'" answered Jack, from his side of the room. "You divided your attention very fairly among the young ladies, and depend on it they will as easily forget us as we shall get them out of our heads, by the time we have been a few days at sea; so don't bother yourself about the matter, Paddy, but go to sleep."
Whether or not Terence followed his advice Jack could not tell, for he himself very soon went off into a sound slumber. The house was astir at daybreak, and not long after the white dresses and broad-brimmed straw hats of the young ladies were seen in the garden amid the fragrant flowers, with glittering humming-birds and gorgeous butterflies, flitting about in all directions. The lieutenants speedily joined them. Jack's wise resolutions were almost overcome. He had made up his mind to take leave after breakfast. They looked so bright and happy; the air was so fresh, the flowers so sweet. He and Terence could not fail to spend a pleasant day, but then he remembered Murray, who would be anxiously looking for their return.
"Then you'll come again soon, Mr Adair, if Mr Rogers thinks you must go now," said Fanny, with a strong emphasis on the must, and a gentle sigh.
"You will always be welcome at Saint David's," added Mr Bradshaw. "And tell Lieutenant Murray that I will let him know should I hear anything about the Sarah Jane. I may possibly get information which might not reach him."
Their own vehicle not having started they returned to Kingston in it, well baked by the burning rays of the sun. With a case of champagne, and a few other articles obtained of Johnny Ferong, as presents to Murray, they returned in the evening to Port Royal. Alick thanked them heartily. He had so zealously pushed forward the brig's equipment that she would be ready for sea the next day. That very evening he received orders from the admiral to sail immediately he could. A despatch had just arrived from the British consul at Carthagena, stating that disturbances had broken out in the country, and requesting to have a man-of-war sent immediately, for the protection of British subjects residing there, and elsewhere along the coast.
Captain Hemming had been directed to send fifty hands from the frigate, and with the assistance of Rogers and Adair, by working all night, the sails were bent, and early next morning the brig glided out into the harbour.
The land-wind still blew strong, smelling of the hot earth, albeit mixed with spicy odours. Murray was eager to be away. His duty required him to use all speed. He had also a feeling that he might be of service to those in whom he was so deeply interested. He spoke of it to his friends.
"Second-sight, eh, Alick!" said Rogers. "I have no great faith in that, but I am very sure that whatever has to be done you will do it thoroughly."
"I wish that I could accompany you," exclaimed Adair. "If Hemming would spare me I'd have my traps on board in a jiffy."
"I should be glad of your company; the admiral, however, in a private note, says that he shall probably despatch the frigate in a few days, but he remarks that the brig will be of greater service, by being able to enter the rivers and harbours, which she cannot," answered Murray.
Rogers and Adair watched the Supplejack as she glided out of the harbour under all sail to the southward before the wind, till she met the sea breeze, when, hauling her tacks aboard, she heeled over to it, and stood away to the south-west, her canvas gradually disappearing below the horizon.
Jack and Terence spent their time pleasantly enough on shore, Johnny Ferong's store being one of their favourite places of resort, as it was of officers of all ranks. Captain Hemming had made a rule that his midshipmen, when they returned on board after leave, should send in a written statement of the places and people they had visited. He was much amused at the frequency of such entries as the following:—
"Called on J Ferong's, Esquire;" "spent the evening at J Ferong's, Esquire," music and a hop sometimes added; "lunched at J Ferong's, Esquire." In those days Jamaica flourished, but alas! her time came, and so did that of the well-known highly-esteemed Johnny Ferong. As the island went down he ceased to flourish, and at length Kingston knew him no more, except as one of her departed worthies.
CRUISE OF THE SUPPLEJACK—CALMS AND HEAT—A SHARK CAUGHT—EXERCISING AT THE GUNS—A BOAT SEEN—NEEDHAM AND ONE OF THE MISSING MIDSHIPMEN FOUND, NEARLY DYING FROM THIRST—THEY BRING ALARMING INFORMATION.
The Supplejack was making the best of her way across the Caribbean sea. Murray, or one of his subordinates, Higson, or Jos Green usually so called, the second master of the corvette, was ever on deck, with watchful eyes on the bending topmasts, carrying on as much sail as the brig could bear. Gallantly she slashed through the blue, heaving seas, a mass of white foam rising up round her bows, and sheets of sparkling spray flying over her forecastle. A bright look-out was kept on every side, not in the expectation of meeting either with a slaver or pirate; but the young commander could not help secretly hoping that he might fall in with the Sarah Jane, and be relieved of his chief cause of anxiety. His patience, however, on several occasions was sorely tried when the wind fell light. One day, too, a perfect calm came on, and the brig lay, her sides lapping the glassy sea, as she rolled in the slowly-heaving, sluggish swell, and her sails flapped lazily against the masts. In vain old Higson whistled for a wind till his cheeks were ready to crack; not that he really believed the proceeding would produce a breeze, or that he had any notion of the origin of the custom; but he had always done so when there was a calm; and he wanted a wind, and the wind, if he whistled long enough, always came. The heat was oppressive, as it always is under such circumstances in those latitudes; the spirits of all fell, except those of Jos Green, who was ever merry, blow high or blow low, in sunshine or cold. The grumblers grumbled, of course, but in lower tones than usual, like the mutterings of distant thunder; the phlegmatic became more supine; the quarrelsome had not the energy to dispute; the talkative were silent; and even Pat Blathermouth, who could usually spin a yarn which lasted from the beginning to eight bells in a watch, and then wasn't half finished, could scarcely drawl out an oft-told tale, which was wont to make his hearers burst their sides with laughter, but now only sent them to sleep.
"Of course it's hot," answered jolly Jos to a remark of Higson's. "What else would you have it here in the tropics, with the bright sun striking down from the cloudless sky? It has its advantages, and it is better than cold, and saves one the trouble of putting on more clothing than decency requires."
"But it may be the harbinger of another hurricane, and that wouldn't be pleasant," observed Fligson.
"No fear of a hurricane. They seldom reach so far south," answered Jos. "Wait patiently, and we shall get the breeze before long. If not, what's the odds? we are very happy as we are."
"You're a salamander, or you wouldn't say that," growled Higson.
"Just the very thing of all others it's most convenient to be just now," answered jolly Jos, laughing. "It really isn't hotter than it has been often before, only there are fewer hands to divide it amongst, eh? Just do your turn in, Hig, and forget your troubles in sleep."
"I shall be stewed if I do," moaned Higson. "I've a great mind to have a swim."
"It will be the last you'll ever take, old fellow, depend on that," said Green. "Look there!"
He pointed to the black fin of a huge shark, which the next instant, turning up its white belly, opened its huge mouth to swallow the contents of the cook's slush bucket.
"See, Jack has had his soup, and will be ready for the next course, which you proposed offering him."
"Thank you, Jos; I've changed my mind," said Higson. "But I should not object to catch the fellow, and take a slice out of him instead."
A stout hook, with a bit of chain to the end of a strong line, and baited with a piece of pork, was quickly got ready. Even the most apathetic of the seamen were aroused with the hopes of capturing their hated foe. A couple of running bowlines were prepared. Higson dropped the tempting morsel, and let it sink down deep, then rapidly drew it up again. Quick as lightning the shark darted at it, and down his throat it went, his jaws closing with a snap which made Higson draw up his leg. The monster's sharp teeth, however, could not bite through the chain.
"Haul away, lads!" cried the old mate.
While Ben Snatchblock slipped a running bowline over the creature's head, its tail coming to the surface, he dexterously got another round it, and, in spite of its violent struggles, it was hoisted on board.
"Stand clear of him, lads," shouted Higson, though the men did not need the warning.
The crew seizing axes, capstan-bars, and boarding pikes, attacked the captive monster, as it lay writhing on deck, lashing out furiously with its tail, and every now and then opening its huge jaws, as if even then it had hopes of catching one of its assailants. It showed what it could do by biting off the head of a boarding-pike, which Ben thrust into its mouth. With wild shouts the men sprang round it, rushing in, every now and then, to give it a blow with an axe or capstan-bar, and leaping back again to avoid its tail; for even though its head was nearly smashed in, that continued striking out, and lashing the deck as furiously as at first, till Higson came down on it with a well-aimed blow of his axe, which instantly paralysed it, and it lay motionless.
"We'll make sure, lads, he don't come to life again," exclaimed Ben, as he set to work to chop off the tail.
The head was treated in the same way; and a number of slices being cut off the body, the remainder was thrown overboard. Murray, wondering what the hubbub was about, had come on deck, and was an amused spectator of the scene. The men no longer thought of the heat, and, in spite of it, regaled themselves heartily on shark-steaks at dinner. The capture of the shark, too, brought them good luck, they declared; for a favourable breeze shortly afterwards sprang up, and held till the northern coast of the South American continent was sighted. Before, however, Carthagena, the port at which Murray had been directed to call, first could be made, it again fell calm. He felt the delay very trying. He had been eagerly hoping to get in by the evening, to ascertain if anything had been heard of the Sarah Jane, and now another whole day or more might pass before he could gain any information. The coast lay in sight, its ranges of light-blue mountains looking like clouds, rising above the horizon but proving that they were mountains by never altering their shape or position. Higson whistled as energetically as usual, but not a catspaw played over the surface of the mirror-like sea, and not an inch nearer the shore did the brig move during the day. The night passed by, and the hot sun rose once more out of the still slumbering ocean. The day wore on, but no breeze came. The men, of course, were not idle. Murray had from the first exercised them at their guns, and especially in the use of the long one. He remembered the advice Admiral Triton had given to Jack Rogers, and which Jack had repeated to him—
"Don't mind throwing a few rounds of shot away; you'll make the better use of those you have remaining."
He, accordingly, had a floating target rigged and carried out to a distance, and each day during a calm he exercised the men at it for some hours, till they learnt to handle their long gun with as much ease as the carronades.
"Though we miss that mark sometimes, we shall manage to hit a larger one without fail if it comes in our way, my lads!" he sang out, to encourage the crew as they were working away at it during the morning.
After dinner the men were allowed some time to rest, and all was quiet. An observation showed that the brig's position had not altered since the previous noon.
"What do you make that out to be, Green?" asked Higson, the officer of the watch, who had been looking through his telescope towards the shore. Green turned his glass in the same direction.
"A boat! and she must be coming towards us," he answered, after the delay of a minute or so.
Higson sent him to report the circumstance to the commander, who at once came on deck. Various were the surmises as to what could bring the boat off to them.
"She must have had a long pull of it, at all events," observed Higson.
"Perhaps she had the land wind, which we don't feel out here?" said Green.
"Little doubt about that. She must have some urgent cause for coming out thus far to us," remarked Murray. "Lower the gig, Mr Higson, and go and meet her," he added immediately afterwards. "The people in the boat are evidently tired with their long pull, and make but slow progress."
The gig's crew called away—she was lowered, and Higson pulled off towards the approaching boat. Meantime, Murray walked the deck with impatient steps. Several times he stopped, and raised his glass to his eye, watching her eagerly. At length he saw that the gig had reached her. The two boats were alongside each other for a minute, and then the gig came rowing rapidly back, leaving the other behind. Murray watched her.
"There must be something of importance to make Higson hurry back at that rate," he said to himself. "He has brought the people from the boat, I see."
As the gig drew nearer, he saw Higson stand up and wave his handkerchief. In a few minutes more she was near enough for him to distinguish those in her.
"Is it possible, or do my eyes deceive me?" he exclaimed. "There's a lad in a midshipman's uniform. If he is not Gerald Desmond, he is wonderfully like him."
"There can be little doubt who he is, sir," said Green, who was standing near his commander. "If that is not Desmond I'm a Dutchman, and the man sitting just abaft the stroke-oar is Dick Needham, who went with the youngsters in the drogher. As they are safe, it is to be hoped the rest escaped, too. I've often heard that midshipmen have as many lives as cats."
"I trust, indeed, that all have been saved," said Murray, in a grave tone. He felt too anxious to joke with Jos just then.
The gig was soon alongside, and Gerald Desmond, looking pale and exhausted, was lifted on deck; Needham, with some help, managing to follow him.
"I am truly thankful to see you, Desmond," said Murray, as he took the hand of the young midshipman, who was being carried aft in the arms of two of the sailors. "Have Tom and Archy also been saved?"
Gerald tried to reply, but no sound came from his parched throat. He had barely strength to point with a finger to his lips. Needham was in but little better plight, though he managed to murmur, "water—water." Several cans-full were instantly brought by eager hands.
"Stop, lads, you'll suffocate the poor fellows if you pour all that water down their throats!" exclaimed McTavish, the Assistant Surgeon of the corvette, who had been lent to the Supplejack. "Just a wine-glassful at a time, with a few drops of brandy in it, will be the best thing for them."
While the surgeon was attending to his patients, Higson made his report to the commander. He had found them both still trying to pull, but so exhausted that they could scarcely move their oars. No sooner did he get alongside than Desmond sank down in the bottom of the boat, unable to speak. Needham, however, had had strength sufficient to tell him that both the other midshipmen were alive, but prisoners on shore; though how they got into prison he had not said.
"From what I could make out, sir, I am afraid they are not the only English in the hands of the Spaniards, or Carthagenans, or whatever the rascals call themselves," continued Higson. "I caught the words, 'the colonel and a young lady—and no time to be lost!' but what he wished to say more I couldn't make out, only I cannot help thinking that he must have alluded to the colonel and his daughter, who sailed the other day in the brig from Antigua."
"I fear that there is no doubt about it!" exclaimed Murray, greatly agitated. "When Needham has sufficiently recovered to speak we shall learn more about the matter, and be able to decide what to do. Stay. That no time may be lost, let the boats be got ready with water-casks and provisions, and see that the crews have their cutlasses sharpened and pistols in order. Should the calm continue I will lead an expedition on shore, and insist on the liberation of the prisoners. The sight of the British flag will probably put the Dons on their good behaviour, and, if not, we must try what force can do. I will leave you, Higson, in charge of the brig with twenty hands, and as soon as a breeze springs up you will stand in after me, and act according to circumstances."
"I am afraid, sir, that if the Carthagenans, or whatever they call themselves, are threatened with force, they will retaliate on their prisoners," observed Higson.
"Mongrels as they are, if they have a drop of Spanish blood running in their veins, they would not surely injure a lady!" exclaimed Murray.
"Not so sure of that. Whether whole or half-blooded, Spaniards are savage fellows when their temper's up," answered Higson. "However, let us hope for the best. All I can make out is that our friends are prisoners, but the why and the wherefore I don't understand; only as Desmond and Needham were evidently in a great hurry to get off to us, I'm afraid that they must be in some danger."
Higson's remarks contributed to make Murray feel more anxious even than at first. The forebodings which had oppressed him since Stella and her father left Antigua had, too, probably been realised. While Higson issued the orders he had just received, Murray went up to where the young midshipman and Needham had been placed under an awning, attended by the surgeon. The cook had, meantime, been preparing some broth, a few spoonsful of which as soon as they could swallow them, were poured down their throats. This treatment had an almost magical effect Needham was soon able to sit up and speak, and even Gerald, though his strength had been more completely prostrated, recovered sufficiently soon afterwards to give a clear account of the way they had been saved, and of what had afterwards happened. In consequence, however, of Murray's anxiety, they narrated the latter part of their adventures first; though they will be better understood if they are described in their proper sequence.
NEEDHAM'S NARRATIVE—THE DROGHER DRIVEN OFF FROM SABA—CAPSIZED—THE MIDSHIPMEN SAVE THEMSELVES ON HER SIDE—TAKEN OFF BY THE SARAH JANE— STEER FOR CARTHAGENA—THE COLONEL ON SHORE—LOOK OUT FOR HIS RETURN.
"You remember that night at Saba, Mr Higson, when the three young gentlemen and I were left aboard the drogher, and you and the other gentlemen went ashore to look after Captain Quasho, as he called himself, and his rascally black crew," began Needham, who having recovered his voice, was inclined to make good use of it by spinning a long yarn.
"I should think I did, indeed," said Higson; "but go ahead, Dick: we want to hear how you and they were saved, for I had little hope that you would be, when I saw the drogher driven away from her anchorage by the hurricane."
"Nor had I, sir, I can tell you; but I've always held that there's nothing like trying to do one's best, in however bad a way one may seem to be," continued Needham. "I saw that there was only one thing we could do, and that was to run before the wind, and to try and keep the craft above water. As to beating back, I knew that the old drogher would either have capsized, or been driven on the rocks, if we had made the attempt so I took the helm, got a foot of the foresail hoisted, the hatches battened down, told the young gentlemen to lash themselves to the rigging, if they didn't wish to be washed overboard, and let the craft scud. It was precious dark, except every now and then, when the flashes of lightning darted from the clouds and went zigzagging along on either side of us, casting a red glare on the tops of the black seas, from which the foam was blown off just for all the world as if a huge white sheet had been drawn over them. The spoondrift, too, came straight along our deck, over the taffrail, as if it would cut our legs off; for, though we flew at a pretty good rate, it flew faster. As every now and then I turned my head I couldn't help thinking that one of thy big seas which came roaring on astern just for all the world like one of the savage monsters I've heard tell of, eager to swallow us up, would break down on the deck, and send us in a jiffy to the bottom. I didn't care so much about it for myself as for the brave young lads, likely to be admirals one of these days; but not a cry nor a word of complaint did I hear from them. Mr Rogers, maybe, was the most plucky, as he seemed to feel that it was his duty to set an example to his messmates; and I could hear his voice every now and then, as they all stood close together, lashed to the starboard rigging, and when the lightning flashed I could just get a glimpse of their faces, looking pale as death—not from fear, though, but contrasted, as it were, with the darkness around. I had made myself fast you may be sure; for I shouldn't have been long on the deck if I hadn't, as not once, but many a time a sea came tumbling over first one quarter, then the other; and, though it was but just the top of it, we should all of us have been swept overboard, and if the hatches hadn't been battened down, the old drogher would have gone to the bottom. We had managed to light the binnacle lamp before we got from under the land, and I saw by the compass that we were driving about south-east, so that I had no fear of being cast on the shore of any other island, and I hoped, if we could weather out the gale, that we might beat back to Saba. On we ran hour after hour. It seemed to me the longest night I'd ever passed since I came to sea. The wonder was that the drogher still kept afloat; but she was tight and light as a cork—now she was on the top of one sea, now climbing up the side of another. One comfort was that the longest night must come to an end, and that the hurricane could not last for ever. We were, I judged, too, on the skirts of it, and that if we stood on we should in time get beyond its power. It required pretty careful steering to keep the wind right aft, for if I had brought it ever so little abeam the vessel would have gone clean over in a moment. I was thankful, you may be sure, when daylight came at last—not that the prospect round us was a pleasant one. The big seas were rolling and leaping, and tumbling about like mad, on every side hissing and roaring, and knocking their white heads together, as if they didn't know what they would be at. It was a hard job to steer clear of the worst; it was often Dobson's choice, and many came with such a plump down on the deck that I thought after all we should be sent to Davy Jones's locker; but the lively little craft managed to run her nose up the next mountain sea, and to shake herself clear of the water, just as a Newfoundland dog does when he gets ashore after a swim. The only pleasant sight was to see the young gentlemen standing where they had been all night, and keeping up their spirits.
"'We are getting precious hungry, Dick,' sung out Mr Rogers, 'I'm thinking of going below to find some grub.'
"'No, no; just stay safe where you are, sir,' I answered. 'If you let go your hold, maybe that moment we shall have a sea come aboard us and carry you away with it, or if the companion hatch is lifted it may make its way below and swamp us.'
"'All right, Dick; we can manage to hold out for a few hours more,' cried the other two. 'Don't think of going, Tom; we wouldn't have you run the risk for our sakes.'
"From the gnawings in my own stomach I knew that the poor youngsters must be very sharp set. However, it seemed to me that the wind was somewhat less than it had been, and I hoped that in a few hours more the hurricane would be over, or that we should be out of it. I told them so, and I soon heard them laughing and talking as if nothing particular out of the way was happening. Well, in a couple of hours or so the wind fell, and I saw that we must have the foresail set, or run the chance of being pooped. I told them what I wanted, and casting off their lashings they all sprang together to the halyards, and soon had the sail hoisted and the sheet belayed. They then made their way aft.
"'Now I think we've earned our breakfasts,' says Mr Rogers, and slipping off the companion hatch he dived below, while the other two stood ready to draw it over again, in case a sea should come aboard us. He quickly returned with some bread, meat, a bottle of wine, and a basket of fruit. They wouldn't touch anything till they had fed me, for they said I had had the hardest work, and saved their lives. My hands, you see, had still enough to do in working the tiller, and my eyes, too, for that matter, in keeping a watch on the seas; so all I could do was just to open my mouth and let them put the food into it. All I wanted was enough to keep body and soul together, and I then advised them to get back to the shrouds, and to make themselves fast as before, as there was no saying what might happen while the sea was tumbling about in its present fashion. 'You must take a swig of the wine first,' says Mr Rogers, in his cheery way, just like the lieutenant, his brother, holding the bottle to my mouth. I'd got a gulp or two of the liquor, keeping my weather eye open all the time, when I saw an ugly big sea come rolling up on our quarter. I sung out to the other two to hold fast to the companion hatch for their lives, while I got a grip of Mr Tom between one of my arms and the tiller. I couldn't avoid the sea. Right over us it came, pouring down the still open hatchway, and sweeping across the deck. I had Mr Tom safe enough, though the breath was half squeezed out of his body; but I was afraid the others would have been torn from their hold. Like brave-hearted youngsters as they are they had held fast, though over head and ears in water. 'Och, but the venison has gone on a cruise,' sung out Mr Desmond, as soon as the sea had passed clear of us, 'and some big brute of a shark will be making his breakfast of it.'
"'Better that he should eat that than us, Paddy,' said Mr Rogers; 'don't let's fret about it, for, to say the truth, it was rather too high to be pleasant.' He was right as to that; for the bits he put into my mouth had a very curious taste; but it wasn't a time to be particular, so I had taken what was given me, and said nothing. I was thankful when I saw that the three lads had safely lashed themselves to the starboard shrouds as before. The day was wearing on, and I was beginning to feel that I'd rather not have to stand on my legs much longer, though the hope that the hurricane would quickly blow itself out kept me up. At last, I calculated about seven bells in the afternoon watch, it fell almost a dead calm, though we happily kept steerage way on the craft, for the sea tumbled about almost as madly as before, and it was a difficult job to prevent its breaking aboard. However we managed to set the mainsail, and I hoped we should soon have smoother water.
"One never can tell what tricks the wind will play. Suddenly, as you may see sometimes a hulking giant knock down a little chap with a blow of his fist, a sea struck the drogher on the starboard beam; and before a sheet could be let fly over she went. It was a mercy that the three young gentlemen were holding on at the time to the weather rigging. They all scrambled in a moment on to the chains, where I, making my way along the bulwarks, quickly joined them. I can't say that they were frightened exactly, but they didn't like it, which was but natural; no more did I.
"'What's going to happen next?' asked Mr Rogers quite calmly.
"'The hatches being on, the craft won't fill, and maybe when the squall has passed over another sea may right her,' I answered, as I saw that there was a chance of that happening.
"The squall didn't last ten minutes, and directly afterwards there was a flat calm, and the sea went down wonderfully fast. Still the drogher lay over on her side and gave no signs of righting. Mr Desmond proposed cutting away the mast.
"'That mightn't help us,' I answered; 'I've an idea that the ballast has shifted over to port, and that with the water in her keeps the craft down. We must wait till the sea is smooth, and then we'll get the companion hatch off and have a look below; we may be able to bale the water out, and shift enough of the ballast to right her; but as long as the sea is running it's safer to trust to Providence, and to hold on with hands and teeth where we are, and—