A BOY’S ADVENTURES
ROUND THE WORLD
JOHN ANDREW HIGGINSON
‘FOUR YEARS ABAFT THE GALLEY’ ‘TWO CHUMMY SHELLBACKS’
THE RELIGIOUS TRACT SOCIETY
4 BOUVERIE STREET AND 65 ST PAUL’S CHURCHYARD
MY DEAR FATHER
THIS VOLUME IS DEDICATED
BY THE AUTHOR
A BOY’S ADVENTURES ROUND THE WORLD
HIS FIRST CHOICE
Jack Clewlin was born at Trafalgar Place, a substantial residence commanding an excellent view of the seaport town of Stonewell, and its spacious, island-studded harbour.
During his earlier years the boy saw little of his father, who was almost constantly at sea in charge of a ship, and to his mother he owed that sound Christian training, and those God-fearing principles, which subsequently became so deeply impressed on his mind and character.
‘You will not always have me with you, Jack,’ she would frequently say. ‘Therefore, my dear son, I want to give you the best advice that boy or man can receive. Fear God. Lead a simple and a pure life. Be strong to resist those worldly temptations which beset all those who strive to follow in the footsteps of the blessed Saviour. To command others you must first command yourself. By prayer alone can such a victory be obtained, yet rest assured that His ear is ever open to the cry of those needing guidance and support.’ In close companionship mother and son continued to live happily at Stonewell.
When Jack had reached his eighth year Captain Clewlin retired from active life, and settled down quietly at Trafalgar Place. Some two years later the boy lost his mother, but on his mind her winsome features were indelibly impressed, and in his heart the seeds of her wisdom and excellent teaching had taken deep root.
At sixteen years of age Jack had developed into a strong and well set-up youngster, keenly alive to the enjoyments of outdoor existence.
About that time he was offered a junior clerkship under the Stonewell Harbour Board, but he felt no inclination for such a life.
‘I should like to be a sailor, dad,’ he said. Captain Clewlin uttered a short, satisfied laugh.
‘It’s bred in the bone,’ he exclaimed. ‘Well, I would not put you to anything unsuitable, my son. At the same time you must clearly understand that the life at first will be rough and arduous. I will give you a month to consider the matter.’
‘Thank you, dad,’ Jack replied; ‘I’m not afraid of roughing it. There is no other calling I should like half so well.’
The captain expressed much satisfaction at the choice which his son had made, and, as the latter remained of the same opinion, the preliminary steps toward his sea apprenticeship were taken.
A few weeks later, on a certain beautiful morning in the month of February, a fine clipper ship, in tow of a tug, entered the harbour, and dropped her anchor nearly opposite the town.
She was named the ‘Silver Crown,’ was ‘flying light’ in ballast trim, two streaks of her muntz-metal sheathing being above the water line. She had come round from Liverpool to embark several hundreds of emigrants awaiting conveyance to Queensland, Australia.
She was of nearly eighteen hundred tons measurement, and presented a sufficiently striking appearance, since like a castle she towered above all other ships in port.
The fore, the main, and the mizen masts were lofty and squarely rigged, each of them carried double topsail yards, with single topgallant and royal yards above them.
The ‘house’ flag of the firm to which she belonged fluttered from the main royal masthead, British colours floated from the spanker gaff-end, and much brasswork shone about the stern.
KEY REFERENCE TO THE SAILS OF A SHIP
1 Flying jib
2 Outer jib
3 Inner jib
4 Fore topmast staysail
5 Foresail, or forecourse
6 Lower fore topsail
7 Upper “
8 Lower fore topgallant-sail
9 Upper “
10 Fore royal
11 Mainsail, or maincourse
12 Lower main topsail
13 Upper “
14 Lower main topgallant-sail
15 Upper “
16 Main royal
17 Main skysail
18 Cross-jack (brailed up)
19 Lower mizen topsail
20 Upper “
21 Mizen topgallant-sail
22 Mizen royal
23 Spanker, or driver
24 Main topmast staysail
25 Main topgallant staysail
26 Main royal staysail
27 Mizen topmast staysail
28 Mizen topgallant staysail
29 Fore topmast studding-sail, weather
30 Fore topmast studding-sail, lee
31 Fore topgallant studding-sail, weather
32 Fore topgallant studding-sail, lee
33 Main topmast studding-sail, lee
34 Main topgallant studding-sail, lee
35 Jib, inner, outer, and flying sheets
36 Fore sheet
37 Fore tack
38 Main sheet
39 Main tack
40 Main topmast staysail sheet
41 Mizen topmast staysail sheet
42 Spanker brails
43 Spanker sheet
44 Leech lines
45 Bunt lines
A SHIP UNDER FULL SAIL.
A SHIP UNDER FULL SAIL. (Click on image to see larger version)
In short, the ‘Silver Crown’ was one of the fastest and most famous sailing clipper ships afloat.
This was the vessel in which Jack Clewlin was about to begin a long and honourable career on the sea, to experience some dangers, adventures, and privations, and no boy ever felt prouder as he listened to the many expressions of admiration passed on her by competent experts ashore.
Her commander, Captain Robert Thorne, was a finely proportioned, pleasant-looking man of middle age, heavily bearded, and of thorough sailor-like appearance, always anxious for the comfort and the safety of those placed in his charge, and prompt and decisive in action.
His first and second officers were also highly experienced and capable men. William Sennit, the first mate, was a tall and powerful-looking man of thirty years, sun-tanned and weather-beaten features denoting constant exposure to the heat and the storms of every portion of the world; while a slight nasal accent, with dark brown hair that fell almost to his shoulders, indicated an American nationality. His clear, ringing voice was always distinct in the midst of any gale.
Stephen Statten, the second mate, was a native of Devonshire, and of medium height, but the breadth of shoulders was particularly striking, and his muscular limbs denoted great strength.
He was about twenty-five years of age, keen-eyed, alert, and of a kindly disposition, and with Jack Clewlin he became as friendly as discipline permitted.
In addition to these the ‘Silver Crown’ carried a surgeon, a purser and his assistant, one carpenter, a sailmaker, a boatswain and his two mates, four quarter-masters for steering, with several cooks and stewards, while thirty able-bodied and ordinary seamen occupied a comfortable topgallant forecastle.
The saloon was already filled with first cabin passengers, and the forward deck-house, or second cabin, was also occupied by ladies and gentlemen, but one room there had been allotted to the use of four apprentices, all of whom were ‘first voyagers.’
Accompanied by his father, Jack presently joined his ship, and they were received by the chief mate at the gangway.
‘This lad is my son, sir,’ Captain Clewlin explained. ‘He is bent on making a voyage with you, and in due course may, perhaps, become a good sailor.’
‘I hope so, sir,’ the officer replied. ‘If he obeys orders we shall get on together all right.’
‘There is little fear of his not doing so,’ the captain said. ‘He’s had a good education, and careful home training by one of the best and truest women that ever breathed.’
By that time Jack’s clothes chest and bed gear had been placed in the deck-house, and as father and son stood together in the room the former earnestly addressed the boy—
‘Jack,’ he said, and pressed the lad’s hand, ‘you are now on the eve of your real life. I took to it before your age, and know what difficulties and temptations surround the life of those who “go down to the sea in ships.” Three truths I would earnestly impress on your mind. Never forget to read your Bible, no matter what sneers, or even rough usage, may be brought to bear by those who do not love God, and would endeavour to lead you from that straight and narrow course which your dear mother trod, but from which it is so easy to stray. You promise, Jack?’
‘Yes, dad,’ Jack replied; ‘I shall always do so, no matter what may happen.’
‘Good boy!’ the captain exclaimed. ‘Remember God has said that “them that honour Me I will honour,” and that assurance is as true as every other contained in the Bible. And there are two things I want you to avoid. Shun all intoxicating liquors, and do not smoke before you have reached the years of manhood. I am most anxious that you should remember these matters. I hope you will return home as pure and good a lad as I leave you now; but, in case I should not live to see you again, I shall die believing that you have kept your word.’
Tears filled the boy’s eyes, and flinging his arms about the neck of his father, he kissed him, and again vowed to stand by the promises he had made.
With a close embrace father and son parted.
That afternoon the windlass was manned, and across the harbour floated the sea chanty:
‘Sing ho, for a gay and gallant bark,
A brisk and a lively breeze,
A bully crew, and skipper, too,
To carry us over the seas.
To carry us over the seas, brave boys,
Where dancing dolphins play,
And whales and sharks are up to larks,
Ten thousand miles away.’
With a merry rattle of the pawls the heavy chain cable came in over the barrel of the windlass, and with his young shipmates Jack Clewlin hauled at the tackle which kept the iron links taut, and prevented them from slipping forward through the ‘hawse-pipe.’
‘Anchor’s away, sir!’ the mate sang out.
With fastened hawser the attending tug swung the ship toward the harbour entrance.
Several local steamers, filled with the friends of the emigrants, accompanied the vessel for some distance, and amidst much cheering, and the waving of handkerchiefs, the ‘Silver Crown’ passed out between the forts protecting the harbour.
‘Hands aloft and loose canvas,’ the captain sang out. Men ran up the rigging like monkeys. The lower topsails were sheeted home, the others were speedily mastheaded, and with all plain sail set the beautiful clipper began her long voyage of 20,000 miles across the ocean.
The tug-boat and the accompanying vessels returned to port. The last notes of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ were lost on the breeze, while careening gracefully the splendid vessel speedily sank all trace of the land under the horizon astern.
The afternoon was beautifully fine, and the sea almost smooth. The slight movements of the ship, however; presently sent most of the passengers below; but, thanks to his many boating expeditions about Stonewell harbour, Jack felt no inconvenience, and kept to the deck and his duties as closely as his more seasoned messmates, who, on their passage from Liverpool, had got rid of their sea-sickness.
Indeed, so many things required looking after and securing in their places, that none of the hands had one moment’s leisure, and all the boys found plenty of work to occupy their attention. Mr. Sennit, the chief mate, had most of the men engaged on the topgallant forecastle securing the anchors, and lashing the cables on deck until the ship had reached blue water.
Shortly before supper all hands mustered about the main capstan, and from them each officer alternately selected a man until the whole had been equally divided into the port and the starboard watches.
Jack was, of course, also chosen, and found himself under the orders of Mr. Statten, the second mate, with Charley Wilton, a lad of his own age, as companion.
Of the other two boys who belonged to the port or chief mate’s watch, he saw but little, since while he kept the deck they were ‘below,’ but the elder of them, George Archer, was a bright, cheery-mannered lad of sixteen, while his companion, Edward Sorter, was rough-looking, ill-tempered, and worse-mannered, and he was mostly left to his own reflections.
With that youth Jack experienced his first difficulty in keeping faith with his father.
As night closed in Jack prepared to ‘turn out for duty at eight bells.’ Shortly before that time he determined to read a few words from the Bible, and on his knees ask the protection of God during the hours of darkness.
While he read, Sorter entered the room. ‘Hullo!’ he cried, ‘what sort of yarn are you reading?’
‘It is the Bible,’ Jack replied.
‘The what! you Psalm-singing booby, we don’t want that kind of thing here! Put it away at once!’
Jack went on reading until the book was suddenly snatched from his hand, and thrown to the end of the room.
In an instant the insulted lad was on his feet, his eyes flashing, and his fists clenched ready to strike out in defence of the volume which his beloved and dead mother had so treasured.
‘See here, Sorter,’ he said, ‘I don’t want to fight with you. I mean to read my Bible in spite of whatever you may think or do; but if ever you attempt to check me again I think I know how to defend myself.’
As Jack attempted to recover his property, the bully, evidently bent on injuring the book, dashed toward it, and at the same time dealt his opponent a sharp blow.
To his astonishment, however, he received another of such weight as knocked him into a lower bunk. Then, seizing his treasure, Jack rapidly locked it within his clothes chest, and stood on the defensive. But although eyeing him threateningly, Sorter did not resume the contest, and presently he sneaked away.
‘God gave me the strength to do that,’ Jack mused; ‘and while I live I’ll fight His enemies.’
At eight bells, eight o’clock, he and Wilton went aft to ‘keep the bells going,’ since time at sea is reckoned in that manner. A brisk breeze off the starboard beam sent the clipper along in good style, while for several miles on every hand a vast expanse of night-darkened sea stretched to the horizon where sky and water seemed to meet.
The silence was intense, and to the boy it seemed as though God was indeed very close to him, and that He was listening to the prayers of those who had intrusted their lives to His fatherly care.
Beside the wheel the helmsman stood erect, the lookout forward paced to and fro, most of the emigrants seemed to be abed, and Mr. Statten, the second mate, peered through his glasses at some imaginary object far aweather.
At four bells, ten o’clock, the wheel and the lookout were relieved, the red and green sidelights were trimmed, and Jack took over the remaining half of time-keeping.
The heaving of the log showed a speed of eight knots an hour, and as the wind was only moderate such progress proved highly satisfactory.
Save one small lamp all lights in the saloon were extinguished, and only a few remained alight down below.
Captain Thorne came on deck for a few minutes before turning in, and all hands, save those on watch, were soon asleep.
The night passed uneventfully.
At midnight Mr. Sennit, the chief officer, and his men took over control, but although Archer and Sorter were also called neither of them seemed willing to leave their warm beds until fairly driven out by the mate.
Jack and Wilton were soon asleep, yet only a few moments seemed to have elapsed before they were again called to keep the morning watch.
Scarcely more than half awake both boys stumbled aft, and despite their warm jackets each felt the keen winter breeze sufficiently chilling.
‘Ugh!’ Wilton exclaimed, ‘I thought our run down Channel was bad enough, but this is worse. Had I known that we should be compelled to stand watches at night, I should not have come. I’m almost sick of the life already.’
‘Perhaps Captain Thorne will put you on a homeward-bound ship,’ Jack laughingly replied; ‘cheer up, lad! it is certainly quite different from what we have been accustomed to; but, like everything else that is strange and a little trying, you will soon get used to it. At anyrate, it is your first spell at the bell-ringing, and I shall sit on the companion stairs ready for a call.’
At five o’clock the cook sang out ‘Coffee,’ and when Jack had swallowed his allowance Wilton was relieved.
After that matters sensibly improved.
Dawn showed eastward, the male emigrants down below turned out to receive their daily allowances of fresh water, served by the purser, and at six o’clock the watch began the first duty of washing the decks fore and aft.
Assisted by a young ordinary seaman the boys were employed at filling the saloon water tank, and at eight o’clock both went below for breakfast.
To their astonishment all the occupants of the second cabin appeared greatly excited, and it presently turned out that a large box, which they had filled with certain food luxuries the ship did not supply, had been completely emptied during the night.
‘Everything was quite safe when I locked the box last night and gave the key to that gentleman,’ the perplexed steward cried, while indicating one of the passengers.
‘And I have lost my watch!’ a lady exclaimed.
‘And I a fine revolver!’ a young man added.
The losses were immediately reported to the captain, and searching investigation followed, but no trace of the thief could be obtained; and it was not until the voyage out had terminated that the mystery was cleared up.
Meanwhile, however, the unfortunate holder of the rifled box key determined to keep watch by night, hoping to catch the miscreant red-handed, and in that effort he was joined by the young man who had lost the revolver.
Both accordingly secreted themselves beneath the cabin table, but it was not long before another ‘detective’ of the watch on deck discovered them. The finder calling his mates, the crew set on their victims with such zeal that the whole ship was aroused, and much commotion ensued.
Some of the alarmed people cried ‘Fire!’ while others declared that the clipper had been in collision with a passing vessel, and it was with great difficulty that order was restored.
The ‘Silver Crown’ made steady progress southward. The breeze remained favourable, and the temperature slowly rose.
The Bay of Biscay was left far astern, and within a week the latitude of Madeira was reached.
There the first breath of the steady north-east trade wind was felt, and as it strengthened, all the topmast and topgallant studding-sail booms were sent aloft, and their gear was rove. The canvas was also ‘bent,’ or fastened to the yards, and to the ever-cheery sea chanty:
‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor,
Early in the morning?
Put him in the tar pot till he gets sober,
Early in the morning,’
many young Irish emigrants seized the halyards, and with right good will tugged at them like horses. Ropes and patent blocks hummed to the strain. In great balloon-like clouds the studding-sails, far beyond the standing yardarms, swelled out magnificently in the fresh breeze.
Mr. Statten sang out ‘Belay’; tacks and sheets were hauled taut, and, with two knots an hour added to the pace, the beautiful ship raced along like a yacht, with her head ever pointing southward.
The weather had now become delightful. The keen northern winds had disappeared, all day long a brilliant and unclouded sun filled ocean and sky with increasing warmth. All manner of amusements were now devised by the passengers to while away the long hours of daylight, and although most of the games proved very popular, none seemed to take such permanent hold as the ‘evening concerts’ given by the watch on deck when ‘sucking the bilges dry’ at the close of each day.
As many people as could find room at the pump brakes always assisted the sailors, yet none of the old sea songs ever proved so entertaining as one that was composed by the ship’s poet, a young ordinary seaman, the first three verses of it being now made public. The song was named—
THE VOYAGE OF THE ‘SILVER CROWN’
The ‘Silver Crown’ is our ship’s name,
To Queensland she is bound,
With twice two hundred passengers
To cultivate the ground.
At early morn the purser cries,
‘Fresh water, down below!’
With pots and pans men tumble up
To catch the limpid flow.
At eight o’clock it’s breakfast time,
And then the fun begins,
To see the passengers all round
The galley with their tins.’
WITHIN THE TROPICS
The ‘Silver Crown’ was now in the midst of the steady north-east trade wind, the anchors had been taken in-board and secured on the forecastle-head, the cables were stowed away in their respective lockers, while the plugging of the hawse-pipes rendered the forecastle itself more comfortable and dry for the crew. With lower, topmast, topgallant, and even royal studding-sails swelling out bravely on the fresh breeze the clipper maintained her reputation for fast sailing, each day’s run finding her drawing nearer the ‘doldrums,’ or the calm belts situated on either side of the equator.
Every hour of those lovely days brought fresh attractions and delight to Jack Clewlin, who never wearied of watching the shoals of flying-fish rise above the sea, and with extended ‘wings’ speed off to leeward.
Bonito, skip-jack, dolphin, and the gracefully-moving porpoise, gambolled fearlessly under the bow, now momentarily disappearing in the fringe of foam cast up by the cleaving cut-water, or forging far ahead without apparent effort.
The scene was sufficiently striking, and well calculated to impress itself on a young and imaginative mind, while the whole was brilliantly illuminated by a cloudless sun set in a dome of exquisite blue.
From the topgallant forecastle-head a fairly good view of the speeding vessel could be obtained, but the best point from which to see her was the jib-boom end, and although Jack felt inclined to climb out there, he was not permitted to do so.
‘No, no, Master Jack,’ one of the quarter-masters, named Readyman, exclaimed; ‘a few months ahead you may try that. A slip of hand or foot now would end all your voyaging, and how could I send your dad such news?’
‘Do you know my father?’ Jack eagerly inquired.
‘Ay, lad, and sailed with him too, long before you were born! Directly I saw him here I knew him again, and promised to keep an eye on you.’
At that moment a cry from amongst the swelling canvas aloft reached the deck.
‘There they blow!’
The boy at first failed to see anything, although he knew that whales must be in sight.
It was not long, however, before Readyman pointed out several dark specks just awash off the port-quarter, and fast overhauling the clipper, despite her ten knots an hour.
As they drew closer Jack perceived several jets of spray suddenly rise above the water.
‘They are playing,’ the quarter-master explained, ‘and only live in warm latitudes. We call them “bottle-noses.”‘
‘Is it not wonderful how many strange creatures there are in the sea, Readyman?’ Jack said.
‘It is indeed, Master Jack,’ the quarter-master replied; ‘I have often thought so, and tried to guess what some of them were made for.’
Like war-ships in line ahead the bottle-noses approached still closer.
‘They will strike us!’ Jack cried.
‘No, no, you need not fear that,’ Readyman said; ‘they are more scared of you than you could be of them. Directly they see the vessel they’ll dive.’
Almost immediately their leader did so, and, sinking fathoms deep beneath the keel of the speeding clipper, all disappeared, but were soon seen far off to starboard.
The steady wind proved so favourable that considerable progress was made, but by degrees it began to slacken, until at last the ‘Silver Crown’ was left wholly becalmed within the ‘doldrums.’
The heat had now become most oppressive, especially for those obliged to sleep under decks, but the captain ordered several ‘windsails’ to be rigged up fore and aft, and their long, tubular bodies were dropped below, so that the slightest breath of passing airs might be directed into the ‘tween and orlop, or lower decks. The crew, too, whistled for a breeze that might take all hands out of such discomfort.
Yet day after day the vessel remained unassisted on the glittering sea; the pitch oozed in black bubbles from the main deck seams; the yards were constantly swung to catch the slightest ‘cat’s-paw’ of air; the timbers fore and aft groaned unceasingly, and the rigging and the canvas suffered chafe as the hull rolled helplessly on the equatorial ocean.
Occasionally a downpour of rain tended to cool the stifling atmosphere, but as it ceased the heat seemed to increase.
Water-spouts were frequently observed forming on the horizon, but most fortunately none of them came near the ship.
Some of the gentlemen suggested bathing. Captain Thorne, however, would not permit even a sail to be used for that purpose, since several sharks were suddenly perceived within a few fathoms. Next day he made a cheering announcement.
‘The ship will cross the line at noon,’ he said.
That event had been eagerly awaited by the passengers.
It was understood that ‘King Neptune’ would pay them a visit, and such an event would divert attention from a trying existence beneath an almost vertical sun.
The sailors immediately became the busiest of all on board, and much reticence was observed by them.
As the interesting moment approached, the skipper kindly permitted many people to peer through his telescope, across which a hair had been artfully fastened, at the ‘line’ otherwise invisible to an ordinary eye.
With the making of eight bells, noon, a blast on the fog-horn announced the arrival of a stranger from ‘over the bow,’ and in loud voice he hailed the ship, wishing to know her name, whither she was bound, and if the captain desired the presence of his master King Neptune.
Through his speaking-trumpet the skipper made the necessary replies.
Immediately afterwards Neptune himself appeared on the forecastle head. He was a burly, dignified old fellow in fantastic attire. His touzled hair and great white beard hung below the shoulders and waist, while his arms and lower limbs were exposed, and in the right hand he held a trident.
His arrival was greeted with rounds of cheering, and much hand-shaking followed, while his trusty ‘barber,’ laden with an enormous shaving-pot, lathering brush, and large-sized razor, also came in for a good deal of notice.
Accompanied by several retainers, the ‘King’ reached the main deck. On his mounting a strangely caparisoned steed the animal was distinctly heard to observe, ‘If old Bill don’t sit farther aft, my back-bone will part amidships.’
Surrounded by an admiring throng, Neptune moved aft and wished Captain Thorne and all his people a safe voyage.
His assistants lost no time in getting to work.
A young ordinary seaman was seized and placed in a chair. His face was covered with a soapy mixture, but, when he objected to the bluntness of the razor, his mouth was filled with soap. Then, suddenly losing his balance, he fell backward into a large water-filled deck tub.
Other ‘greenhorns,’ who had not previously crossed the equator, received similar attentions, but, thanks to the watchfulness of his friend Readyman, Jack escaped notice.
Some of the young emigrants, however, presently found the sharp eye of Neptune bent on them, and taking to the rigging for safety, they were compelled to ‘pay their footing’ in lieu of a shave.
The utmost good humour prevailed, but before Neptune retired the amused passengers witnessed yet another strange custom, which, alas! is fast dying out, if not wholly forgotten by present day British sailors.
With some ceremony the crew brought aft the effigy of a horse, which was fastened to a rope that ran through a block at the main yardarm.
The interested and curious spectators closed round the seamen. All being ready, two of the latter seized the rope, and as the ‘animal’ ascended the hands sang the old sea chanty:
‘I say, old man, your horse must die,
We say so, and we hope so.
I say, old man, your horse must die:
Oh, poor old man.
But should he live we’ll ride him ag’in,
We say so, and we hope so.
And if he dies we’ll tan his skin:
Oh, poor old man.’
The figure was thus hauled out to the yardarm, and being cut adrift fell into the sea, where it was several times dragged below the surface, but always released, by inquisitive sharks.
The meaning of that procedure was, that on that day the crew had completed one month’s work in lieu of the advance of money obtained on signing articles, and having thus ‘worked off the dead horse,’ as the debt is styled, they would now be earning wages. Captain Thorne addressed all hands.
‘You will remember,’ he said, ‘that this day, the tenth of March, is not alone made memorable by our crossing of the line, but that, in London, His Royal Highness, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and the Princess Alexandra of Denmark, become husband and wife. God bless them! I call for three cheers; and three more for our beloved Sovereign, Queen Victoria, who, since her occupation of the British throne, has endeared herself to her people. God bless her too! Hip, hip, hurrah!’
The simple words touched the hearts of the assembled throng. Many a husband and wife recalled their own wedding-day, and up rose a succession of heart-stirring cheers.
The clipper, momentarily steadied on an even keel, seemed to listen too, and tremble under the outburst.
‘Well done, and I thank you all,’ the captain said. And thus ended that crossing of the line on board the ‘Silver Crown.’
A few days later the first breath of the anxiously awaited south-east trade wind struck the vessel.
The drooping royals began to flutter and then to fill, the topgallant-sails soon imitated that effort, and the hull once more answered its helm.
The heavy topsails and lower courses soon filled out. The hands were called to the braces, and with yards braced sharp up to an increasing breeze, the ‘Silver Crown’ drew away from those windless regions surrounding the equator.
Within one week she had made such progress that the temperature fell considerably, and refreshing sleep could be once more enjoyed by all.
But about that time Jack Clewlin fell into temporary disgrace with the chief officer.
Throughout the first portion of the voyage its many attractions kept the lad fully alive to the charm of sea experiences, and what with that and the miseries of the ‘middle passage’ he found it impossible to obtain the proper amount of sleep.
Now all that inconvenience had disappeared. The nights were becoming delightfully cooler, and tired Nature, determined to make up all arrears of sleep, cast on Jack her soothing and irresistible influence.
He battled stoutly against it while on duty, and in semi-wakefulness paced the deck until sudden collision with the bulwarks, or the saloon door, almost sent him to the deck.
Indeed, that duty of night watching proved almost insurmountable. On the occasion to which reference has been made, it fell to his lot to keep the bells going from ten o’clock till midnight.
For a while all went well.
At eight bells Mr. Sennit, the chief officer, was called. He never took more than three minutes to relieve the deck, and on doing so he invariably looked at the clock in the saloon skylight. This night he acted as usual, and immediately became angry.
‘Who made eight bells?’ he sharply inquired.
‘I, sir,’ Jack replied, but never suspecting that anything could be amiss.
‘Lay aft here, two hands, and clew the mizen royal up,’ the mate sang out on the watch. ‘You young booby,’ he added, ‘I’ll teach you not to call me twenty minutes before my time. Up you go and stow that sail, and be smart about it too.’
Jack was now thoroughly wide awake, and on looking at the clock found that it still wanted quarter of an hour to midnight.
That small sail fluttering in the breeze far aloft occasioned much regret. However, he scrambled into the lower mizen rigging, and getting through the ‘lubber’s hole’ of the top climbed the topmast rigging, reached the crosstrees, and presently stood on the foot-rope of the royal yard.
How to stow the sail he did not know. Never mind! All that would come later, and the time was his own.
At present he felt sufficiently proud of having accomplished what he had not dared to attempt in broad daylight.
The pure life-giving sea breeze filled his young lungs till a shout of boyish delight could scarcely be repressed.
And what a magnificent spectacle lay spread out before him! On every hand, and far as the eye could see, a vast expanse of ocean lay glittering in the silvery radiance of an almost full moon.
The long narrow hull of the clipper loomed in patches of brilliant moonlight and deep shadows cast by the towering canvas.
The big main topgallant-sail, and the large main royal rose in front far above his own level, and away astern he could see the phosphorescent track of the ship distinctly marked.
Never before had he seen so lovely a spectacle.
Jack began to hum the air of an old sea song learned at home:
‘Oh, wonder not that next to thee
I love the galloping wave.
The first of coursers wild and free,
And only carries the brave.
She’s a gallant ship, with gallant crew,
Then, mother, be proud of your boy in blue.’
A sharp and stern hail reached him.
‘Royal yard, there, are you going to furl that sail?’
‘Ay, ay, sir,’ he replied.
Rightly judging that some loosely fastened cordage, named gaskets, was for wrapping round the yard and sail, Jack used it, and ‘picking up’ the centre portion of the canvas he stowed it as best he could, and speedily returned to the deck.
The royal had not been stowed in shipshape fashion, yet it passed muster, and the lad presently discovered that he had spent nearly half his watch on the yard.
‘You were asleep when making eight bells, Clewlin,’ the mate observed.
‘I must have been, sir,’ Jack replied. ‘It will not occur again.’
‘If it does, you shall try your hand at the big main royal,’ the officer returned. ‘Get to your bunk.’
Alarmed by the threat, Jack disappeared.
UNDER THE SOUTHERN CROSS
After that memorable night ascent, Jack never hesitated to go aloft on all occasions.
For a while, however, he could not overcome the difficulties of climbing out over the ‘futtock’ rigging of the lower tops, and was too proud to again creep through the ‘lubber’s hole,’ yet with advice from Readyman those obstacles were surmounted.
‘Wait until the ship rolls away from you,’ the quarter-master said, ‘and then you’ll find that she almost lifts you into the topmast rigging.’
Finding the boy an apt pupil, Readyman put him through a course of ‘eye,’ ‘long,’ ‘short,’ and ‘cringle’ splicing of ropes, and the correct formation of numerous knots and hitches.
Indeed, the old sailor proved of invaluable service to the lad, and taught him many other duties which no one else seemed to have the time or the inclination to impart, and before the passengers went ashore Jack was well up in the rudiments of his profession. In return for such kindness the boy was enabled to render his friend much pleasurable assistance, and in a manner little suspected by the quarter-master.
Readyman could neither read nor write, but being of a most thoughtful turn of mind, he gladly seized the offer of his young friend to read some portions of the Bible whenever occasion offered.
‘I’d like it well, Master Jack,’ he said; ‘some ships I’ve sailed in always held Sunday services, and all the men used to attend. Of course, they have meetings in the saloon, but I couldn’t go there.’
‘There are others held in the ‘tween deck,’ Jack returned. ‘I have always gone down there on Sunday mornings.’
‘Ay, ay, my son, but where you may go I dared not be seen. You know how strictly we are bidden to keep away from the passengers, and orders must be obeyed.’
‘Well, Readyman,’ Jack said, ‘we must make up a little meeting of our own. I promised my father to read some of the Bible every day, and although at first there was some annoyance from Sorter, I have done so without fear.’
‘Well done, sonny,’ the quarter-master exclaimed. ‘Stick to that all the time. It’s the best book you can read, and no harm can come of doing so. But, harkee, lad! Don’t have anything to say or to do with that rascal Sorter. He is no good. Do not let on that I told you anything, but we in the “fo’c’s’le” hear a good deal of what is happening, and some of the hands are almost certain, although nothing positive can be ascertained, that he has had a finger in the robberies from the second cabin. I see him prowling about the fore-peak a good deal, and the young men there don’t think much of him.’
Jack expressed much surprise at what he had been told, but he immediately fetched his Bible, and although debarred from entering the men’s quarters, he and Readyman stowed themselves away comfortably on the topgallant forecastle-head, and the old sailor listened to the passages read to him. Indeed, it was not long before other men, attracted to the spot by sheer curiosity, sat down to listen, and remained in respectful attention to the close of the watch. Many similar readings were given, and no one interfered.
The ‘Silver Crown’ was daily drawing southward into more salubrious weather, and in due course she sighted the coast of South America in the neighbourhood of Pernambuco.
Then she tacked, and stood off toward the Cape of Good Hope. Shortly after breakfast next morning a hand aloft sang out ‘Sail, O!’ and within an hour the stranger became clearly visible. She proved to be the ‘Merrie England,’ owned by the same firm, and she had left the Thames with emigrants for Queensland some days before the ‘Silver Crown’ left Stonewell.
She was hailed with ringing cheers, and, in hope of speedily outsailing her, everyone offered their services in bracing the yards, setting up the canvas, and other duties.
An intensely exciting struggle for supremacy ensued. Up to that time the ‘Merrie England’ had been considered the fastest vessel in the company’s service, and although Captain Thorne had long desired to try conclusions with her, he had never been successful.
Now, however, his opportunity had come, and he was determined to test the sailing qualities of both ships in fair seaman-like manner.
The challenged captain, fully aware of his opponent’s intentions, did everything possible to avoid defeat, and hoisting his colours in token of acceptance, he immediately endeavoured to secure the weather berth.
But Captain Thorne held it, while seizing the main tack, and to the strains of
‘Haul the bowline, the packet ship’s a-rolling;
Haul the bowline, the bowline … Haul!’
Many young emigrants dragged the great clew of the mainsail nearly down to the chestrees, and the boatswain cried ‘Belay all!’ the fore and the main bowlines were also rove and hauled out, the jibs were set up, and the ‘Silver Crown’ stood up splendidly in the fresh breeze.
Of course, all the passengers were by that time on deck, cheers were given and returned, and the beautiful clipper still drew closer to her equally fast-looking rival.
She was now almost on her best sailing point, and could always be trusted to pass anything less able to hold its wind. With colours flying from masthead and gaff-end, and jets of glittering spray sometimes leaping high over the forecastle-head, she drew up on the weather quarter of her rival. For a few anxious moments she seemed to hang stationary in that position, till an increasing wind laid her still deeper on the port-bilge. Then gathering fresh impetus for the final struggle she forged ahead, took the wind completely out of her opponent’s canvas, and sweeping forward passed her in magnificent style.
A tremendous outburst of cheering greeted the performance. When well clear Captain Thorne sheered to leeward, and allowed his competitor to pass ahead, but directly she was clear he again ‘luffed’ into the wind, and completed a circle round his fairly beaten rival.
‘Throw us a line and we’ll give you a tow!’
‘We’ll tell them at Brisbane you’re coming!’
‘Why don’t your cook get up more steam?’
These were a few of the taunts flung at the defeated vessel, while the sporting instincts of the Irish emigrants found vent in one deafening ‘cock-ee-doo-dle-doo-oo-oo-oo.’
There was no reply to that vociferous challenge. The ‘Silver Crown’ had proved herself the fastest vessel in the service, and as night closed down the ‘Merrie England’ disappeared. Careening gracefully to the increasing breeze, the clipper held her close-hauled course.
Every inch of canvas, excepting the studding-sails, was set, and the staysails, or those between the masts and shaped like the jibs, pulled strongly at their sheets.
The temperature had now fallen to a healthy and bracing level. When a safe distance from the South American coast was reached the ship again tacked, and stood toward the south-west.
One afternoon Readyman accosted his young pupil.
‘You are coming on well with the knotting and splicing, Master Jack,’ he said. ‘I now think that you should learn to “box” the compass.’
‘That refers to the steering, doesn’t it?’ Jack inquired.
‘Yes, lad, and the sooner you know the card the sooner you may be permitted to steer. Not that the captain would allow that just at present, but if he asked you questions, you could answer correctly, and that would mean a deal.’
The rough drawing of a compass card was produced, and the lesson began.
‘I made it myself,’ the quarter-master said. ‘We’ll work round from north to east first. Now, listen to me. North, north-by-east, north-north-east, north-east-by-north, north-east, north-east-by-east, east-north-east, east-by-north, east. When those points are well learned the rest is easy. All you need do is to alter north into south, and east into west. It is quite simple when you put your whole mind into the lesson for a few minutes. You see that the circle is divided into four quarters, and that each of them is sub-divided into eight points, the whole thus numbering thirty-two points.’
‘Thanks, Readyman,’ Jack replied. ‘You are very kind to me.’
‘Kind, lad?’ the other exclaimed. ‘Why, I haven’t been half so kind as your father was to me. Did you ever hear how he saved my life, when no one could have believed it possible?’
‘No,’ Jack returned. ‘Tell me the story, please.’
‘It happened years ago, long before you were born,’ the quarter-master said. ‘I was bo’s’n of the barque “Isabella,” and your dad was her first mate. We were on the China coast. While between Shanghai and Hong Kong we were struck by a terrible typhoon; we managed to get the topgallant-masts on deck, and reefed everything fore and aft.
‘That did not seem much good, for within an hour all the spars above the lower masts went over the side like matchwood.
‘The sea ran awful high, and the barque was knocked about like a toy. Away she flew before the wind, steering wild on account of the sea, but remaining fairly dry, as she was in ballast trim.
‘During that afternoon we fell in with a deep-laden French vessel also scudding, and showing signals of distress, but nothing could be done to send assistance.
‘We thought ourselves badly off, but were quite comfortable when compared with those poor Frenchies. Every sea swept their decks, and those not already washed away had taken to the after rigging. We could see a hand at the helm, but as the old “Isabella” ran three knots to their one we soon lost sight of the ship. And she was never heard of again.
‘I hope you’ll never see such a thing, Master Jack. When one of those “busters” come along it’s only by the merest chance that anyone pulls through it with his life, or, at anyrate, with unbroken limbs.
‘Well, lad, we were so beaten with wind, and knocked about by the sea, that it wasn’t long before the carpenter sounded the “well,” and holding up three fingers, for no one could hear a word shouted in their ear, he signalled three feet of water down below.
‘Your father began to work his arms, as much as to say, “All hands to the pumps!” and we got them working fairly well.
‘All of a sudden, lad, she broached to, and afore you could sing out “Belay!” a tremendous wave swept the deck, and the wind dropped. It was almost calm. From another point it burst out worse than ever, and the cross sea thus raised was something awful. None of us had seen anything like it, and as for the old barque she could make nothing of such a smother.
‘One fearful big wave gripped her by the bow, and another seized the stern. When they let go she had been twisted like paper, and on her beam-ends fell into the trough of the sea.
‘We left the pumps and lashed ourselves to the mizen rigging. The rudder had been carried away.
‘The skipper looked pretty sad—maybe he was thinking of his family at home. Anyhow, sonny, he waved his arms, as if to say, “It’s all over with us, men!” At that moment a terrible sea broke in over the port beam, swept the deck fore and aft, and stove in the main hatch.
‘In the thick spume and rain no one could see much, while the salt clinging in our eyes blinded most of the men.
‘It was coming on dark. The barque was lifted to the top of a great billow, and then fell nearly straight down to the bottom of the hollow, where it was almost calm.
‘Then, with rush of water and scream of wind, she rose to the summit of another wave, and was instantly hurled on to a reef, over which the sea boiled a thousand times worse than out in the open. Of what next happened I have but dim recollection.
‘The wreck was swept off the reef, and all hands seemed to go down together. I began to choke, but suddenly felt the wind again in my face, and I thought someone near was singing out, but who it could be there was no telling in the utter blackness of that night.
‘I fancied the typhoon was not quite so strong as it had been, and feeling a rope still fast round my waist I naturally thought I was secured to the mizen rigging. But instead of the shrouds my hand struck timber. That seemed to wake me up a bit, and I then discovered that your dad was alongside, and that both of us were lashed up to the mizen mast head, but how such a change of position was made I could not imagine. Of the remainder of the hands there was no trace. Anyhow, lad, you may think I’m yarning, yet it’s true all the same, your father was asleep alongside of me, for all the world as though nothing particular had happened, or that both of us might be drowned at any moment.
‘Good man! he was exhausted after saving someone for company, and lucky was it for me that he did so. As I afterwards found out, he cut both our lashings when the wreck fell off the reef, and finding that the mast remained upright, with a portion of the hull attached, so that it stood a few feet out of water, he grabbed me, and lashing himself to the support went to sleep.
‘Next morning the typhoon had passed away, but the sea remained cross and high.
‘Through it all that good old stick swam bravely, and after a while your father woke up, looking ten years older than he had done two days before.
‘Some hours later a partly dismantled vessel, that had managed to steer clear of the ‘heft’ of the blow, picked us up, and we were finally set ashore at Hong Kong. That’s the yarn, sonny.’
‘Thanks, Readyman,’ Jack replied. ‘It was a fearful experience, but I never heard my father tell the story.’
‘That was just his way, lad,’ the quarter-master returned. ‘If I had saved him, you’d never hear the end on’t, but about himself there’d never be one word.’
DOWN IN THE ‘ROLLING FORTIES’
A week later, and on taking over the morning watch, Jack was delighted to find that during the night several black-and-white speckled birds, styled ‘cape pigeons,’ were following the ship. All that day the beautiful little creatures continued to arrive in large flocks, and it did not require any stretch of imagination to believe that, as Jack Clewlin said, ‘a feathered snowsquall was driving up astern.’
They flew quite close to the ship, their beady black eyes always on the watch for anything thrown overboard, and their shrill cries of delight or disappointment mingled with the ceaseless ‘boom boom’ of the rolling waves.
One of the saloon passengers immediately determined to shoot some of the birds.
Captain Thorne raised strong objections, and also added that to do so would be inviting misfortune on the ship, or to some of the people on board.
The younger and less thoughtful of his hearers laughed at ‘the funny sailor superstition.’
Before more could be said, however, the ‘sportsman’ raised his fowling-piece, and in rapid succession brought down two of the birds.
The indignation of the captain was withering.
‘You should be ashamed of yourself, sir!’ he hotly exclaimed. ‘People such as you never seem happy unless they are killing or maiming the most beautiful of God’s creatures. What harm did those little birds do you? Your selfishness is appalling, for you cannot even recover what you kill. With all your boasted cleverness you are not able to restore the life in what the Almighty has placed on this sea for His own wise purposes.’
The captain spoke with considerable feeling, and no more birds were slain. Some of the passengers who had been quickest to ridicule the idea that it would be unlucky to shoot the birds now looked somewhat shamefaced, and also realised that not only was it a wanton destruction of life, but that the entire crew seemed deeply offended.
Day by day the ‘Silver Crown’ drew farther southward, and the weather became correspondingly stronger and colder. The sea, too, began to run with considerable weight, and the westerly wind steadily increased.
The ship made daily runs of extraordinary distances, the outlook was beautifully clear, and the sky of a vivid steel-blue hue. In short, she had now reached that portion of the ocean known to mariners as the ‘rolling forties,’ since below the latitude of forty degrees south, and as nowhere else are such steady winds obtainable, the masters of all vessels bound toward Australia, New Zealand, or Tasmania, seize the opportunity of ‘running their easting down,’ in other words, keeping an almost due easterly course.
And then it was that the only accident, a disaster, in fact, of appalling suddenness, marred the otherwise successful voyage of the ‘Silver Crown,’ and cast a deep gloom over everyone on board.
One bright but cold Saturday morning the ship raced along at about fourteen knots an hour, every inch of her best and newest canvas swelling out magnificently in the strong wind, and broad bands of seething foam leaped and hissed on either side.
The middle and after staysails, or those between the masts, were kept set, but owing to the heavy ‘send’ of the sea, and the consequent swing of the hull, they were not always full, and, of course, the sheets, or such ropes as held down the lower corners of those triangular-shaped sails, lay useless until again strained by the wind.
All the female steerage passengers were turned up on deck for the customary weekly clothes wash, and with their tubs stood along each side of the deck.
Beside them husbands, sons, or brothers, supplied the water, which was drawn from the sea in small pails supplied for that purpose.
For a while all went well, and merry laughter and chatter prevailed fore and aft the main deck.
Suddenly the appalling cry ‘Man overboard!’ arose.
The captain rushed on deck, and the helm was jammed hard down. The ship immediately swung into the wind without shipping much water. The sails beat heavily in the strong wind, the crew rushed to the braces, ropes whizzed through their blocks, a lifebuoy was flung astern, and when the yards had been steadied the lee lifeboat, in charge of Mr. Statten, got safely away from the ship.
By that time Captain Thorne had reached the mizen top, and through his glasses sought trace of the unfortunate man, but all he could see were some albatrosses, which were following the vessel, hovering above a spot far to windward.
The boat reached the place, but only brought back the buoy. As nothing more could be done, the ‘Silver Crown’ resumed her voyage.
‘Who has gone?’ was the general inquiry.
No one could tell. The mate called over the muster-roll of the crew, and each man answered to his name.
It was evident that one of the emigrants had been the victim. When his name was called, and there was no reply, his wife declared that he was below collecting clothes for the wash. On discovering her mistake, she fell into a swoon, and on regaining her senses she became almost beside herself with grief.
It subsequently appeared that her husband, although frequently warned to keep clear of the big main topmast staysail sheet, had leaned across it to draw water while the sail was empty, and when the latter suddenly filled he was, of course, flung several feet clear of the racing hull.
Six children mourned his loss, while, to make matters still worse, every penny possessed by the unfortunate family was sewn into the lining of an overcoat which the man then wore.
After arrival at Brisbane the whole family was sent back to England, for the mother had become strange in her mind.
Well, the topgallant-sails and the royals were reset, a short funeral service was held, and throughout the remainder of that day a deep hush prevailed fore and aft.
On flew the clipper before the wind, and many large albatrosses followed in the wake.
Most of those beautiful birds must have measured quite eight feet from tip to tip of their extended wings, yet whether going with or against the wind no one could detect the slightest movement of their pinions.
Like the ‘cape pigeons’ nothing escaped their vigilant scrutiny, and shrill screams, and a splash of grey-coloured feathers in the cold sea, followed the throwing of anything overboard.
By hook and line one of them was captured, yet not without considerable trouble, since with outspread wings and webbed feet thrust rigidly against the water, it required the strength of two men to haul it on board.
It struck out savagely with its strong hooked beak, and as it was too heavy to rise from the deck it became seasick; yet when released it immediately soared aloft, as before its capture.
The clipper continued to race along in magnificent manner, and runs of four hundred miles were frequent. Sometimes the heavy seas rolling up astern threatened to fall on board, but with upward rise of the bow she always sped clear of the danger.
At last she began to edge northward out of the strong weather. The temperature rose considerably. The albatrosses disappeared.
All hands set to work holy stoning the deck and painting ship. The cables were dragged from below and secured to the anchors, which were hove out over the bows.
In short, the voyage of the ‘Silver Crown’ was drawing to a close. Everything not required for daily use was packed away by the passengers for removal ashore, and a keen lookout for land was observed.
Shortly after dawn one morning Mr. Statten, the second mate, ordered Jack Clewlin to ‘jump aloft and have a look round.’
Within a few minutes the excited lad had reached the fore topmast crosstrees.
There he took time to recover his breath, and then thrusting his cap within his shirt for safety he ‘shinned’ up the royal rigging.
With the slender mast pole six feet above his head he sat on the yard.
A splendid spectacle rewarded his climb.
Right away to the distant horizon all round, the deep blue and white-ridged ocean lay beneath the increasing daylight.
Far below the head canvas pulled strongly at its boom, the sharp bow cut through the water like a knife, surging foam seemed to leap almost to the cat-heads, and never a sail stirred in the wind.
He thought of that first night ascent, and the beautiful scene then witnessed, yet now a scarcely less exquisite light that always precedes sunrise at sea prevailed.
With one arm flung round the mast for security Jack peered ahead.
As the light strengthened a dim blue haze seemed to hang just above the horizon far ahead.
It seemed exactly like the first loom of the South American continent. As it did not rise so rapidly as vapour would, Jack mustered up all his courage for the grand announcement, and in clear, boyish tones he hailed the deck—
His heart beat quickly. Had he been too hasty? He peered at the deepening haze, and then saw Mr. Statten in the crosstrees beneath him.
‘All right, Clewlin,’ the mate sang out; ‘that’s the land. Come down here and keep bright lookout for broken water. The royals will be lowered directly.’
Jack breathed more freely. He had made no mistake, and could not be jeered at by the crew.
The clipper’s deck became filled with people watching the first appearance of their future home, and the bluish tint soon assumed a green colour.
Headlands and indentations became distinct. Towards a spacious bay, partly protected by an island, the ship steered, and as she entered it all the upper canvas was lowered and clewed up.
The courses were hauled up, and the topsails came down on the lower caps.
‘Let go the anchor!’ the captain cried.
‘Stand clear the chain!’ the mate sang out.
The blow of a maul on the cat-head was followed by the roar of the cable through the hawse-pipe. Then, after a good passage of eighty-five days from Stonewell, the ‘Silver Crown’ swung head to wind in Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia.
SOME NEW EXPERIENCES
‘All hands stow canvas!’ Mr. Sennit sang out.
With a young ordinary seaman Jack helped to furl the fore royal. And, that being neatly accomplished, he then slid down to the topgallant yard, where two extra men had already arrived. But instead of remaining near the mast he was sent out to the yardarm, where, of course, the work was much lighter than at the ‘bunt,’ or centre part of the sail.
The upper and lower topsails were also stowed, and then the whole port watch ‘lay down’ to the fore yard, Jack being still shifted outside of the men. With a cheery—
‘Yoh, ho, we’ll all sling duff at the cook,’
the big sail was rolled up snugly on the yard, and the men were soon on deck.
With the furling of all the canvas the yards were correctly squared in their lifts and braces, the ropes were coiled on the belaying-pins, and a general ‘knock off of work’ followed the safe completion of the voyage.
Jack’s attention was immediately directed toward the appearance of the country in which he had just arrived, and many emigrants also peered landward.
Moreton Bay was of considerable size, deep water and good anchorage being readily found anywhere, but of signs of habitations not a trace existed, and many people openly discussed the means of existence in such an apparently desolate spot.
The land all round seemed of a uniform flatness, and thickly covered with trees and undergrowth, while of the River Brisbane, or the city of that name beside which it was supposed to flow, not the slightest sign was visible.
But it was not long before black smoke was seen rising above the ‘bush’ some distance beyond the inner end of the bay, while out of the foliage there a small steamer suddenly emerged, and speedily made fast alongside the clipper.
She had brought down a quantity of fresh provisions, and, in the delight of soon enjoying them, all hands momentarily forgot about Queensland, or the likelihood of starvation in an uninhabited country.
Jack always believed that the supper of mutton chops, ‘soft tack,’ and good tea, partaken of that night was the sweetest he ever had, and much chatter went on between the three youngsters in their room.
‘I say, Clewlin,’ Wilton sang out, ‘this is all right, you know; but do you like the sea?’
‘Like it?’ Jack cried, with mouth full of chop; ‘why, there is nothing like it anywhere!’
‘I hate it,’ Wilton returned, ‘and mean to give it up. It isn’t anything so pleasant as I thought.’
‘What’s the matter with it?’
‘Everything,’ Wilton replied. ‘First of all, there are those dreadful night watches—enough to kill anyone.’
‘But you were no worse off than the others,’ George Archer returned. ‘Did you think the anchor would be dropped, and all hands turn in till daylight?’
‘I certainly never expected that I should have to haul at the ropes just like the common men, and have my arms almost dragged out for no earthly reason that I could see. It’s toil, toil all the time, and no amusements of any kind. I tell you I’m sick of the life, and shall leave it when a favourable chance comes.’
‘The very best thing you could do,’ Archer replied.
‘And look at the food,’ Wilton added; ‘salt horse and pork so fat that only an Icelander would eat it. Why couldn’t they give us something better?’
At that point of the discussion Jack was called aft, and received two letters and several newspapers directed to himself.
As he returned to the room the steamer, laden with most of the saloon passengers, sheered off, and in her Captain Thorne also went ashore.
Jack was soon eagerly reading his father’s long letters, while an article in a Stonewell paper presently attracted his notice.
‘I say, you fellows,’ he sang out, ‘here is a description of our departure from Stonewell Harbour. It’s just splendid. The writer says that the “Silver Crown” was the handsomest ship that ever entered Stonewell Harbour. Oh, my! Why, he has put my name into print. Just listen, boys! The only son of our worthy fellow-townsman, Captain Clewlin, has had the good fortune to make his first voyage in the clipper, and to Master Jack we tender our hearty congratulations and best wishes for his steady advancement.’
The other two boys also received letters from home.
‘What has become of Sorter?’ Jack presently inquired. ‘I haven’t seen him since supper.’
‘He’s gone off in the steamer,’ Archer whispered. ‘Would you believe, boys, that just before he went he openly boasted to me of having stolen all that food from our house, and sold it to the people in the steerage? He must have been the most disreputable young scoundrel alive. He showed me a good deal of money. We are well rid of such a character.’
‘And he told me to tell you, Clewlin,’ Charlie Wilton added, ‘that if ever he met you on shore he would give you a licking.’
‘I’d like to see him try it,’ Jack laughed. ‘He thought that because I wished to keep a promise to my father, I must be a coward; but he would find out his mistake.’
After dark a lamp was hung on the fore stay; watchmen patrolled the ‘tween deck, and the three boys were soon enjoying the delights of an ‘all night below.’
At six o’clock next morning the crew set to work washing the deck, and shortly after breakfast the little steamer returned.
She was speedily filled with emigrants, and for nearly a week the work of disembarkation continued.
At last the clipper was cleared of her living freight.
All the sails were sent down from aloft and stowed away, while the fittings of every cabin in the ‘tween deck and steerage were carefully removed and sent ashore, and fetched good prices at auction.
Then the ship was thoroughly cleaned both inside and out, and the yards, masts, and hull were painted.
Jack Clewlin sent home a full description of his voyage, and the delights of sea life. One week later, during which the ‘Merrie England’ arrived, he experienced his first trip on an Australian river.
In one of the lifeboats, and accompanied by Readyman and a strong crew from the starboard watch, he speedily reached the inner end of the bay and the mouth of the Brisbane.
The twenty miles of somewhat narrow waterway—the river being low at the time—proved peculiarly fascinating, especially to men long confined on shipboard, and the winding course of the stream presently found them wholly land-locked amidst the most beautiful verdure, that sprang directly from the water, and grew in such wild luxuriance that not even the smallest particle of ground could be seen. Great tropical plants and large broad-leaved, glass-smooth fern-palms flourished beneath trees that never shed their leaves, but from which long strips of bark depended in fantastic profusion.
‘It’s wonderful pretty, Master Jack,’ Readyman observed. ‘The real handiwork of the Creator. And yet, I suppose, within a few years it will all have gone before the axe, and the enterprising advance of the settler?’
‘It would be a pity to touch a leaf,’ Jack replied.
After a long and steady pull up stream the boat came in sight of the first signs of civilisation.
On the left bank of the river a barn-like structure, which proved to be the general dépôt for all unmarried women landed from the ships, appeared.
On a hill behind it the new settlement of Brisbane was situated, while close at hand a large square-nosed ferry-boat, which was hauled to and fro across the stream by means of a chain cable, gave access to the opposite and apparently uninhabited bank of the river.
Leaving the lifeboat in charge of the ferry-man her crew soon reached the summit of the hill. With the exception of a few houses clustered round some Government buildings, a modest church and half a dozen dwellings standing on commanding positions, the embryo capital of Queensland appeared to be chiefly composed of roads and streets marked out for future occupation.
From many of their late emigrant friends the men received the heartiest welcome, and Jack speedily discovered that some of the people had already removed farther up-country, or had taken over possession of the plots of land apportioned by the Government to those paying their full passage money.
From the members of a former Stonewell family, with whom Jack was well acquainted, the lad received much kindness. Mr. H—— had already purchased some land on what would presently be the principal street, and while building operations continued the family lived in a small bark hut.
Through their assistance Readyman was enabled to secure excellent accommodation for himself and his young charge, and each found much to interest and amuse during their brief visit.
The older settlers never ceased inquiries about ‘the old country,’ as England was styled.
The most striking spectacle was a small band of about thirty wretched and dirty-looking ‘black fellows,’ or natives of the immense continent, who had recently arrived at the settlement. They had brought with them a solitary British seaman, who for upwards of twelve years had been wandering all over the country with the savages, and had, of course, become well acquainted with the habits and strange customs of his aboriginal companions. The man appeared in fairly good condition, but had almost forgotten his mother-tongue, and even such words as he still remembered were uttered in such a guttural manner as to be almost unrecognisable.
It appeared that while attempting the passage of Torres Strait his vessel had been wrecked, and out of a full company of twenty hands he alone had survived.
Neither he nor the natives could explain what had become of the others; but those competent to form an opinion believed that they had been speared and eaten by the cannibals.
Jack enjoyed a splendid night’s rest, the first he had had between white linen sheets since leaving home, and after breakfast next morning the ‘liberty’ men prepared to return to their ship. The stream was now in their favour, and the ‘Silver Crown’ was reached in less than half the time occupied on the upward journey.
Charlie Wilton and the remaining half of the starboard watch next went ashore. From what he had already said, Jack was not surprised to find that Charlie did not return, and he was not again seen. Of the four apprentices who had left Stonewell, two, Archer and Clewlin, alone remained, and even they were soon parted.
The clipper received orders to proceed to Bombay for a homeward freight of cotton. All the canvas was immediately ‘bent,’ and tacks, sheets, bunt-lines, and reef-tackles were rove off.
When those sailing preparations were completed a wholly unexpected turn of affairs suddenly placed young Jack in considerable difficulty, and occasioned him much anxiety.
Captain Thorne had been medically advised not to visit India, since, only two voyages before, he had contracted a dangerous illness at Bombay.
After long deliberation with his two officers, all three men had agreed to exchange places with the master and mates of a smaller vessel, belonging to the same firm, then in the bay.
She was only half the size of the clipper, and had come out with cargo, but she was nearly ready to sail for Newcastle, N.S.W., there to load coal for Java.
At last Jack decided to consult his old friend Readyman.
‘I want to follow Captain Thorne,’ he said.
‘Well, my son,’ the quarter-master replied, ‘I certainly believe you are on the right tack. The skipper you know is better than the one you’ve had no dealings with. Putting that aside, sonny, you’d have a far better chance of learning your business in a small craft. In this clipper there are men enough to turn her inside out, so to say, and youngsters must stand aside, or teach themselves as best they may. You’ve had three months’ experience, and can see that no one here takes much notice of others. Barring what I’ve tried to do, lad, there isn’t another man to show you how to splice a rope-yarn. I believe your father spoke to Thorne, and he would naturally feel more interested than any stranger. Yes, lad, I should try to palaver the old man as soon as may be, and if you go I’ll not be far astern.’
‘Humph!’ the captain grunted, on hearing Jack’s tale. ‘I do not see why you should leave so fine a vessel for one not half her size. But if you would really sooner come with me there is nothing to keep you away, only you must clearly understand, boy, that in a craft of that kind there are few hands, and you will have to take an ordinary seaman’s place, and work as he would.’
‘I don’t mind that, sir,’ Jack promptly replied. ‘I wish to learn all I can before returning home.’
‘Very good. Can you box the compass?’
‘Yes, sir, and knot and splice ropes, too,’ Jack proudly said.
‘Who taught you?’
‘Readyman, sir; he knew and sailed with my father.’
‘Get your gear shifted immediately. I told your father I’d make either a lubber or a sailor of his boy.’
Jack needed no further incentive. ‘I say, Archer,’ he cried, on entering the deck-house, ‘I’m off to the new vessel. Are you coming?’
‘What! Into a cockle-shell like her? Not likely.’
Jack soon joined the new craft, which was a barque of nine hundred tons, named the ‘Alert,’ and into her Readyman also exchanged; but Archer, the elder apprentice, remained on the clipper.
For a few days Jack found himself cramped for ‘elbow-room,’ but his new quarters were far superior to those lately occupied, since he now lived aft in the fore cabin with the two officers and the steward.
A week later both vessels left Moreton Bay together, but although the ‘Alert’ was by no means a slow craft she could not keep pace with her larger consort, which raced away at great speed and soon disappeared. And that was the last Jack Clewlin ever saw of her.
Without noteworthy incident the barque arrived safely at Newcastle, which is situated near the mouth of the Hunter River, New South Wales, some sixty miles from Sydney. There she immediately proceeded to load coal for Batavia.
So busily employed were all hands that little opportunity for visiting the town was afforded. Some of the crew received a sound ‘ducking’ while attempting to walk the stout spars that kept the vessel clear of the river bank, so Jack wisely decided to remain on board.
The hold being filled, and the coal dust washed away, the sails were sent aloft and ‘bent,’ or fastened to the yards; at that work Jack took his place, his light weight being most suitable for the royal yards, while Readyman had shown him how the canvas should be secured. Indeed, what with his knowledge of splicing and knotting the ropes, and other valuable information imparted by his old friend, the mates soon perceived his eagerness to learn, and afforded him much more opportunity of speedy advance than would ever have occurred on the clipper.
Accompanied by a large brig and a full-rigged ship, the ‘Alert’ put to sea, all three vessels being bound to Java.
The ‘Alert’ soon made a good offing, and to Jack’s extreme satisfaction Captain Thorne ordered him to relieve the helmsman, whose greater strength was needed to cat-head and secure the anchor. Under the watchful eye of the master himself, the young helmsman attained such proficiency in the art of steering, that when one of the crew presently fell ill the lad was able to take his place.
Of that advance no one felt prouder than Readyman. ‘It’s all through learning the compass, lad,’ he said. ‘You’ve moved into the best vessel to learn your business, and the old man means that you shall.’
‘The mate says we are going through Torres Strait,’ Jack said.
‘A mighty rough spot, Master Jack,’ Readyman replied. ‘I’ve never been there, but a mate of mine once sailed that way, and was no more seen. It’s full of coral reefs and islands, and some cannibals, I’m told, and woe betide the craft that runs ashore.’
‘I hope we shall have better luck,’ Jack returned.
That afternoon some signalling passed between the ‘Alert’ and the brig which had come out with her from the river, and it was then arranged that both should keep together while passing through Torres Strait, the ninety miles wide channel lying between Cape York in Australia and the shores of New Guinea.
Of the ship they took no notice, partly because she was a German, and partly owing to her keeping a more off-shore course.
The weather continued delightful, and for many days the two vessels sailed along the mainland, passed Moreton Bay, and the new settlement farther north known as Rockhampton. At last they were abreast of the southern end of that wonderful marine formation named the Great Barrier Reef, which, an almost unbroken line of coral, extends southward from Cape York for a distance of fourteen hundred miles.
This remarkable structure varies considerably in its distance from the mainland. At places toward the north it is not more than ten or twelve miles off, but farther south, and especially toward its end, it is as much as one hundred miles away, while the channel between it and the shore can be navigated with ease. Its seaward face rises almost perpendicularly from the ocean, and in some places narrow passages admit small craft.
For Jack Clewlin the new life on which he had ventured was daily becoming more and more interesting, and he and Readyman never regretted the change.
Day by day both vessels kept well together, the brig sometimes forging far ahead in the light winds, while on other occasions the barque easily passed her in strong breezes. At last they reached the northern end of the Great Reef, it and the main coast being visible; and, having left some islands astern, the entrance of the dreaded strait was found.
The utmost vigilance was now maintained. To the vast delight of all hands, a splendid fair wind began to freshen, just as the dawn of a beautiful morning showed eastward.
The captain came on deck, in hope of running through the most dangerous portion of the coral-obstructed waterway before dark. Every inch of canvas was immediately set, and to assist the lookout at the bow Jack Clewlin was sent to the masthead.
Until then he had had little experience of coral reefs, but would now speedily find himself well-nigh beset by them. Yet in point of danger those awash, and consequently visible, were as nothing in comparison with others hidden a few feet beneath the surface, and steadily pushed upward by their minute builders.
He had just made himself comfortable on the fore topgallant-yard, when, far ahead and slightly off the port bow, a small black object, with the faint but curious tracery of what looked like the masts and rigging of a vessel, appeared.
As no canvas could be seen, Jack naturally concluded that she was at anchor, and he immediately reported the discovery.
‘Ay, ay,’ Mr. Statten sang out. ‘How far off?’
‘About ten miles, sir,’ Jack replied.
The officer was soon beside him in the crosstrees, and through his glasses peered at the stranger. Then he began to laugh.
‘Oh yes, she’s “anchored,” sure enough, and likely to remain there a spell,’ he said. ‘It’s the big German, Clewlin, hard and fast on a reef. She has evidently been trying to make a fast passage, and come to grief in the dark.’
‘Is there anyone on board, sir?’
‘I cannot tell just yet. Anyhow, her colours are at the gaff-end, but she lies very badly.’
Telling Jack to remain where he was, the mate hastened on deck, and signalling the brig, which was farther astern, the ‘Alert’ bore down to make inquiry.
THE DANGERS OF TORRES STRAIT
‘Fore crosstrees, there! Stand by to stow the royal.’
‘Ay, ay, sir,’ Jack sang out.
Within a few minutes the starboard studding-sails fluttered to the deck, and the topgallant sails and royals were clewed up, while coming up astern the brig also shortened sail, and cautiously approaching the wreck both vessels hove-to half a mile to windward.
The big German ship was abandoned, and must have been ashore several days.
However, having furled the fore royal Jack turned his attention toward the busy scene passing on the deck below, and keenly regretted that duty prevented a personal visit to the wreck. The hands were clearing away one of the boats, which was on the point of being lowered, when Captain Thorne himself hailed the masthead. ‘Lay down from aloft,’ he sang out. ‘Look sharp!’
Jack seized the back-stay and slid to the deck, where, to his delight, he was ordered to join the boat, and immediately sat beside Mr. Statten.
A strong pull soon took them close to the wreck, which lay on a submerged reef some two fathoms below the surface, her decks sharply inclined at an angle of about fifty degrees, and the masts and yards still standing thrust out far beyond the hull, over which waves occasionally broke in jets of spray.
On closer approach Jack perceived that the entire surface of the reef was covered with coal, which had fallen through great holes in the lee-bilge of the vessel. On passing to leeward round her stern numerous casks of salted provisions and other floatable gear were drifting away before the wind. She was indeed a pitiable spectacle.
On getting alongside the mizen chains, the puzzling difficulty of how to reach her saloon immediately arose, for the deck stood like a huge wall, up which not even a sailor could climb, and Mr. Statten had been directed to search the cabin for any document likely to indicate what had become of the missing crew.
‘I think I could reach it, sir!’ Jack eagerly exclaimed.
‘Well, bear a hand,’ the mate replied. ‘Those drifting casks are valuable, and might be saved.’
Seizing a favourable opportunity Jack sprang into the lee rigging, and nimbly climbing up its inner side presently succeeded in reaching the mizen top, crossed to windward, and with a wave of his cap to the ‘Alert’ he promptly descended the weather shrouds, and sliding down the steep deck reached the saloon skylight.
A few moments later he had swung himself into the cabin below, where nothing seemed disturbed. Nailed to the table was a piece of paper, which in good English stated that the whole crew had decided to attempt the passage of the strait in their boats, and if possible reach Turtle Island, at the opposite end, where it was known that British war-vessels frequently left provisions for those in distress. With that information Jack promptly returned to his companions.
‘A mighty risky procedure,’ Mr. Statten exclaimed, on perusal of the document. ‘Suppose they are becalmed near any of the islands, and are seen by the savages? Those, however, might be passed during the night, and the boats could easily clear sunken reefs which larger vessels would strike.’
The boat pushed off, and Captain Thorne was informed of the note.
‘We might save a lot of good gear, sir,’ the mate added.
‘No, no,’ the old man replied. ‘Our lives are much more important. I shan’t lose a good wind for such rubbish. Hook on the boat-falls.’
So the boat was hoisted ‘two blocks’ in the davits, and again setting every inch of canvas that would draw, and quickly followed by the brig, away sped the barque, in a brave attempt to pass the most dangerous portion of the strait during daylight.
The decks being cleared up Jack enjoyed a substantial breakfast, and was then supplied with a quantity of biscuit for use during the day. Accompanied by Mr. Statten he returned to his former position at the masthead, with strict orders to keep watch and report all reefs in sight.
The position afforded an extensive range of vision, and it was not long before several streaks of white water under the port bow indicated coral just awash, while others were visible on the starboard beam. Between them, however, and as far as could be seen, the deep blue fairway remained unbroken; but when Jack ‘shinned’ up to the topgallant yard, he immediately perceived and reported the loom of land ahead.
‘That’s Thursday Island,’ the mate replied. ‘Keep close lookout for another, named Prince of Wales.’
Under her big press of sail the’ Alert’ raced along in grand style, but the brig was slowly dropping astern.
However, as plenty of good daylight would remain for several hours, not much notice was taken of her, and Jack became keenly interested in the beautiful scene spread out before him. Thursday Island was fast losing its cloud-like appearance, every portion of it being covered with trees and scrub, but no sign of habitation or natives was apparent.
The canvas of the barque swelled out splendidly in the fresh fair wind, mounds of foam rolled away from beneath the bow, while over all was an unclouded sky of brilliant blue.
Prince of Wales Island also hove in sight, and when the barque was nearly abreast of it Jack saw a white signal being energetically waved by someone ashore, and he immediately warned his companion.
‘It might be a sign from the missing crew,’ Mr. Statten said. He hailed the deck.
Captain Thorne promptly altered his course and stood in nearer to the island, where three white specks that lay up on a yellow beach proved to be European-built boats.
The barque’s crew became excited respecting the fate of the Germans, since only the bearer of the signal could be seen. Suddenly the report of sharp musketry firing from behind some thick scrub was heard.
Almost immediately several men were seen slowly retreating towards the boats. They were followed by many naked savages, hurling long spears and short pieces of bent wood.
‘The whites are fighting for their lives!’ Captain Thorne sang out. ‘We must save them.’
The islanders were striving to surround their victims, and the firing almost ceased, as if the ammunition were failing.
The crisp, short orders of the captain rang fore and aft. ‘Port watch for’a’d, starboard watch aft,’ he cried. ‘In with the stu’n’s’ls, sir. Clear away the anchor and chain. Bear a hand, now. Lead-line into the main chains. Let fly all royal and topgallant halyards. Have both quarter-boats ready for lowering. Fore crosstrees, there! Lay down from aloft! Stand by the braces, men.’
Mr. Sennit hastened forward, and soon had the anchor and cable ready to let go, the studding-sails came down smartly, the royal and topgallant halyards were let fly, and under easy canvas the ‘Alert’ drew nearer shore.
All that while the Germans near the beach—for they proved to be the missing crew—were making desperate exertions to reach the boats, and having exhausted nearly all their cartridges, took to hurling stones, or anything they could find, at the yelling savages, who still maintained a stubborn front, and caused several casualties by spear and club.
‘What water have you now?’ the captain cried.
‘A quarter less five!’ the leadsman sang out.
‘Let go the anchor for’a’d!’
Through the hawse-pipe coil after coil of cable flew, and the barque swung head to wind. Before she had lost all way, both boats were lowered, manned by strong armed crews, and, braving all subsequent rebuke, Jack Clewlin promptly took a seat beside the second mate.
‘You should not have come, boy,’ the latter said.
‘I can mind the boat, sir,’ Jack returned.
With right goodwill the men lay back on their oars, and cheers greeted the almost surrounded Germans. Directly the boats struck the beach all hands jumped ashore, and immediately arranged themselves into watches under the respective leaders.
Mr. Sennit dashed toward the right wing of the foe, and with his men the second mate rushed toward the opposite extremity, both parties firing as rapidly as their weapons could be reloaded. The yelling cannibals speedily wavered, and sought cover among the adjacent scrub and trees. But the Germans were still vigorously assailed by a centre knot of the foe, whereupon both British watches united, and pouring in an almost continuous volley of lead speedily relieved the situation. The savages suddenly retreated, but not before they had carried off the whole of their dead and wounded.
So closely had Jack Clewlin followed the fortunes of his friends on shore that the approach of further assistance was not noticed. For the brig, on seeing her consort shorten sail and bear up for the island, immediately followed, and sent men to the rescue.
Perhaps it was their timely arrival which ended the fray. At anyrate, the savages were not again seen, but several of their spears were secured as trophies of the struggle.
On hasty examination it was discovered that the Germans had suffered serious loss. Four of them were found dead among the scrub, while six others had been more or less severely wounded. What the uninjured had dreaded more than the spears were the short pieces of bent and blackened wood, known as ‘boomerangs,’ for when those were thrown with force the result was astonishing. They could easily kill any small animal or bird without losing momentum, and would return to the point of discharge. Two of the men had been killed by them, but in those cases the weapons lost further power on striking such heavy obstacles.
A recall signal on the ‘Alert’ attracted attention.
‘All aboard!’ Mr. Sennit sang out. ‘We can do no more, and must not lose the fair wind.’
The boats on the beach were refloated. The wounded and dead were placed in them, and all hands proceeded to rejoin their vessels, not one of the rescuers having been injured.
The anchors of both vessels were promptly cat-headed. The German boats were sunk, and the dead were buried at sea, so that they should not fall into the hands of the cannibals.
The cause of all the trouble was not far to seek. The wrecked crew, finding their supply of water running short, and unaware of the savage character of the islanders, had gone ashore to fill their casks, with the result described.
On reaching the ‘Alert’ Jack Clewlin expected nothing less than a severe reprimand from his captain. Of such, however, there was no sign, and the lad felt relieved. On the other hand, Readyman expressed strong approval of his conduct.
‘You did quite right, my son,’ he said. ‘Act so, and never hang back from any duty. Make it a firm resolve always to be on the spot, or at the yardarm, when required, and even should you not know exactly how the work ought to be done, you will mostly find a good man alongside to show you.’
‘I hope the captain is not angry,’ Jack observed.
‘Not he, lad. You needn’t trouble about that. When you go wrong, he’ll pretty soon pull you up all astanding.’
‘The natives lost a number of men, Readyman; I saw several of them fall at the edge of the bush.’
‘Sarve them right, Master Jack. They will know better next time. They couldn’t have seen our vessels coming along, and so thought they had the game to themselves.’
Accompanied by the second mate, Jack presently regained his old place at the fore topmast head, and shortly after clearing the island he perceived a milky-hued patch of water right ahead.
‘A submerged and uncharted reef!’ Mr. Statten exclaimed. Through his glasses he peered at the obstacle, and then perceiving how the deep blue channel should be followed, gave the true course to the captain from a small compass which he carried.
‘Steady at that, sir,’ he sang out, as the barque swung away on her new course. ‘All clear ahead. No more off.’
The ‘Alert’ raced along in grand style, and as there were no more reefs to trouble them Jack and his companion enjoyed a good meal of biscuit and salt pork.
Away astern the brig was hard pressed to hold her own, and the islands speedily disappeared. The barque was soon abreast of the sea-covered reef, which looked to be about three fathoms below the surface, and she passed so close along one side that the line of deep and shallow water was distinctly defined, the whole structure appearing like a huge white wall rising in the blue water.
‘And every portion of it is built by minute insects,’ Mr. Statten observed. ‘Year after year the work proceeds without cessation, till, on contact with the air, the builders die. Then drifting débris lodges and rots in the crevices, birds resting there drop seeds, which take root and flourish, and in that way most of the Pacific islands were formed.’
‘And that reef will be one some day,’ Jack replied.
‘Yes, and probably inhabited by such savages as we fought just now,’ the mate added. ‘They quarrel among themselves, and the weakest goes to some new place.’
‘Look, sir,’ Jack cried, and pointed ahead, ‘there are more reefs just awash.’
Mr. Statten peered through his glasses. ‘Why,’ he said, ‘we seem to be sailing into a nest of them. Shin up to the topgallant-yard, and tell me where the channel lies.’
Jack was soon seated on his old perch, and thus elevated, could see for several miles past the obstructions. A good clear ‘lead’ through them was also visible, and as the vessel still decreased her distance, the foaming ridges seemed to widen out considerably, so that what at first appeared a particularly dangerous channel presently proved to be quite safe, and through it the ‘Alert’ passed without the slightest difficulty.
‘The brig will have to hurry up,’ Mr. Statten said. ‘The afternoon is slipping away, and she’s a long way astern.’
‘But the moon’s at the full, sir,’ Jack observed.
‘Why, you’re becoming a regular old shellback,’ the mate laughed. ‘I expect it’s bred in the bone.’
‘That is what my father said when I wished to go to sea,’ Jack exclaimed. ‘What does it mean?’
‘That you are a sailor born and bred, and the son of one.’
They remained aloft throughout the afternoon, while the captain kept close watch on the steering, and just after sundown a small island appeared off the starboard bow.
‘We are safe now,’ the captain sang out. ‘One hundred and ten miles since daylight. It’s first-rate. Lay down from aloft.’
Jack and the mate enjoyed a good supper that night, and the barque was hove-to till daylight, so as to discover what had happened to the brig.
The night passed uneventfully. In the grey of coming dawn the brig was seen making desperate endeavour to overhaul her companion, and presently reported an almost miraculous escape from destruction while sailing through the last series of reefs.
IN THE JAVA SEA
The ‘Alert,’ with studding-sails and all square canvas set, soon passed the brig, and throughout the following day only a few reefs, and those at considerable distances, were seen. The weather remained beautifully fine, but the wind fell so light that the smaller vessel, drawing much less water, soon forged ahead and disappeared. They were now drawing well away from the dangerous strait, and, with a clear course, shaped directly for Batavia.
Every day Jack Clewlin felt increasing pleasure from his exchange of ships; and the wider scope for acquiring knowledge of his profession also added to that feeling. Beside that, Readyman had by no means dropped his voluntary advice and tutorship, and many an evening dog-watch was still usefully passed.
‘I wish you would borrow the hand lead-line from Mr. Statten,’ he once observed. ‘I could show you how to use it.’
Jack immediately obtained the line, and another lesson began.
‘Of course,’ the quarter-master continued, ‘you already know that on board ship everything is measured in feet and fathoms, and that a fathom is six feet, or two yards in length. Every vessel carries one hand and one deep-sea lead-line. The shorter and lighter one is only used in shallow water. Now then, lad, listen to me. At two fathoms, you see, there is a bit of leather; at three fathoms the mark is the same, but the leather tag is split; at five fathoms the mark is white rag; at seven fathoms there is a red one; at ten fathoms it is a piece of leather with a hole in it; at fifteen fathoms it is a blue rag; at seventeen, it is the same as at seven, and at twenty fathoms there is a bit of cord with two knots in it.’
‘How is the hand line used?’ Jack inquired.
‘You stand in the main chains, grip the line about six feet from the sinker, swing it over your head, and let it fly as far for’a’d as possible. The deep-sea lead is too heavy for that, so it is carried to the forecastle-head, while the line is passed outside of everything to windward, and, when fastened to the sinker, is thrown overboard.’
‘I never thought there was so much to learn about ships.’
‘Much!’ Readyman exclaimed, ‘why, sonny, you don’t know anything yet. What about the cutting and the fitting of rigging, masting and dismasting, stowage of cargoes, and a hundred other matters? It will need your four years’ apprenticeship to know but a little; and as an officer you must be a good navigator. Ay, Master Jack, and talking like that reminds me that you should learn sail-making. It comes in very handy to use a palm.’
He produced a small band of leather, in the centre of which the head of a strong sewing thimble appeared, with some canvas and twine. ‘There you are,’ he said. ‘Put the palm on your right hand, and push the needle through the cloth. You could not do that with your fingers.’
Jack set to work forming correct stitches, and soon made good progress, and in that way many pleasant hours were passed. Neither of the friends forgot their Bible-classes, while, now that everyone had settled down in their places, Captain Thorne himself read prayers each Sunday in the cabin.
One morning, shortly before reaching Batavia, the watch on deck witnessed a most remarkable and interesting spectacle. At four o’clock Mr. Statten and the starboard watch relieved the deck. Even at that early hour it was almost broad daylight, its exquisite softness and purity being noticeably striking. Save a number of small puff-like clouds ranged along the western horizon nothing was visible. Just after five o’clock, however, the lookout reported an island slowly rising off the starboard bow.
Mr. Statten expressed considerable surprise, and immediately ran forward.
By that time the object had become much more distinct, and seemed to be thickly covered with trees from its triangular summit down to the water’s edge. But the most perplexing fact was, that although the barque was not moving faster than three knots an hour, the island approached at four times that rate.
‘I cannot understand how it can be so near,’ the mate said. ‘There is nothing marked on the chart within forty miles of us.’
‘And five minutes ago, sir, there wasn’t the least trace of it,’ a sailor replied.
‘Run aft and call the captain, Jack,’ Mr. Statten said.
‘Island!’ the old man sang out from his room. ‘You and the mate must be asleep and dreaming.’
‘It is quite distinct, and about twelve miles off, sir,’ Jack replied.
The skipper was astonished on perceiving the island, while, to the still greater surprise of all spectators, it suddenly vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared.
‘A mirage!’ the captain laughingly exclaimed. ‘At anyrate, it was the most remarkable I’ve ever seen. All others were inverted on the clouds, but that one looked perfectly natural. At first I believed my reckoning, or the chronometer, was wrong. The longer one lives the more one learns.’
Without further incident the ‘Alert’ arrived at Batavia. There the brig, which had forged far ahead in the light winds, was already discharging her cargo in the roadstead.
The rescued German crew was immediately sent ashore, and some of them went to hospital to have their spear wounds dressed.
The ‘Alert’ immediately prepared to discharge her coals, and during several weeks Jack Clewlin experienced the most arduous toil of his life. From early morning till darkness set in he took his place at the winch, by which the cargo was raised from the hold, or used a shovel down below as stoutly as anyone on board.
‘I like it,’ he said to his old friend. ‘It doesn’t need rocking to put me to sleep at night.’
Captain Thorne and the mates kept watchful eyes on him, but when the work was done, and he was not allowed to visit the capital with any of the men, the disappointed lad became thoroughly disheartened and suspicious. Was the skipper punishing him for having left the barque without permission when she touched at the island in Torres Strait? He failed to perceive any other cause for such apparent neglect, and would have preferred a summary ‘drum-head’ court-martial to thus remaining neglected by those whom he had always endeavoured to serve faithfully. One morning he was called aft.
‘Put up a shirt, collars, and a tooth-brush,’ the skipper said.
‘Am I to put on my best gear, sir,’ Jack inquired.
‘Why, of course,’ the captain said. ‘You’re going ashore.’
In ‘spick-and-span’ trim Jack presently stood beside the gangway; but, truth to say, his brass-buttoned uniform was fast becoming too small for its owner, who had now been nearly twelve months at sea, and was fast filling out in breadth of shoulder and length of limb.
The captain’s ‘clew-to-earing’ glance, as sailors say, proved satisfactory, and tumbling over the side with his small bundle Jack presently found himself passing along a narrow canal, beloved of the Dutch who govern the island.
In the early part of the sixteenth century the Portuguese discovered the country, and some seventy years later it was occupied by the Dutch, after considerable opposition. Later on they were driven out by the French, who, in their turn, surrendered to the English, and the latter finally exchanged the possession with the Hollanders for other islands in those seas.
The Island of Java is six hundred miles long, by from twenty to forty-five miles wide, and is considered the ‘Paradise of the East.’ Batavia, the capital, was built by the Dutch not far from Sunda Strait, which lies between it and the opposite coast of Sumatra.
The climate generally is healthy, if somewhat oppressive for Europeans; but the elevated country of the interior enjoys a cool temperature, and there most of the officials reside. The soil is extraordinarily fertile, and all the fruits and commercial exports indigenous to the Far East are freely raised. The natives are highly intelligent, friendly, and gentle-mannered, but they were not permitted to acquire the Dutch language, and were compelled to sell their produce at fixed rates to their masters. Competition with outsiders was rigorously prohibited. Strangers might procure passports when visiting the country, yet their presence was not sought, nor by any means desired.
Captain Thorne and his young companion presently reached the principal hotel, and there Jack was temporarily left to study the manners and customs of the people.
The houses were not lofty, but that was owing to the fear of sudden collapse, since the whole of Java is peculiarly subject to violent volcanic disturbances. Many Europeans appeared about the town, and their strange and decidedly ‘airy’ attire during the first part of each day much astonished young Jack. The gentlemen strolled about in straw hats, pyjamas, and grass slippers, while the ladies appeared, even in the streets, without stockings, and wearing only a light kind of blouse, with a light dress of native material and simple design.
‘I am glad they are all foreigners,’ Jack mused. ‘I cannot recognise an English face among the crowd.’
At noon the customary ‘rice-table’ was announced, and beside Captain Thorne Jack took his place. Each of the guests was supplied with a large soup-plate containing a quantity of cooked rice. From dishes handed round by servants, portions of fish, fowl, meat, and several kinds of vegetables, were selected and placed on the rice. Over all curry, chutney, and other condiments were poured, the combination being then well mixed and consumed.
To the watchful and imitative youngster such a meal seemed more than sufficient; but when a second course of roast meat, vegetables, and quantities of delicious fruit were washed down by excellent coffee, he concluded that Dutch men and women were blessed with enormous appetites. He was not greatly surprised to find that all of them soon retired to enjoy a nap; but Captain Thorne hastened off to visit his agent.
Jack strolled out to see something of the capital, which stood on low ground, and he found a barrack filled with European troops. The soldiers greeted him cheerily, but not being able to speak their language all efforts to make themselves understood failed. The natives were all of a light-brown complexion, and although small and slight of build their movements were graceful.
At five o’clock that evening Captain Thorne returned to the hotel, and Jack could scarcely believe that the stylishly-dressed people beginning to appear were those whom he had seen in such careless, if comfortable, attire earlier in the day. But such was the fact. All of them were decked out in the latest home fashion, and having finished their coffee they all drove out to enjoy the cool evening breeze, or leave cards on friends.
At nine o’clock dinner was served. At its conclusion Jack believed that his short spell of ‘liberty’ had ended.
‘Fetch your gear, Clewlin,’ the old man said. ‘Bear a hand.’
On returning to the vestibule he found a Java car and three ponies standing before the door.
‘Come here, boy,’ the skipper exclaimed, and then, turning toward a friend, added, ‘This is the lad I spoke of, Sergeant. Do you see any resemblance?’
The gentleman thus addressed took Jack’s hand, and by the strong light from the hotel peered in his face.
‘Yes, very considerable,’ he replied. ‘I am glad to make your acquaintance, Jack,’ he continued. ‘Of course, you do not know me. Well, my son, years ago I sailed in a barque as her supercargo, and your father was her first mate. I only escaped drowning by the merest accident. I left her the voyage before she was lost in the China Sea.’
‘Was that the “Isabella,” sir?’ Jack inquired.
‘Yes,’ replied Mr. Sergeant, who was the barque’s agent. ‘Did your father tell you about it?’
‘No, sir; but there is a man on the “Alert” whom he saved at that time.’
‘Indeed! What is his name?’
‘Readyman. He told me all about the wreck.’
‘And that is why you two have always been such friends,’ Captain Thorne laughed. ‘He is a good and steady man.’
‘Well, Jack,’ Mr. Sergeant continued, ‘I am taking the captain and you for a drive up-country. If you don’t enjoy it, do not put the blame on me. All aboard!’
They were soon seated in the car. Mr. Sergeant took the reins, and away at top speed went the ponies, each apparently bent on having ‘a good time,’ as their master said, and thoroughly enjoying the beautiful cool breeze. That drive was long remembered by the youngest of the party. The night and the breeze were delightful. Numberless stars twinkled brilliantly, the outlook was wonderfully clear, and the lights of Batavia soon disappeared.
For a while the flat and dusty road proved somewhat monotonous. Gradually, however, they began to ascend to higher levels, and the flat and unhealthy neighbourhood of Batavia loomed dimly far below them, till wholly obscured in the night gloom. The country soon became more thickly timbered, and trees lined the well-kept road for considerable distances. Myriads of fire-flies flitted about the foliage, and with the accurate knowledge of the highway possessed by the driver, rapid progress was made. Here and there Mr. Sergeant pointed out the residences of certain wealthy Dutch planters, and he also supplied the strangely-sounding names of villages passed through.
Shortly after two o’clock next morning he pulled up before a house owned by a cheery-faced but exceedingly rotund little Dutchman, and by him the party was most kindly welcomed.
They had evidently been expected. Light refreshment was served, and almost asleep Jack Clewlin finally tumbled into a home-like bed, and remembered no more of his first night drive in Java.
Shortly after six o’clock he was aroused. In the bathroom, which was really a screened-off portion of an open scullery, he found a small basin of water and a large wooden spoon awaiting his convenience. Such a primitive arrangement provoked a laugh, but the ‘sprinkle’ was nevertheless enjoyed, and he speedily joined his friends. He felt prodigiously hungry, but presently discovered that nothing like a solid English breakfast was forthcoming, and that only a cup of coffee with some fruit was served. As a matter of fact, the European residents never partook of any real meal before the usual twelve o’clock ‘rice-table.’
With their host the gentlemen visited his sugarcane and coffee plantations, and there found numbers of native men and women engaged in light work.
The ponies being again ready for the road Mr. Sergeant took leave of his Dutch friend, and during the drive he thoughtfully supplied both Captain Thorne and young Jack with biscuits and lemonade. ‘You are not accustomed to our meal hours,’ he said.
Just before noon they again halted at a neat little inn kept by a native, and there the ‘rice-table’ was again discussed. The ponies were there exchanged for others, and during the afternoon much ground was covered.
Ever since leaving Batavia they had been gradually ascending and getting deeper into the real country. Immense peaks began to rise round them, and pointing in a certain direction Mr. Sergeant explained that not very far distant the finest botanical garden in the world was situated.
‘It is at a place called Buitenzorg,’ he said, ‘and the governor-general resides there. The Dutchmen almost worship the spot, and I really do not blame them. Although it is only eight hundred feet above sea level, the climate is cool and healthy. Botanists from all parts of the world visit the gardens, where you may see candles, and even bread, growing in profusion.’
‘And perhaps clothes?’ Captain Thorne laughingly added.
‘Yes; in the same sense that yours grew on sheep,’ Mr. Sergeant replied. ‘The tappa cloth of the Pacific islanders is made from the inner bark and fine fibres of certain palms, so I may truly say that clothes grow there also. There is a famous avenue of trees there, and thousands of blossoms growing on the trunks instead of on the branches of different trees. I greatly wish we could have gone there this trip. At anyrate, Jack, I shall endeavour to show you something quite as interesting, and assuredly far more ancient.’
That afternoon they reached a certain spot from which a magnificent view was obtainable, and the ponies were brought to a stand. Some thirty miles away, in a southerly direction, the placid and sparkling Java Sea lay spread out below them, small blue clouds here and there dotting the horizon and denoting islands, while toward the south-east mountains rose twelve and thirteen thousand feet. From two of them Jack perceived faint traces of smoke rising.
‘Volcanoes, sir!’ he cried.
‘Yes,’ Mr. Sergeant replied, ‘and there are many of them throughout the island. I know of four which stand round an immense desert of sand, itself the bottom of an extinct crater, and others near Soerabaya are always active. Eighty years ago one named Papandajan suddenly became active, one side of it was blown out, and four thousand people were instantly destroyed. Thirty years later the island of Sombava, three hundred miles off, was almost obliterated by an earthquake, and only after a violent volcanic eruption did the fearful disturbance cease, and many thousands of natives lost their lives then; the shock was severely felt for one thousand miles round, and vast quantities of lava dust fell on this island. Indeed, although everything looks peaceful now, no one knows when a similar outburst may happen.’
As a matter of fact, scarcely twenty years later the Sunda Strait was entirely altered by earthquake, and a volcanic eruption destroyed the island of Krakatoa. Java itself was also severely smitten, and some thirty thousand people killed; while even in England, thousands of miles away, the magnificent sunsets visible about that time were accounted for by the impalpable lava dust held in suspension and slowly spreading all over the world.
Jack listened to the story, and that night saw flames issuing from the two craters, and immediately determined to send his father a long account of his most interesting adventures, and also described how kind Captain Thorne and Mr. Sergeant had been.
After several days of most interesting experiences the party arrived at the end of their outward journey, and at a village of some size found suitable accommodation.
Next morning they again set out for a short drive, and presently reached a plain of considerable extent, where, almost in its centre, Jack Clewlin beheld a most wonderful spectacle.
Before him, and in terrace after terrace of pinnacles, spires, and domes, there rose to a height of about one hundred and fifty feet a most extraordinary combination of temples, shrines, and bas-reliefs of the life and manners of people long dead and forgotten, but who, in their eagerness to perpetuate their religion, had executed this marvellous work in honour of their heathen deity, Buddha.
‘What do you think of it, captain?’ Mr. Sergeant inquired.
‘Think!’ the old man exclaimed; ‘why, it is simply astonishing. I have heard of it, but thought it was quite a small affair. It must be four or five miles round.’
‘It is three miles in circumference. I have spent weeks at a time in examining its marvellous wonders, one of the most magnificent creations in the world. It covers nine acres; the great central dome which you see rising over all is fifty feet in diameter. There are no less than four hundred and forty-one images of Buddha, nearly all of them being seated within separate shrines of beautiful stone lattice work, and over fifteen hundred bas-relief pictures representing the life and manners of that distant period.’
‘When was it done?’ the captain inquired.
‘The actual date is not known,’ Mr. Sergeant replied; ‘but from the most reliable sources it appears to have been executed somewhere about the eighth or ninth century of the Christian era.’
‘More than a thousand years ago,’ the skipper said. ‘It is indeed a wonderful piece of work, and must have employed vast numbers of people.’
‘And yet not many visitors come to see it,’ Mr. Sergeant added. ‘Of course, that is wholly owing to the Dutch dislike of having strangers roaming about, and writing of what they have seen or heard.’
For nearly three days the party remained on the spot, closely examining the ancient Buddhist temples of Boro Boedoer, all three of them being fascinated by the extraordinary monument of bygone times, and, indeed, Mr. Sergeant could with difficulty bring himself to leave the neighbourhood.
‘As I have told you,’ he said, ‘I have spent much leisure time here, and each visit finds something fresh to attract attention. There is something strange and mysterious about it all, and beside that I am a bit of an archæologist.’
With much regret Jack Clewlin packed his spare gear, and with the ponies homeward-bound soon left all trace of the temples far behind.
Considerable progress was made. At the old halting-places the animals were changed, and without further incident Mr. Sergeant and his guests arrived at Batavia, a memorable excursion of slightly over three weeks’ duration thus coming to a close.
‘I do not know how to thank you sufficiently, sir,’ Jack exclaimed, as his host took final leave of him; ‘but I never enjoyed anything so splendid.’
‘You are heartily welcome, my boy,’ Mr. Sergeant replied. ‘I only wish the trip could have been prolonged, but business is business, you understand, and I expect that your sailing orders have by this time arrived. When you see your father, mention me. Years ago, Jack, he did me a great service that can never be forgotten, and I should be only too pleased to see you again, whenever you visit these parts.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ Jack replied.
‘Just one word more before we part,’ Mr. Sergeant continued. ‘Wherever you go, and whatever you undertake, be careful to act with straightforward zeal on behalf of those you serve. Never hurt any man, and never forget to hold strong control over yourself, since that will give strength to command others. You are young now, and may at times be tempted by less honourable associates. Shun them as you would avoid poison, since once you lose your own self-respect you are sure to fail. Good-bye, Jack; fear God always, and keep your honour safe. Don’t forget my respects to your father.’
‘No, sir,’ Jack replied. ‘And I shall endeavour to act up to your advice.’
Mr. Statten was particularly pleased to find the lad once again on board, and prepared for duty, while the chief officer gave him a smile on crossing the gangway. As for Readyman, he immediately made inquiry as to how Jack had enjoyed his long ‘liberty’ on shore.
‘Oh, man, I have seen such wonderful things!’ Jack exclaimed; ‘flies that sail round of nights with lights to guide them, not red and green ones like ours, but white. I saw smoking——’
‘Dutchies!’ Readyman exclaimed. ‘They do that all day, and most of the night, I believe.’
‘Volcanoes,’ Jack continued. ‘And those fellows ashore eat more at one meal than would serve the starboard side of our fo’c’s’le for one whole day. Mr. Sergeant—— By the way, Readyman, he said he knew you, and was supercargo of the “Isabella.”‘
‘Ay, ay, sonny, I mind him well. He and your dad were always very thick; and he only escaped drowning by the skin of his teeth, as we say.’
‘Well, it was he who gave us that splendid outing, and I shall never forget those temples. You should have seen them, Readyman. Mr. Sergeant said they are more than a thousand years old.’
‘I’m glad you’ve had such a good time, my son, and can now stick your toes into the work aboard,’ the quarter-master replied.
When Captain Thorne returned on board that night the news soon spread fore and aft that orders to proceed to Singapore had been received, and that the ‘Alert’ would probably sail from there either to Calcutta or Hong Kong.
First thing next morning Mr. Sennit, the chief officer, came along singing out, ‘All hands bend sails!’ and throughout that day the work went with a swing.
As for Jack Clewlin, he had already become so accustomed to the task that both royals were secured to their yards in record time, and from them he slid down to the topgallant and lower yards, reeving bunt lines and reef-tackles, and, in short, striving to show how thankful he was for that magnificent spell ashore. After that work was completed the anchor gear, cat and fish falls were rove.
To the surprise of all hands, the lately landed Germans came off begging a passage to Singapore, since their skipper had gone home, and no employment could be obtained among the few ships in the roadstead.
Captain Thorne considered the matter, and finally granted their request, and that kindness subsequently proved of the utmost importance to everyone on board.
The boat being hoisted in and secured in its davits, all hands manned the windlass, and to the cheery chanty:
‘As I went awalking one morning in May,
I met a fair maiden, and to her did say,
We are bound to the Rio Grande.
Away rio, ho, rio.
Sing fare you well,
My bonnie young girls,
We are bound to the Rio Grande.’
Up and down went the levers, and the pawls clicked cheerily till the cable was hove short. Every stitch of canvas fore and aft was sheeted home and mastheaded, and with the tripping of the anchor the ‘Alert’ canted her head seaward, and careening to the breeze in ballast trim speedily left Batavia far astern.
With a light five-knot wind she proceeded northward through the Java Sea, and for a few days all went well.
Immediately after she had passed through Billiton Passage, which separates the island of that name from the southern coast of Borneo, the hitherto magnificent weather underwent a considerable change, the outlook presaging an approaching gale, and the barometer fell with steady persistency.
‘We’re in for a sharp blow, Master Jack,’ Readyman observed. ‘It will be short, but lively, as usual in these seas, and you will face the first really stiff breeze since leaving home.’
‘Well, I’ve had a long run of luck in that way,’ Jack replied, ‘and would have preferred more sea room. Mr. Statten let me see his chart, and we seem to be surrounded by small islands.’
‘She’ll be all right, my son; but I’d get my oilskins on as soon as possible,’ Readyman advised.
Throughout the afternoon the wind steadily strengthened, and the barque, close-hauled, lay down to it pretty freely, while both royals and the flying jib and gaff-topsail were stowed.
With approaching night the weather stiffened considerably; rain fell heavily, and at eight bells, eight o’clock, the two topgallant-sails were furled, while the outer jib came in on its boom. As by that time the wind had increased to gale force, with every indication of ‘dirtier’ weather to follow, out went the order, ‘All hands reef topsails!’
The mainsail was hauled up, and all the reef-tackles were hauled out. From Mr. Statten a couple of men received the reef-earings, or lengths of light rope by which the head corners, or ‘cringles,’ as they are termed, of the sails are fastened to the yards, and away aloft through stinging rain and whistling wind the men hastened to execute the orders.
Mindful of Readyman’s former advice to ‘be always on the spot when needed,’ Jack Clewlin worked his way out to the weather yardarm, and, securing good foothold, assisted in reefing the canvas. Yet he soon discovered that all his work was cut out to keep pace with the nimble movements of his stronger and more experienced companion, since, of course, the men nearer the mast had to wait until the work outside was done.
That being completed, down wind went the cry, ‘Haul out to lee’ard!’
The men passed the ‘news’ along. Mr. Statten at the mast shouted, ‘Taut band! Tie up!’ And having fastened the reef-points, all hands slid to the deck, seized the topsail halyards, and to the lively chanty:
‘Up aloft that yard must go,
the main topsail was reset ‘taut leach,’ while the fore topsail was also reefed, and the mainsail was stowed.
‘That will do, starboard watch,’ the old man, who never left the deck during that night, sang out, and, glad of a respite, Jack turned in.
But half his watch below had been spent on the yards, and on resuming duty the foresail had to be reefed; but the inner jib and the spanker had been stowed and reefed.
The gale showed no sign of abatement, nor the barometer any inclination to rise, while the barque, owing to her height above water, drifted to leeward somewhat faster than was deemed safe in such confined seas. She was, therefore, ‘wore round’ on the port tack.
Dawn was breaking just as the port watch went below, but the heavy rain and flying spume cut from the wave-tops by the wind, rendered it impossible to see any distance.
For a couple of hours nothing of moment occurred. Shortly after seven o’clock that morning, and during a sudden ‘lifting’ of the surrounding gloom, the lookout reported the loom of land right ahead.
Captain Thorne dropped his coffee-cup and rushed on deck, just in time to perceive the danger, and without a moment’s hesitation he ordered the helm to be eased.
‘I knew it was not far off,’ he said; ‘but we have drifted faster than I had allowed for. That may be due to a tide or a current. We can’t knock about here in such weather, and will find shelter until the gale passes.’
He sent a hand with the lead-line into the main chains.
Under her easy canvas the ‘Alert’ forged ahead. The island, which seemed uninhabited and thickly covered with timber, soon became quite distinct, and well sheltered from the wind under its lee the barque dropped her anchor in four fathoms.
All the canvas, excepting the fore topmast staysail and the spanker, which helped to keep the vessel quiet at her cable, was stowed, but even from aloft no sign of habitation could be seen.
Toward noon that day the barometer rose rapidly, and within a few hours the gale had passed as quickly as it arose, and the water under the lee shore became as smooth as if nothing had occurred. By four o’clock there was such a calm that the ‘Alert’ could not leave her anchorage.
Captain Thorne felt a little anxious, yet he determined to visit the island, and discover if it was really unoccupied.
‘There won’t be any wind before to-morrow morning,’ he observed to Mr. Statten; ‘and if you get a boat ready we’ll go ashore.’
That was soon done, and Jack Clewlin took the bow oar.
They presently passed a low point, and on its farther side discovered a narrow creek that seemed to run some distance inland.
‘We’ll follow it up,’ the captain said. ‘At the same time, men,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘keep your eyes wide open, so as not to fall into any trap. Although the Dutch own most of the land hereabouts, their Malay subjects are the most notorious pirates on earth.’
‘Ay, ay, sir,’ the crew returned.
The creek narrowed down to no more than a couple of fathoms across, and seemed to terminate in dense foliage. But on reaching that the men could perceive a large lake-like stretch of water beyond. There was no difficulty in pushing the boat through the leafy screen. Then, taking to the oars, the men pulled ahead, until a native village of some size suddenly appeared.
The houses were erected on platforms several feet over the water, and those on shore were similarly built. People moved about the beach, women being apparently the chief workers, and for some seconds the boat remained unseen.
‘Backwater all,’ the captain whispered. ‘We’ve struck a hornets’ nest, and haven’t even a revolver handy.’
The next moment, however, much shouting ashore announced the discovery of the intruders, and many dusky figures hastened to the water’s edge.
The captain, believing that a hasty retreat might arouse the suspicions or the contempt of the natives, ordered a stoppage. As long as no canoes came alongside, the people might suppose the visitors were armed.
Most of the islanders were nearly naked. Some of them, however, wore shirts, and others tight-fitting pantaloons, while one of apparent importance was dressed in loose dirty-looking Eastern robes. He stood apart, and beckoned to the captain to approach, and also hailed him in the Dutch language, which, of course, no one in the boat understood.
Captain Thorne, standing erect in the stern sheets, signified his ignorance of that tongue, whereupon the stranger, much to the astonishment of his hearers, inquired in fairly intelligible English if the visitors were British born.
‘Yes,’ the old man replied. ‘I hope we have not given offence. We thought the island was uninhabited, and are seeking for fresh water.’
‘Where you shippee?’ was the next query.
‘At anchor outside.’
‘Me savvee plenty. S’pose you come ‘shore. Me likee Englishman, but Dutchman no good. He plenty shoot bibbee, women, an’ leedle boy an’ girl. You come ‘shore.’
‘Ah,’ the skipper suavely returned, ‘I no likee stop long from my ship. You see, sun him nearly go sleep now, an’ me no find way back. S’pose you come with me, I give plenty biskit and chop-chop, all same Singapore.’
Much to his surprise the invitation was promptly accepted. The boat’s nose touched the beach, and without the slightest sign of hesitation or suspicion the Malay took a seat in the stern.
Captain Thorne was quite aware that he and his companions were completely at the mercy of the people, who looked a thoroughly unprincipled crowd, and to whose ferocity many a defenceless and unsuspecting crew may have owed their destruction. He was not long left in doubt respecting the character of those among whom he had fallen. Before the boat had again got under way many canoes, as if by magic, had been dragged from their places among the adjacent scrub, and only the sharp, resounding voice of their leader prevented the crews from making short work of their victims.
‘You no ‘fraid of them,’ the Malay exclaimed. ‘Me all same big man next to the chief. Me likee you, an’ go Singapore. S’pose dem feller no go ‘shore, me kill them. Savvee?’ He sang out again, and the whole fleet of canoes disappeared.
On reaching the overhanging screen of foliage, a clear passage for the boat was kept by many canoes, and on clearing it others were seen to be paddling out toward the ‘Alert.’
In the most natural manner Captain Thorne laughed and chatted with his guest, a dark-skinned, low-browed, keen-eyed, and active Malay of about thirty years.
He also readily answered every question respecting the size of the barque, her armament, and the strength of the crew.
The stranger appeared satisfied, and the skipper, having duly impressed on his hearer the fighting capabilities of the ‘Alert,’ felt almost confident that he would yet emerge unscathed from what seemed a somewhat awkward position.
Escape unharmed he did, and in a most extraordinary and praiseworthy manner.
IN A PIRATE’S STRONGHOLD
On reaching the barque the Malay promptly sprang up the rope ladder which Mr. Sennit had ordered to be lowered, but on reaching the gangway he drew back quickly, as if fearing treachery.
‘What’s the matter?’ the captain inquired.
‘You men no shoot?’ the other nervously exclaimed.
‘Shoot? certainly not. Go ahead, man; there is nothing to fear.’
The Malay thus assured stepped on deck, and peered inquiringly at the mate.
On reaching them Captain Thorne immediately perceived the cause of alarm, and with difficulty repressed his satisfaction of Mr. Sennit’s measures to prevent attack, and impress his dusky-hued visitor.
The whole crew, with the Germans working their passage to Singapore, were ranged across the deck. All the men were armed with muskets, old cutlasses, and several long spears, captured on the island in Torres Strait. In close order they stood at the ‘ready,’ each man awaiting the order to fire on the canoes approaching, and keenly watching their movements.
Such a spectacle visibly affected the Malay, especially as he also perceived that a formidable-looking brass-mounted eight-pounder gun stood at each side of the cabin, which could sweep the deck of every opponent. They were, however, only put there for show, since being very old they dared not be discharged. ‘Ho, ho!’ the visitor exclaimed, and grinned till his red-stained teeth appeared. ‘You plenty men an’ gun, cappee. Me likee go Singapore ‘long of you.’
‘All right,’ the skipper laughingly returned; but he had no idea that his guest meant what was said.
The sharp eyes of the Malay seemed to take in everything at a glance. He made no attempt to break through the ‘guard of honour’ ranged across the deck, and followed the captain to the saloon. He remained to tea, and became greatly interested in his host.
The latter laughed and chatted in the most friendly manner, as though nothing unusual was passing, and of the scores of natives already on the deck he took not the slightest notice.
‘S’pose you come ‘shore to-mollow morning,’ the visitor said at parting; ‘me show big chief. Him likee Engleeshman.’
The captain agreed to do so, and with all his men the Malay returned home.
‘We must be obliging, Sennit,’ the skipper observed. ‘Should a breeze come, we’ll clear out. If not, I’ll show we are not afraid.’
‘Better remain on board,’ the mate advised. ‘You may go just a step too far in trusting them, and the result might be fatal.’
‘That fellow seemed friendly enough,’ the old man replied. ‘At anyrate, while this calm lasts we’re more or less at their mercy, and that is what I do not wish them to know.’
A double watch was set, and the night passed quietly, save for the unceasing noise of bull-frogs and countless insects ashore.
Bright and early next morning the captain came on deck, and as the calm still hung over the island he made preparations for visiting it.
‘Clewlin,’ he exclaimed, ‘after breakfast, put on all your best gear, and come ashore with me. Never before did I see the use of a brass-bound suit, but I now believe that with you in one, the rascals will think the barque a man-o’-war.’
The boat was soon ready, but cleared of everything likely to be stolen, and even the brass rowlocks were replaced by ‘grummits,’ or rings of rope spliced through the holes on the gunwales.
Before starting, the skipper put a loaded revolver in an inner pocket, gave another to Mr. Statten, and borrowing the mate’s put it in the hands of Readyman, the coxswain.
‘Take particular care that they are only used in self-defence, and not even shown as a threat to anyone,’ he advised. ‘Our last night visitor came here entirely unarmed, and I shall not be outdone by any nigger in that way. Be firm, but friendly, my lads,’ he added, ‘and mind that all show a bold front to any hostile demonstration. In that way we shall probably overawe them. Should any of you prefer to remain on the barque, now’s your chance.’
‘We ain’t agoing to desert you, sir,’ Readyman replied.
‘No fear,’ the others added.
So the boat pushed off, and soon reached the screening trees that hid the larger stretch of water beyond. The place was as deserted as though no one lived within miles of it. Immediately after passing through, a flagstaff with British ensign was set up in the bow, and with the grand old red emblem flying gaily overhead the boat was steered toward the village.
On seeing it, scores of almost nude men rushed into the water, and seizing the gunwales, despite the strong dissent of the captain, would have dragged them all up the beach, had not the headman fortunately appeared, and by the liberal use of a short-handled whip speedily restored order.
‘You no likee boat pull up?’ he inquired.
‘She would be better afloat,’ the captain said, since, of course, he saw that with her in their possession all hope of retreat would be cut off, should anything unpleasant arise.
With Readyman in charge she was anchored about six fathoms from the beach, the flag still waving over her, while the gallant captain, with Jack Clewlin stationed between him and Mr. Statten, set out with the Malay to visit the chief of the island.
‘My name all same Kalli Lal,’ the guide explained.
He and the skipper exchanged cigars, while in Indian file the little party soon entered a narrow and tortuous path cut through the adjacent bush, till quite unexpectedly they came to a large clearance and immediately opposite a dwelling of considerable size, erected on upright posts six feet above the ground.
A flight of somewhat rickety-looking steps led to the front door. At their head a swarthy-hued, fierce-eyed, yet intelligent man of about thirty years, was seated in an arm-chair of undoubted European manufacture, and he smoked a long native cheroot. Of medium height and active figure, the stranger watched the approach of the visitors, but, unlike Kalli Lal, he was attired in ordinary English style and wore a small black moustache.
‘Him all same big chief,’ the guide whispered.
Captain Thorne stepped forward and raised his hat. The compliment was immediately returned, while removing his cigar, and in very fair English the head of the island welcomed the visitors. Never for one moment, however, did his penetrating, hawk-like glance wander from those who had so boldly entered the ever-dangerous presence of the piratical chief. Yet, in spite of all his apparent desire to strike terror into the hearts of the white men, the haughty glance was as fiercely returned, since well they knew that the slightest sign of nervousness might cost all their lives.
On reaching the foot of the stairs two objects of interest immediately attracted attention, and went far to prove, if, indeed, proof were needed, the manner of life followed by these people. On the right hand stood the full length figure of a woman carved in wood, the loosely flowing garments seeming to be stirred by the wind, while one arm was outstretched, the whole still showing faint traces of white paint; and beneath the bared right foot was plainly discernible the words ‘Olive Branch,’ also in carved letters.
The figure on the left hand represented a male-clad warrior of olden times; a sunken cross, two inches wide, being cut on the breast, and below the word ‘Crusader’ appeared. Where were the vessels from which those mute figure-heads had been removed, or what fate had overtaken their crews?
Perhaps in the dead of night, and while helplessly becalmed near this very island, the unsuspecting and ill-fated men had been surprised and slaughtered, and the ships and their cargoes might be hidden away in some creek adjacent to the chief’s ‘palace.’
Captain Thorne failed to recall any missing vessels of recent times named as those here represented had been, while from the weather-beaten, and in some places rotting, appearance of the figures he concluded that they must have been placed in position many years previously, and that this fierce-eyed and somewhat treacherous-looking chief had had no hand in the murders.
Accompanied by Kalli Lal the visitors ascended the stairs, and on entering the ‘palace’ suddenly faced a double line of immovable figures, apparently acting as a ‘guard of honour,’ the smooth velvet-like brown bodies being nude to the waist. Each wore in a bright-coloured sash several dangerous-looking long knives, and also gripped between his teeth a similar weapon with twisted blade.
Such a formidable array was calculated to impress and probably test the nerves of the spectators; yet, so far as Captain Thorne was concerned, the design signally failed. Without hesitation he followed the chief down the lines, and in passing saluted them in the most correct and dignified manner.
For one moment Jack Clewlin caught the searching glance of Kalli Lal fixed on his protectors, and he thought that an approving smile crossed the Malay’s lips; but the next moment a bamboo screen of native make was drawn aside, and the party entered a chamber of considerable dimensions, and almost wholly furnished after the European manner.
Several oil paintings, chiefly seascapes, hung on the walls, a couple of Oriental couches appeared in the centre of the room, but the remainder of the settees, chairs, and even a handsome round walnut table, were of undoubted British manufacture.
With considerable grace the chief waved his guests to their respective seats, and, motioning toward a dusky-hued servant, quantities of bananas, mangoes, pineapples, and other kinds of fruit were immediately placed on the table.
All hands partook of the fruit, excellent coffee was served in cups and saucers of English design and work, after which a quantity of cheroots were distributed all round, and Captain Thorne excused his young ‘midshipman’ from participation in the soothing weed.
‘You see,’ he explained to the chief, ‘we do not wish our young gentlemen to indulge in tobacco before they are fully grown, and my boy has never smoked a cigar.’
The chief nodded assent, and seemed satisfied.
‘By the way,’ the old man added, ‘do not let me forget to thank you for the honour accorded just now. It was quite unexpected, but meant, I suppose, as a return for the compliment offered by my first lieutenant.’
‘We are always pleased to see Englishmen and their vessels here,’ the chief replied.
‘I am certain of that,’ the other significantly returned. ‘You speak excellent English.’
‘Well,’ the Malay replied, ‘I have always endeavoured to do so. When only eight years old I was sent to Singapore to be educated, and there received what knowledge I possess. I like the English, but hate all Dutchmen, since they not alone shoot down our men, but the women and children too. You seem to have been somewhat interested in those figure-heads outside. Well, of the ships to which they belonged I know nothing, and my father, who was but twenty-four years old when killed while tiger-hunting on the main coast, knew little of their history. I think it was my grandfather who seized them, in mistake for Dutch vessels, and the figures have been there ever since I can remember anything.’
Captain Thorne made no further inquiries on that point, but for some minutes conversation seemed to flag. To avert such an awkward contingency, and at the same time display entire ease amidst the peculiar surroundings, he promptly related some highly amusing incidents experienced during his seafaring career, and aroused such hilarity amongst both white and coloured companions that all reserve was abandoned, and a most pleasant time ensued.
Indeed, it was not long before his rapidly moving mind devised another means of diversion, since suddenly wheeling on his chair he faced the youngest member of the party.
‘Clewlin,’ he exclaimed, ‘Sennit told me that he heard you singing very nicely that night you turned him out twenty minutes before his time. Now then, stand up and give us a good song, and a still better chorus.’
Jack’s face flushed crimson, and he looked somewhat abashed.
‘Steady, my lad,’ the old man thoughtfully observed. ‘You remember what I told you this morning. Be not afraid. These gentlemen say they like Englishmen, and will also like a good British song. Is not that so, chief?’
‘Yes,’ came the prompt reply; ‘I would wish to hear him sing.’
Whereupon Jack pulled himself together for the strange effort, and there, in the very midst of a piratical stronghold, gave in clear, rising tones the immortal ‘Death of Nelson.’
At first the natives expressed no particular emotion, but when the words—
‘Along the lines the signal ran,
England expects that every man
This day will do his duty,’
were taken up handsomely in the deep bass of the skipper and the really fine baritone of Mr. Statten, it seemed as though the roof of the apartment would be carried away, while the astounded Malays sat open-mouthed from sheer surprise and pleasure.
Thus gallantly supported Jack rose to the occasion, never before had he put such strength and desire to please into any vocal rendering, and line after line was given with such accuracy and fire that the chorus attracted hundreds of silent listeners to the spot. When the song at length died away Captain Thorne sprang from his chair, seized Jack’s hand, and gave utterance to the most vociferous, ‘Hip, hip, hurrah!’ ever heard on that densely-timbered island.
It was indeed a sufficiently memorable incident, and certainly greatly impressed the audience, since, surely, visitors such as these must be strongly backed up by much powder and guns thus to act in face of contemplated attack!
After more coffee was served the entire party proceeded to inspect the ‘fields,’ where women and girls were busily employed attending to different crops, and all hailed the chief with respect.
About five o’clock that afternoon the captain expressed a desire to return to his vessel; and, accompanied by the chief, the three visitors found the boat quite unmolested. The entire community had assembled on shore to discuss the meaning of the wonderful outburst of singing lately enjoyed.
As the old man took his seat in the stern-sheets, Kalli Lal reminded him of the offer made to give him a passage to Singapore.
‘S’pose you want good pilot, cappee,’ he said. ‘Me takee you quick Singapore.’
‘Are you ready?’ the skipper inquired; for, although he did not want to be burdened with more hands, he knew that by passing through a certain narrow channel the voyage might be materially shortened.
Kalli Lal hastened to complete his arrangements, and it was decided that while the boat returned to the barque the chief should follow in his own vessel.
The ‘Alert’ was soon reached, and some twenty minutes later a beautiful spectacle was witnessed.
‘Well,’ Readyman exclaimed, in unfeigned delight, ‘I never saw her equal. Ain’t she a beauty, Master Jack?’
‘Indeed she is,’ Jack replied.
‘Look at the handsome lines and the sheer,’ the quarter-master added. ‘There isn’t a yacht afloat could come near her in the matter of sailing.’
‘We saw nothing of her while ashore,’ Jack replied.
The cause of their outspoken admiration was a long, low freeboard vessel of about thirty tons measurement, the polished sides gleaming in the level rays of the setting sun, while curling foam spread wide from the sharp cut-water.
Along each side about twenty brown-skinned men propelled her rapidly toward the barque; their diamond-shaped paddles glittered like silver as they rose and fell to the beat of tom-tom and a monotonous drone of voices.
In the centre the chief and Kalli Lal sat beneath a silken canopy, and were duly received by the ‘guard of honour’ drawn up for their reception across the quarter-deck of the ‘Alert.’
As the chief stepped on board he turned towards his host.
‘Are your men good shots?’ he inquired.
‘Walker,’ the old man exclaimed, ‘face for’a’d, and hit the shark’s fin nailed on the jib-boom end.’
The man thus addressed, the best marksman on board, immediately obeyed, and sent the fin flying from its place.
‘They’re all mostly like that,’ Captain Thorne observed to his companion. ‘I’d back them to beat five times their number.’
While the guests were being entertained in the cabin, quantities of fruit, yams, sweet potatoes, a small bag of coffee, and a few other gifts were passed from the ‘State-Barge’ to the ‘Alert.’ In return, two bags of ship biscuit, several pots of jam, some tins of preserved vegetables and milk were given by the skipper, three old muskets and some powder were also presented to the chief.
As by that time the sun had set, and a nice evening breeze set in, Kalli Lal took leave of his master, and with all his retainers the latter returned ashore.
All plain sail was promptly set on the barque. The hands mustered at the windlass, and to the chanty chorus:
‘Blow, boys, blow, for California row,
There’s plenty of gold in the land, I’m told,
On the banks of Sacramento,’
the anchor was cat-headed and ‘fished.’
To a good five-knot wind the barque presently swung away from the densely-wooded island whereon Captain Thorne and his companions had experienced such stirring and strange adventures. The ‘Alert’ soon cleared its western end, and in the swiftly-deepening night gloom presently lost all trace of it.
Kalli Lal made himself perfectly comfortable on board, and also proved an excellent pilot, since with accurate knowledge of every adjacent island he took the vessel safely through a channel in which no other British ship had, perhaps, ever floated, and after a splendid run brought her to anchor near Singapore.
THROUGH THE CHINA SEA
Jack Clewlin now found himself in one of the busiest ports of the world, where the ships from the Far East and the Far West met in commercial rivalry, and he was delighted to perceive British colours flying above the Government buildings ashore. Yet the sight of the flag immediately aroused an intense longing, such as hitherto had not been experienced, to return to Stonewell, if only for a few hours, and the desire proved almost overwhelming, for he knew that the barque had now reached a British possession, from which England might be reached within a few weeks. The eight or nine thousand miles seemed insignificant when compared with the countless leagues of ocean traversed by the ‘Silver Crown’ and the ‘Alert.’
‘Ay,’ he mused, ‘and if I put the clock back by a few hours I can tell exactly what dear dad and my old school chums are doing. They seem very close now.’
During such reflections, however, he suddenly became aware that ‘a floating chemist’s shop,’ as he put it, was close aboard, and on passing forward he met Readyman.
‘Regular surgery smell, Master Jack,’ the quarter-master said.
‘It’s camphor,’ Jack replied; ‘where does it come from?’
‘That big Chinese junk, just anchored ahead of us,’ Readyman replied. ‘It’s almost enough to knock you down, but very good for the head and lungs, I’m told.’
‘Perhaps that is why all Chinamen are such keen bargainers,’ Jack returned. ‘She must be fairly loaded with it.’
‘I should say so,’ the quarter-master said. ‘But look at the monstrous great stern. That’s enough to send her scooting at ten knots, with the wind dead aft. They’ll never build better craft.’
‘At anyrate,’ Jack added, ‘she is like the ships in which Sir Francis Drake and Captain Hawkins captured many a good Spanish plate ship, long ago. I have read of their adventures, and seen pictures of the vessels.’
The unwieldy-looking junk was indeed vastly different from anything Jack had hitherto seen afloat. The huge wall-like stern, pierced with many windows, rose high above the forecastle-head of the barque, with the big rudder, looking like a semi-submerged dock gate, abaft of all.
Yet many such craft, larger and smaller, lay among British, American, French, Dutch, and Spanish ships in the harbour, since Singapore, which is situated on an island near the end of the Malay Peninsula, and at the western entrance of Malacca Strait, is the great port of call for vessels bound to the Far East, and its exports of coffee, spices, indiarubber, tin, and many other articles of commerce are considerable.
During the afternoon following the arrival of the ‘Alert’ at Singapore, a small outward-bound Dutch steamer passed so close that everyone on board was distinctly visible. Among those assembled on the quarter-deck Jack Clewlin recognised Kalli Lal.
‘He must be going to Batavia,’ the captain said. ‘The rascal does not seem to recognise us. Wave your hand, Clewlin.’
The Malay, however, suddenly disappeared down the cabin stairs without acknowledging the greeting.
‘You may be sure that he’s up to some trick or other,’ the old man observed, ‘and does not wish to be known.’
The steamer headed away for the distant islands across the strait, and the incident was soon forgotten.
A few days later, however, it was recalled with startling vividness, and in a manner little expected.
Having received orders to proceed to Hong Kong, and filled her tanks and boats with fresh water and fruit, the barque set all her canvas; but while the hands—the Germans being sent ashore—were heaving at the windlass, a boat manned by British bluejackets was seen to be rapidly approaching. In the stern an officer waved the quarantine flag, as if to attract attention.
‘I believe they are coming here,’ the captain, who seemed much annoyed by the incident, observed. ‘What can they mean? My vessel is perfectly clean.’
‘Perhaps they mistake us for some other craft,’ the mate said.
‘”Alert,” ahoy!’ the lieutenant sang out. ‘Pawl your windlass. I am coming alongside. Have a line ready.’
Captain Thorne expressed considerable annoyance at the interference; but when the stranger reached the deck the situation immediately assumed sufficiently serious proportions.
‘Veer away on your cable again,’ the officer ordered. ‘Clew up and furl all the canvas. Should you disobey my commands, you will be followed and brought back.’
‘By what authority do you issue them?’ the skipper shortly inquired.
‘By Her Britannic Majesty’s Warrant of Detention,’ was the curt reply, and producing it the lieutenant proceeded to secure it to the mainmast.
‘What is the charge?’ Captain Thorne inquired.
‘Harbouring and assisting Malay pirates, headed by one Kalli Lal,’ the other replied.
‘Kalli Lal!’ the skipper exclaimed; ‘he acted as my pilot. We sheltered under what was believed to be an uninhabited island in Billiton Passage, but found we had sailed into the very midst of a hornets’ nest. To escape with whole skins, I took the fellow on board. Of his followers I know nothing. What have they been doing, sir?’
‘Seized and almost destroyed everyone on board a small Dutch steamer which left here a few days since,’ the lieutenant explained; ‘and but for the opportune arrival of a Dutch gunboat all hands would have been massacred. The skipper says he saw signals pass between you and Kalli Lal when he passed.’
‘I will go with you,’ Captain Thorne replied, ‘and will take my second officer and the apprentice. They can corroborate my statements.’
The barque was re-anchored, all her canvas was stowed, and, leaving Mr. Sennit in charge, the ‘prisoners’ were conveyed to the British wardship then in port. The Dutch consul had also arrived.
After explanations and some discussion the court adjudged the ‘prisoners’ free of blame, but at the same time expressed a hope that greater care in mixing with the natives should be observed.
‘What more could I have done?’ Captain Thorne sharply observed. ‘We were at the mercy of those scoundrels, and thanked our stars when clear of them.’
It appeared that Kalli Lal and his followers had boarded the steamer, which was known to contain considerable specie for Batavia, and when surprised they made desperate resistance, till all were slain.
After this the Dutchmen turned their attention to the island community and its chief. The latter stoutly denied all knowledge of the affair, and being unable to bring any further charges of piracy against him the Dutchmen spared his life, but kept him close prisoner at Batavia.
Thus ended the strange adventure of Jack Clewlin among Malay pirates; yet he was not to quit that part of the world without another, but wholly different, experience of life in Eastern waters.
The moment Captain Thorne returned to his vessel orders to sail were issued. With a fresh but contrary wind the ‘Alert’ got under way, and throughout the remainder of that day beat up through the Malacca Strait for Hong Kong. Toward sundown the wind failed, and within an hour she was scarcely moving, while a small island loomed darkly five miles off the port bow.
From the forecastle-head Mr. Sennit reported the stealthy approach of what looked like two large canoes filled with men. Captain Thorne peered at them through his glasses, and believed that under cover of night the natives intended to attack the vessel, or, at anyrate, to steal whatever they could handle.
‘They don’t seem in much of a hurry, sir,’ the mate said.
‘Of course not,’ the old man replied. ‘They’ll lie off on their paddles till midnight. They can always keep us in sight, and yet remain invisible. Anyhow, we are well-armed, Sennit, and should be able to hold our own.’
All the firearms were loaded with ball cartridges and served out; the old navy cutlasses and the dozen long spears were laid ready for service on the main hatch, while every light, save one small one in the compass binnacle, was put out. Lengths of hose were attached to the head pump, so that in case of assault the foe should be thoroughly drenched, and thus, perhaps, escape worse treatment.
‘I think, sir,’ Mr. Sennit observed, ‘that we might also take the precaution of having the outer chain-plates well greased. Although the barque is high out of the water, those rascals are exceedingly active, and once they get a grip don’t soon let go.’
‘A capital idea,’ the old man replied. ‘There could be no harm in trying the effect, and it may prove advantageous.’
So the men set to work in the dark, smearing the outer iron-work, to prevent the pirates from boarding. All the while the vessel was becoming more and more hopelessly becalmed, and the vigilance was, if possible, redoubled.
The glasses of both captain and officers were in constant use. At every point of observation sentries were set, to announce the first approach of the enemy, and no one thought of going below, much less indulging in a smoke. The hours dragged heavily away, but there was no sign of attack.
‘I expect a silent rush about midnight, Sennit,’ the old man said. ‘They know we are alone, and probably think that a sudden swoop will catch us napping.’
‘And discover the mistake when too late,’ the mate added.
Hour after hour the men, musket on shoulder, paced the deck, a keen lookout to port and starboard being maintained; but nothing of the canoes or their occupants could be perceived.
At last dawn began to show eastward. The adjacent island loomed weirdly above the thick morning mist, lying low on the water. As the light strengthened into good promise of another cloudless day, the lookout on the forecastle-head suddenly reported the two canoes within musket range, slightly off the port bow.
‘Keep out of sight, men,’ the captain whispered, as with Mr. Sennit he hastened forward, and flat on the deck peered through his glasses at the silent enemy.
‘Let us give them a volley,’ the mate whispered.
‘No, no,’ the old man replied. ‘They must be the——’
The remainder of the sentence was never finished. With peculiar deliberation the captain closed his glasses, and sitting bolt upright looked fixedly at his companion.
‘Why, they’re nothing but the trunks of two dead trees!’ he said.
‘With the stump branches looking like men in the gloom last night, sir,’ Mr. Sennit added. ‘I’m sure they might have deceived anyone, and we were much closer than I supposed.’
‘Let the port watch go below,’ the skipper said. ‘You all did your best, and we were ready for anyone. Can’t be too particular hereabouts, anyhow.’
Whereupon all the weapons were returned to their stands in the fore cabin, brooms and hose were brought into use for the usual scrub down; but when the fellows got into the chains to clear away the grease, and beyond earshot of the captain, their remarks respecting that night adventure among Malay ‘pirates’ proved sufficiently amusing.
At anyrate, it was not long before a light breeze stiffened so quickly that the ‘Alert’ sped along in good style, and speedily left Malacca Strait and its numerous islands far astern.
‘Now we’re getting into the seas I have such good cause to remember, Master Jack,’ the quarter-master observed. ‘But for your dad I should certainly have left my bones in them long ago.’
‘I do not want such a terrible experience as that, Readyman,’ Jack replied. ‘Are those typhoons frequent?’
‘Well, sonny,’ the old sailor returned, ‘so far as my experience went they seem to come along several times a year. To be sure, all are not of the same violence. I think the worst are met during July or August; but we may not fall in with them at all. Anyhow, lad, you can never tell when they will come.’
‘But the barometer would show that,’ Jack said.
‘Possibly; but they drive down without much warning.’
A few days later an amusing incident occurred. Early one morning the ‘Alert’ fell in with another barque, named the ‘Speedwell,’ bound for Hong Kong with rice, and presently overhauled her.
During an exchange of signals Mr. Statten noticed a large number of pigeons flying about the stranger, and as Captain Thorne had also purchased a few pairs of similar birds when at Singapore, he directed Jack Clewlin to let them out for a fly, without the least suspicion that such action would entail any unpleasant dispute between himself and his brother skipper.
The birds promptly rose on the wing in splendid manner, and on perceiving their friends to leeward went down there. The laughing stranger expressed his entire satisfaction and full determination to enjoy a first-class pigeon-pie for dinner that day.
‘With pleasure,’ Captain Thorne replied; ‘we shall settle the account at Hong Kong.’
‘Join me at one, sharp,’ the other returned; ‘regret not being able to supply a boat.’
‘Pray don’t mention it,’ was the polite rejoinder; ‘I expect to be in port about that time. We will tell them you’re coming. I am afraid we have lost the birds, Statten,’ he added.
Yet the remark was scarcely uttered, when up from the ‘Speedwell’ rose all her birds, led by the visitors, and having enjoyed a glorious flight through the sun-filled atmosphere, quietly alighted on board the ‘Alert.’
Captain Thorne made no sign. Indeed, throughout the incident he had been ‘luffing up’ all he could to exchange compliments, but on suddenly discovering how the birds had themselves declined to become ‘pie,’ and that they had no intention of returning, he eased his helm, and with respectful dip of ensign left his dismayed brother mariner far astern.
‘He’s signalling, sir,’ Mr. Statten exclaimed.
‘Not another invitation?’ the old man inquired.
The second mate hastily turned over the leaves of the signal-book, and, reading the numbers of the fluttering flags, explained their meaning.
‘I shall have the law of you at Hong Kong.’
Captain Thorne laughed merrily. ‘Invite him to dinner, Statten,’ he said; ‘turn about’s fair play anyhow.’
And thus for the time the incident ended. When the ‘Speedwell’ arrived at her destination, and anchored near her late consort, the irate skipper immediately ran alongside, only, however, to be met by such a formidable array of long spears, old cutlasses, and worn-out brass signal guns, that he determined to defer the visit to a more opportune occasion, and proceeding ashore took out a summons against the delinquent captain for the return of his property.
Meanwhile Jack Clewlin had secured all the new birds, which were speedily returned to their ship, the result being that when called on for his defence Captain Thorne could truthfully affirm that he did not possess a single pigeon other than that purchased in open market.
‘Not got them, sir!’ the angry skipper shouted; ‘I wonder how you can say such words. What has become of them?’
‘Went back to your vessel this morning,’ was the quiet reply. The court roared with laughter.
‘Come and dine with me,’ Captain Thorne observed, as his late accuser passed out of court; and down the street both men proceeded arm-in-arm, each chatting as merrily as though nothing had arisen to occasion temporary misunderstanding.
ON THE COAST OF CHINA
The island of Hong Kong, which was captured by the British in the year 1839, and ceded to them by the Chinese two years later, is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel; and although it is of no great extent it is lofty, with a lookout station on the summit. The town of Victoria, named after Her Majesty the late Queen, lies along the fore-shore, and is, of course, chiefly inhabited by Chinese. Even in Jack Clewlin’s time it was a port of considerable importance, a British governor and regiment being located there; and its import and export trade was large.
The most interesting fact was the large floating population, itself forming a second town, which managed to find a living on the water, entire families of young and old people residing together in small vessels, styled sampans, and many of them rarely enjoyed a holiday ashore.
How they existed was a mystery. The Chinaman is famous for his thrifty habits, and can always find means of securing a living where most other folk would certainly starve.
Among those people a curious custom prevailed. Each evening at sunset gongs were beaten and crackers exploded, to scare away the malignant spirits of the night, and the din thus raised was great.
A few days after the arrival of the ‘Alert’ in the harbour, a rumour that she had been chartered to convey Chinese emigrants to San Francisco spread fore and aft, and aroused much comment.
‘It’s likely to be true enough,’ Readyman observed; ‘but in my opinion, Master Jack, the less we have to do with them the better it will be for all hands.’
‘They would be cleaner than coal, and could walk ashore instead of being winched into barges,’ Jack replied.
‘Well, of course, that’s true,’ the quarter-master returned. ‘But I’ve seen more of them than, perhaps, anyone on board, and I know that with half a chance they will steal the eyes from your head, and you’d never know till you missed them. We’ve seen something of the Malay pirates——’
‘Which do you mean, Readyman?’ Jack naively inquired.
‘Oh, that last lot didn’t count,’ the quarter-master laughingly replied. ‘Jokes aside, my son, the Malay lot put together wouldn’t match one gang out of Canton River. I’ve seen seven of them strung up together for the seizure of a brig and the murder of her entire crew. You couldn’t guess what they did. No, lad, not in a month of Sundays—they lashed the poor fellows to the chain cable, and then let it all run out, so that no one should discover what had been done. Anyhow, our people found it out and choked the rascals.’
‘Where is the Canton River, Readyman?’
‘Why, quite close to us, sonny. Do you see that white-painted Yankee-built steamboat moored alongside the wharf yonder? she makes the return trip a couple of times a week. Every man of the white crew is always armed. They know what to expect, yet some of them get killed.
‘If the rascally cut-throats would come out fair and square in the daylight it wouldn’t so much matter. A lot of them often ship as passengers, with the leader doing the swell as a first cabin fare, and before anyone can cry “Jack Robinson!” the ship has been seized and her crew killed.’
‘But all Chinamen are not pirates, Readyman.’
‘Oh no, my son. All the same, I wouldn’t trust one of them with a chew of tobacco.’
One morning, shortly after that conversation, several English and Chinese gentlemen came on board, and accompanied by Captain Thorne they made a close examination of the barque.
Such a procedure proved the accuracy of the rumour already rife. Several carpenters soon arrived, and speedily began to knock up tiers of bunks along both sides of the ‘tween deck. There was no longer any room for doubt respecting the conveyance of emigrants.
One afternoon several other Chinese workmen brought on board a quantity of iron-work, and within a week it was firmly set up abreast of the mainmast, right across the main deck, and even extended some feet beyond the bulwarks. It was twelve feet high, with sharp-pointed spikes on top, with a small gate on each side, through which the crew might pass at will.
‘But what is it for?’ Jack inquired.
‘Why, to keep the Chinamen from getting aft, should they start any trouble,’ Readyman replied. ‘Every vessel in this trade is obliged to carry a stockade. Mind you, I’m not saying that this crowd is going to show fight; many ships make successful trips, but others have mysteriously disappeared, and were never again seen or heard of.’
‘How could they be navigated, or, if captured, what could be done with such large craft?’ Jack exclaimed, since this talk naturally aroused considerable interest in the subsequent career of the ‘Alert,’ and he had no mind to ‘lose the number of his mess,’ as sailors say it. Yet, from what he had seen of the Chinese, he could scarcely think them capable of such behaviour.
‘That’s more than I could tell,’ the quarter-master returned. ‘Perhaps they know enough to run them ashore at some quiet spot on their own coast, or somewhere in Japan. But I don’t believe those folk would have anything to do with them. See here, what did that rascally Malay’s grandfather do with the “Olive Branch” and the “Crusader”? At anyrate, all we’ve got to do is to keep a sharp lookout, and trust in God.’
‘Will our men still live in the forecastle?’
‘I suppose so; but directly there’s any sign of a row they must scoot behind the stockade, and bar the gates.’
Next day a considerable quantity of rice and other food-stuffs was shipped as also extra tanks for holding fresh water. A secret supply of ammunition, with many rifles to replace the old muzzle-loading muskets till then in use, was taken on board.
That work being completed, the first batch of Chinese emigrants, eighty able-bodied men of quiet demeanour, arrived alongside, and with their scanty belongings they were immediately sent to their quarters in the ‘tween deck. Some of them carried small brass-bound boxes, but the majority possessed only bundles wrapped in handkerchiefs, and scarcely a bed could be mustered by the crowd.
A double anchor-watch was kept that night, but nothing occurred to arouse anxiety or suspicion.
Early next morning, however, Jack Clewlin was suddenly turned out, and was told that a typhoon was threatening to sweep the harbour.
‘Get your oilskins on at once,’ Mr. Statten said. ‘Mind that you put a strong belt round all outside, or if the wind gets inside your gear you’ll be blown away. We’re in for a regular “howler,” I’m afraid.’
By the time Jack got into the open both mates were forward, singing out to the hands to send down all the upper masts and yards. In spite of the utmost alacrity, however, only the royal yards reached the deck, since the wind increased so rapidly that no one could remain aloft.
The alarmed emigrants were next battened down in the ‘tween deck. Then the second anchor was ‘cock-billed’ and let go. Both cables were ‘paid out’ almost to their last links, and they were secured to the foremast. The wind attained hurricane force, and screamed through the rigging like a thousand furies.
Despite her sheltered position under the high mainland the vessel strained fearfully at her anchors, and owing to her height above the water she was frequently blown nearly on her beam-ends. The cries of the Chinamen down below could sometimes be faintly heard, but as they were dry and comparatively comfortable no notice was taken.
Amidst blinding rain and whirling spume all trace of the adjacent town and island disappeared. By noon scarcely any daylight remained. The clouds seemed to almost touch the masts. Volumes of water, swept up by the terrible wind, poured over the deck, and by two o’clock that afternoon the anchors began to drag. Nothing could be done to prevent such peril.
Many of the hands believed that the vessel would capsize. With tremendous strain at the cables, however, she always managed to swing head to wind, and the expected catastrophe was averted.
The Chinamen continued to shout, and became so panic-stricken that Captain Thorne warned their headman, a burly, stubborn-looking fellow, that any further disturbance would be severely dealt with.
About five o’clock that afternoon the typhoon was at its height, and the fearful scream of the wind and the blinding smother of rain and flying spray were truly appalling.
A sudden lull of the tempest was followed by a partial lifting of the obscurity. Then it became evident that the ‘Alert’ had been blown right away from her innermost anchorage, past the town, and was quite one mile to leeward.
The wind again increased, but not so strongly as before. Mr. Statten presently reported a sensible rise of the barometer.
‘Then the typhoon is passing away,’ Captain Thorne sang out. ‘We won’t drag any farther. The sea is beginning to catch us out here.’
‘It will soon go down, sir,’ Readyman exclaimed, ‘She’s safe now. The shelter of the land broke the “heft” of the blow.’
By that time it had become intensely dark. The wind, however, was certainly not so strong, but the troublesome sea did not tend toward an improvement of the situation. In spite of all her struggles the barque did not emerge from that ordeal unscathed.
A violent shock was followed by the alarming cry, ‘She’s ashore!’ The next instant screams came aft from the bow, and were followed by similar cries. The heavy bumping of some weighty object along the starboard side was also distinctly felt. Many of the hands immediately hastened that way.
Through the darkness loomed the huge form of a Chinese junk, apparently unmanageable, driving aft before the wind, and doing much injury in the process. As she drifted abreast of the mainmast all the outer iron-work of the stockade was instantly torn away. Three or four Chinamen leaped from their vessel on board the ‘Alert,’ and in their fall were somewhat severely injured.
Most fortunately the junk had already been dismasted, or she would certainly have brought down some of the barque’s spars. Just as she drove clear of the stern a piercing female scream rose from her deck. Then she disappeared. Nothing could be done to save the unfortunate woman, as no boat would have floated for five minutes in the heavy sea. By ten o’clock that night the trouble had almost passed. The vessel was holding her own. The captain ordered the galley fire to be relighted, and a hot supper was served fore and aft. The Chinamen down below also became more amenable, and they enjoyed a meal of boiled rice.
By sun-up next morning the typhoon had completely passed away, and the sea near the land was quite smooth.
To the surprise of all hands, Mr. Statten suddenly reported that he could see the drifting junk of the previous night’s adventure still afloat three miles to leeward.
A boat was promptly lowered, in hope of saving anyone on her, and setting some canvas a volunteer crew got alongside. The woman was discovered calmly cooking food for her four young children, and evinced no anxiety for her safety. She would not leave her floating home; but the crew of the boat espied a steamer bearing down toward them, and the junk was finally towed back to Victoria.
The injured Chinamen were sent to hospital. The damage to the ‘Alert’ was speedily repaired, and thus ended Jack Clewlin’s experience of a typhoon on the coast of China.
The destruction among the numberless ‘sampans’ huddled together along the fore-shore of the island had been great, and many people lost their lives. Not much injury was sustained among the shipping in the harbour, which was entirely owing to the off-shore direction of the wind.
When the barque had been again placed on the active list, everything capable of holding fresh water was filled, the sails were ‘bent,’ and the remainder of the emigrants, sixty-five able-bodied men, were received. The ‘Alert’ was ready to start on her voyage across the Pacific.
Only a few hours before leaving Hong Kong young Jack received his third letter from home, together with several ‘Stonewell news-letters,’ giving him the latest information of how matters thereabout were progressing. In one of the papers he suddenly saw the startling announcement, ‘The loss of the “Silver Crown”.’ In breathless excitement he hurried to the forecastle, and told Readyman the sad news.
It appeared that on her arrival at Point de Galle, in Ceylon, for orders, the clipper had been sent to Calcutta, and was there sunk in the Hoogly during a cyclone.
‘I hope the crew were saved, Master Jack,’ the quarter-master exclaimed. ‘We did well in making the exchange.’
‘But seem to be going farther away from home all the time,’ Jack added.
‘Oh, the more days the more dollars, lad,’ Readyman replied. ‘Perhaps we may be chartered to bring back here a hold full of dead Chinamen’s bones! You needn’t look so scared, my son; it’s often done. I’ve never been in the trade myself, but I know that every wandering pigtail makes it a point of honour to have his bones sent home for interment.’
‘What a pity that they don’t remain where they were born!’ Jack exclaimed. ‘They can live on a handful of rice for a month, and grow fat on it, too.’
‘That’s true, sonny,’ the quarter-master said. ‘I hope this lot won’t give us any trouble.’
‘Mr. Statten told me that we are to carry a wealthy heathen, partly as a saloon fare, and partly as an interpreter,’ Jack explained. ‘Perhaps he may be able to keep them quiet.’
‘I hope so, lad. At anyrate, we’ve plenty of “fire-sticks” and ammunition. They work wonders at a pinch.’
FROM HONG KONG TO SAN FRANCISCO
With a fine, fair wind, a smooth sea, a clear outlook, and every opportunity for making a good offing before nightfall, the ‘Alert’ left her anchorage near Victoria. And thus began the most remarkable voyage of her career, and one which was soon to become the most adventurous experienced by any member of her crew.
By those on shore no apparent notice of the departure was taken. Some of the emigrants, however, burned a few ‘joss-sticks,’ and ignited several ‘crackers,’ to propitiate the malignant spirits of the deep.
Out in the open sea a strong breeze was sweeping across a wide expanse of sparkling water, the late typhoon having cleared the atmosphere in splendid manner. The sun shone brilliantly, the coast-line of China soon disappeared, and as quickly as the studding-sail gear could be rove and rigged out the canvas was set.
Captain Thorne and all hands were in high spirits at having obtained so favourable a start for the venture. Indeed, everyone capable of forming an accurate estimate of the run to California believed that a record passage would be almost certain to follow, and that the Chinamen would be landed without the slightest mishap to anyone.
Still keeping the same fair wind the ‘Alert’ sped across the China Sea, and passed safely through the Bashee Channel, that lies between the large island of Formosa and the Philippine Islands. She had now cleared all dangers of the land, and swept into the blue depths of the North Pacific.
The weather continued beautifully fine. All that while not a yard or boom brace was touched, and the wind-curved sails never stirred. The barque seemed to revel in the glorious sunlight, and ‘reeled off’ daily runs that astonished Captain Thorne.
‘It’s grand, Master Jack,’ Readyman exclaimed. ‘I thought she did a tidy bit of scooting through Torres Strait. This bout fairly knocks the bottom out of that. I hope she’ll keep on as she’s going, right up to the Golden Gates.’
‘You mean the entrance to San Francisco Bay?’
‘Ay, ay, my son. The pigtails keep very quiet, and the interpreter chap seems a decent sort—for a heathen.’
‘He can speak tolerable English,’ Jack said; ‘but no one can learn what he really is.’
‘Just their way, lad. You can never find out anything about them. They’ll smile and flourish their flippers, and in the end swindle you with some trick kept up their sleeves. All the same, sonny, I suppose we mustn’t condemn this lot before getting good cause. Keep your weather eye lifting all the time, lad, and directly anything seems to go amiss with those chaps, tell the skipper.’
Day after day, the barque still sped away on a true course, and as she got well out into deep blue water the sunrises and sunsets became of such indescribable magnificence that even the stolid Chinamen were compelled to notice them.
In the early mornings, long before sunrise, small cloud-balls of the purest white ranged themselves all along the western horizon, each apparently separated by a few inches of the loveliest blue, the azure zenith remaining unsullied by the slightest trace of gathering vapour, and in dazzling splendour the huge golden disc suddenly leaped over the eastern sea-rim.
The sunsets, however, were always the most attractive spectacles. Through a haze of gauze-like evaporation, gorgeous combinations of pale blues, delicate emeralds, pinks, vermilions, and ruddy golds, ocean and firmament became indistinguishable. The entire world seemed enveloped in such a flood of tinted light as neither brush nor pen could hope to portray. The barque and its canvas seemed aflame, while the surging foam beneath the bow decorated itself in tiny rainbows.
Never, surely, had men enjoyed such wonderful sailing, and still the ‘Alert’ raced along in grand style, until, after a fine run of sixteen days, she had almost reached mid-ocean. The wind gradually died away, and with canvas chafing badly against masts and rigging, she lay wholly becalmed on a sea unruffled by the faintest cat’s-paw.
Of course, everyone believed that such a delay to an otherwise splendid run would only be of short duration, and at first no notice was taken of the incident.
‘We’ll get a fine breeze directly,’ Readyman observed. ‘Should it not come, I’m afraid our chance of record-breaking is gone. Anyhow, the Chinamen have been very quiet, and that is the chief thing this voyage.’
‘We had nearly three weeks of it coming out,’ Jack replied. ‘I thought I should never get rid of the prickly heat.’
Two weeks of windless inactivity, with the barque sullenly turning her head toward every point of the horizon, were followed by another of similar experience, and limbs ached under the constant bracing of yards to catch the slightest breath of elusive airs. Still there was no relief, nor the least prospect of immediate alteration of the trying weather. As food and water had only been shipped for a stated period, and such delay was not contemplated at that season of the year, some talk of a reduction of rations was mooted fore and aft.
Against such a procedure the hands, of course, made no complaint, but when the matter had been explained to the interpreter, and by him to the Chinamen down below, they expressed strong opposition, and much impatience at the length of the voyage.
Captain Thorne promptly took the matter in hand, collected all his men abaft the stockade, and then directing the interpreter to call some of the emigrants on deck he demanded a full explanation of their grievances.
‘You no gib mensh allee same food plomised at Hong Kong,’ the burly spokesman replied. ‘We no get ‘nough rice. You allee same cheatee Chinaman. We no takee less rice, an’ wanshee cook it dun b’low.’
‘You will be no worse off than my own men,’ the skipper said. ‘Should this calm run into a month or six weeks, you’ll run a fair chance of having nothing at all. I only wish to be on the safe side. Savvee?’
‘You cookee no boil rice allee same China. We wanshee do it allee same plopper.’
‘There is not room for you in the galley,’ the old man explained. ‘You cannot cook in the ‘tween deck. When a breeze comes, you shall have plenty of rice.’
To that the spokesman made no reply, and what with the persuasion of the interpreter and the friendly demeanour of the captain the murmurers returned below, and the incident closed.
‘They told me,’ the interpreter said, ‘that on coming here they did not expect to be longer than one week at sea, and had no idea that San Francisco was much farther than Shanghai.’
‘I would take the precaution of securing the large gratings on all the hatches,’ Mr. Sennit said. ‘With them on, we could keep better watch against sudden surprise, and only allow a few men on deck at one time.’
‘Well, I’ve been thinking of something of that sort myself,’ the skipper replied; ‘but just at present I think we had better let matters stand as they are. The fellows might make some disturbance about them. At the same time, Sennit, don’t send any of our men aloft. They must remain handy for a call, and let them see that all the rifles in the forecastle are ready.’
Throughout that day the distressing calm continued, the barometer standing so high and steady that no immediate change could be anticipated, and on the following morning orders to reduce all rations fore and aft were issued.
The cook was also enjoined to be particularly careful of the way in which the rice for the emigrants was served, since from certain samples of that article shown by the interpreter, it was evident that the man had not been as careful in that direction as could have been desired.
However, the Chinamen made no disturbance, and, so far as outward appearance went, they seemed disposed to fall in with the new arrangements. All hands went about deck softly whistling for a breeze to end their troubles. But the outlook still remained of the same hopeless appearance. The sea, like a silvered mirror, flung back in dazzling brilliancy the powerful rays of an unclouded sun, and with endless groan of seams and timbers; the barque rolled on the windless waste of waters. The situation was fast becoming more and more serious. The ‘Alert’ had been caught in a tropical entanglement from which she could neither advance nor retire.
Then suddenly the long spell of anxiety was brought to a close, but in such an unexpected and startling manner as to almost overwhelm both vessel and crew.
At four o’clock one afternoon, Mr. Statten and his men took over control of the deck. About half an hour later, one of the hands directed attention toward a peculiar appearance just gathering far away on the port beam.
‘There might be some wind in it, sir,’ he said.
Immediately afterwards everyone perceived that it was a pillar-like cloud, apparently revolving at terrific speed on its own axis, and also moving down on the barque at incredible velocity. That it would assuredly strike her no one doubted, and intense excitement immediately prevailed.
Mr. Statten sang out to let fly all studding-sail, royal, and topgallant halyards. Even the topsails were lowered, and everything likely to ease the strain on the masts was done.
Captain Thorne, alarmed by the sudden commotion, rushed on deck, and, seizing the wheel, helped to place it hard up. But without wind the barque would not answer her helm.
A moment later there was a sensible movement of the atmosphere. It seemed as though the vessel were being sucked toward the hideous black pillar, then not more than a cable’s length away. There was an awful roar of wind, and the impenetrable darkness became appalling.
The ‘Alert’ was caught by the terrible whirlwind, and she seemed to be lifted several feet from the water. A wild jumble of sea and foam rose up over and swept the decks fore and aft. She lay down almost on her starboard beam-ends. Everyone hung fast to belaying-pins or other means of safety, and in that deafening uproar no voice, or the least sound of what was taking place, could be heard.
Then, as swiftly as it had come, the dreadful cloud swept away eastward, and the partially dismantled vessel lay rocking on a momentarily agitated sea. From start to finish the whole incident did not occupy above two minutes, yet in that brief period the ‘Alert’ had become almost a wreck. The foremast, with the jib-boom and all attached, was gone. Every shroud and particle of running gear about that part of the vessel had been cut as if with an axe, and quarter of a mile off the wreckage lay on the water.
‘Are all our men safe, Statten?’ were the first words uttered by the skipper.
‘I think so, sir,’ the mate replied.
But from the adjacent wreckage three men, who had been carried away on it, sang out lustily for assistance. They were soon on board again, little the worse of their extraordinary adventure.
A careful examination of the vessel followed. She was not making any water, and beyond the loss of the mast, which had been screwed clean off level with the deck, and the jib-boom, no other damage was observed.
The more the affair was considered, the more mysterious did it appear, since not even a rope-yarn about the mainmast or farther aft had been carried away.
‘It struck her obliquely, and so saved the after sticks,’ Captain Thorne said. ‘A water-spout would have sunk her.’
‘Before I could grip anything,’ one of the rescued men exclaimed, ‘I was lifted off my feet. On looking upward, the yards and canvas, the latter mostly in rags, were whizzing round and round at forty knots an hour. I thought I would have smothered. Anyhow, the whirligig suddenly dropped me with the gear. There was a tremendous splash. Then I saw my two mates. The next moment I thought I’d drown, but Billy Holland dragged me on top of the lower mast. ‘Twas the closest shave I ever had.’
That was how the first of a coming breeze caught the vessel. She immediately sheered alongside the floating spars, and with right goodwill all hands set to work getting them on board. Tackles were rove off and a derrick rigged.
‘Bear a hand, now, Sennit,’ the old man sang out ‘The glass is dropping for wind, and we may have plenty of it soon.’
Assisted by the interpreter, he got some of the emigrants to help. Others, however, were not so disposed, and the hands jeered them. Before nightfall all the wreckage had been secured on deck, and the barque proceeded on her voyage.
The light wind of the evening steadily strengthened throughout the night, and the crew never ceased their labour of repairing damages. One of the chief causes of delay lay in the fact that the ‘cap’ of the bowsprit, or the piece of wood through which the jib-boom should pass, had been broken off; but by the ingenuity of the carpenter that mishap was speedily rectified. The lower mast had also been badly snapped off, but that, too, was set straight by a tongue and ‘step’ which were made on it, the stump still remaining in its place.
In the refitting Jack Clewlin had his share, and gained such experience of that duty that Readyman himself could not hope to impart by mere verbal tuition.
All the lower and other rigging had to be shortened and then set up taut. The upper masts, however, had received no injury, and with their yards were soon sent aloft. The damaged sails were replaced by others, and within a week scarcely a trace of the late accident remained.
All hands were once more in high spirits, and as the breeze still held strong and fair, great hopes of soon reaching San Francisco cheered every mind. A full daily ration of food was served out fore and aft. But the brightest anticipations of a speedy termination of the voyage were doomed to bitter disappointment. Within a few days the wind again failed. The Chinamen, believing that the food supply would be reduced, immediately hastened on deck, and loudly upbraiding the captain for bringing them all into such a position, stubbornly expressed their determination to return to Hong Kong.
Captain Thorne, who was accompanied by the interpreter, faced them manfully, and endeavoured to point out how he himself, and all his crew, were greatly distressed by the unexpected delays. At the same time he gave orders for the watch on deck to assemble behind the stockade.
‘Tell them,’ he observed to the interpreter, ‘that we cannot return to China. There is no cause for anxiety.’
‘You no allee same one face,’ the leader of the emigrants sang out. ‘One day you talkee ploper, nex’ day you cheatee Chinaman, we allee same starve. Cookee man him no good. We cookee chop-chop allee same China dom b’low. Savvee?’
‘And set my ship on fire, eh?’ the old man sharply replied.
‘No, no, me no fool. S’pose you go Hong Kong we likee plenty.’
At that point of the argument the interpreter endeavoured to make matters still clearer to his countrymen; but, in spite of all explanation and good temper, the men could not be induced to return below.
Then suddenly the real meaning of the disturbance was made plain. A horrible screaming, and piteous cries for assistance, came aft from the forecastle, where some of the mutineers were evidently murdering the watch below.
Mr. Sennit shouted on his men to come aft, but to that order there was no reply. He then attempted to open one of the stockade gates, and with assistance rescue the surprised hands, but Captain Thorne peremptorily refused to allow such a step to be taken.
That action probably saved the lives of those behind the barrier. The Chinamen made a rush at the galley, where the cook had already secured himself, and with loaded revolver sold his life as dearly as he could. The gallant interpreter, ignoring all danger, begged the captain to pass him through one of the gates, and that being done he strove to pacify the infuriated mob.
The appeal failed. The galley was surrounded and torn down, the brave cook was killed, but not before six assailants had been shot down, and his body was thrown overboard. The affair passed so rapidly that there was scarcely time for consideration. The moment the cook had disappeared the Chinamen suddenly turned on their interpreter, and served him in similar manner.
Those abaft the stockade felt assured that their unfortunate comrades in the forecastle had all been killed, and that opinion was strengthened by the fact that no more cries were heard. The fore part of the ‘Alert’ was, therefore, in possession of the mutineers.
Just as the mob made their first attack on the stockade one of the watch below was suddenly seen to climb hand over hand up the fore stay, and on reaching the top he swung himself to the main topmast head, from whence he speedily joined his companions.
‘All the others in the fo’c’s’le are dead, sir!’ he gasped. ‘I was asleep overhead, and hid in the bow till the cut-throats cleared out.’
‘How did they get to the fo’c’s’le?’ the skipper inquired.
‘Knocked out the fore hatch grating, sir,’ the man replied. ‘They’ve seized all the rifles and ammunition pouches hanging on the bunk sides.’
As fast as Mr. Statten, Jack Clewlin, and the steward could pass on deck rifles, old muskets, revolvers, and ammunition, their friends armed themselves, and, under the direction of Captain Thorne, took up positions to repel attack.
Several of the Chinamen were now seen brandishing the weapons stolen from the forecastle, and not a few also carried revolvers, which must have been concealed in the small boxes brought on board at Hong Kong.
The mutineers, apparently confident of success, flung themselves on the stockade, and with terrible yells endeavoured to tear it down. The barrier, however, was so strongly constructed that no impression was made on it, and that seemed to inflame the mob to further effort.
Meanwhile, the captain used every means to quell the disturbance without bloodshed, and with upraised arms endeavoured to address the leader of the Chinamen. The effort proved partly successful. Some of the emigrants seemed inclined to hear him, and for a few minutes both sides stood looking at each other, one hundred and thirty desperadoes menacing a small group of white men, consisting of Captain Thorne and his two officers, the carpenter, the steward, with five hands, including Readyman and Jack Clewlin.
‘Fight no good,’ the skipper sang out. ‘S’pose you allee same go down below, me no shoot. You no savvee how to fire gun. My men savvee plenty. When wind come you get plenty chop-chop.’
‘No, no!’ the big Chinaman exclaimed. ‘You no speak allee same one face. To-mollow you say half chop-chop. Me takee ship, an’ go allee same China. Savvee? Me chop you head off now. Me plenty gun, an’ shoot foreign devil.’
‘S’pose you fire, me kill you,’ the old man replied. ‘Give me your guns, and I takee you allee same San Francisco.’
‘Me no go dere. Plenty chop-chop when you dead. Savvee?’
‘You scoundrel, I’ll have the lot of you tried at San Francisco!’ Captain Thorne cried.
‘Let us give the ruffians a volley, and have done with it!’ Mr. Sennit exclaimed, furious at the loss of his men. ‘That fellow is trying to bluff you.’
‘Very likely,’ the old man returned; ‘but I’m not to be caught that way. I feel our loss as keenly as anyone, but want to show later on that every possible means of quelling the outbreak was taken before a shot was fired.’
‘You are right, sir,’ the mate said.
A final appeal to surrender and return below was howled down by the mob.
With fearful cries they flung themselves on the stockade. Captain Thorne, in the hope of easing the pressure on it, ordered some of his men to thrust between the bars the long spears captured from the savages in Torres Strait, and although Mr. Sennit strongly advised the immediate adoption of sterner measures, the old man would not allow a shot to be fired.
‘Let them do that first,’ he said.
The mutineers, apparently infuriated by the delay, tugged and wrenched at the iron bars till everything shook again, but as nothing gave way they began to discharge their weapons.
Only one of the sailors, a man named Clark, was slightly wounded in the shoulder. He was advised to retire to the cabin, yet, despite such persuasion, the brave fellow refused to leave his post, and tying a cloth about the injury went on with his duty as though nothing had happened. And there he remained throughout the whole of the desperate encounter which followed the firing of the first bullets at those abaft the stockade.
THE YELLOW PERIL
In spite of all their efforts not much injury was done to the stockade; but in loud tones the leader of the mutiny urged on his followers to yet another attempt to destroy the barrier. Scores of strong hands seized and wrenched at it, until the structure seemed on the point of parting from its stout bolts, and a fiendish cry of satisfaction arose. Several shots were also fired at the crew, but no one was hurt. Mr. Sennit became alarmed, yet, although the protection seemed about to collapse, Captain Thorne would not permit a shot to be discharged.
‘We must wait a little longer,’ he said. ‘I think there is some sign of exhaustion, and they may become weary of the foolish struggle.’
‘They’ll have the bars about our ears directly,’ the mate replied. ‘You are too lenient.’
‘Perhaps. I do not wish to give an order that will prove disastrous to them,’ was the calm reply.
It was not long before even his cool judgment was compelled to acknowledge that further forbearance be taken by the foe as a sign of weakness, or, perhaps, cowardice, and they were becoming bolder.
At last the order to fire was given.
The result proved serious, but a corresponding volley from the enemy inflicted no injuries among the sailors, since the Chinamen had slight knowledge of their weapons, and either could not or would not face the European fire, and all their bullets, being discharged over the heads of those in front, flew high among the after spars and canvas.
The tottering stockade was almost torn down. The leader of the mutiny yelled his delight, and forcing his way aft he called for a final assault. His burly form rose head and shoulders above all others. The moment he appeared, however, several rifles took steady aim, but it was the man Walker, who had given the proof of marksmanship when lying at the Malay island, that got in the first shot. In an instant the instigator of all the trouble lay a lifeless mass among the feet of his misguided followers.
A terrible cry of mingled regret, vengeance, and savage lust of blood followed the death of the Chinaman, and the pressure on the stockade immediately ceased. Bereft of their leader, the mutineers became less formidable, and as darkness quickly succeeded the disappearance of the sun, their efforts to gain the upper hand diminished. The numbers of dead and wounded had reached serious proportions.
The ‘cease fire’ was called, and Captain Thorne promptly offered assistance to those who needed it, also offering to end the fight; yet the infuriated survivors stubbornly refused to submit, or even allow one of their wounded to be touched by white hands.
The heavy loss of life was deeply regretted by the skipper, but he knew that by no other means could the safety of the vessel and the lives of his men have been secured.
The stolid, unheeding Chinamen made no attempt to leave the deck. In the deepening gloom half their numbers seemed to have fallen, but they still remained facing the stockade, and only awaited the cheering voice of some new leader before making a final attempt to reach their opponents. Such a move was, however, not immediately undertaken. They seemed quite aware that any advance would certainly add to the heap of bodies lying across the front of the barrier.
Those abaft the latter paced from side to side of the deck, ready to fire on the slightest provocation, and eager to avenge the deaths of their unfortunate comrades surprised in the forecastle. Indeed, had it not been for the watchful anxiety of the captain, not one Chinaman would have survived that terrible mutiny.
It was not long before a serious disagreement arose among the remaining emigrants. Many of them, possibly alarmed by the result of their late action, separated from their companions, and after what appeared a long and highly-excited discussion they suddenly set to work removing the dead and wounded, but treated all alike. Within a few minutes scarcely a trace of what had happened in front of the stockade remained. Then the deck was washed down, and all returned to the bow.
Captain Thorne immediately took steps to secure the almost useless stockade, and during that operation one hand at a time went to the cabin for refreshment.
Now, almost from the beginning of the desperate struggle a light breeze, unnoticed by anyone save the skipper, had set in, and Jack Clewlin was sent to the wheel. From that position he had breathlessly followed the progress of the mutiny, and he was pleased to see that none of his shipmates, save Clark, received any injury. Of course, the wounded sailor received prompt attention, and soon recovered his usual health. Nearly two watches, eight hours, had passed since the trouble began. All that while the ‘Alert’ had been slipping along before a nice fair wind. The loss of nearly half the crew necessitated an alteration of the course, and Captain Thorne now determined to steer directly toward the nearest of the Sandwich Islands, where assistance might be obtained. The ill-fated barque, however, never reached any port.
The dead sailors in the forecastle were buried quietly that night.
Another heated argument among the mutineers presently arose, and about half of them again came aft, and thrusting their arms between the bars of the stockade begged for some food.
‘Not a morsel till you surrender,’ the skipper sternly replied.
‘We no wanchee fight,’ a man replied. ‘Noder Chinaman him no good. Plenty shoot. Savvee?’
‘I think you might let them through the gate, sir,’ Mr. Sennit said. ‘They seem to have had enough of it.’
‘Not so fast, man,’ the captain sang out. ‘This may be some dodge to seize all hands. Let us find out what is meant.’
The applicants were suddenly assailed by the still mutinous portion of their countrymen, and a desperate encounter ensued. Captain Thorne would not interfere, but after a prolonged struggle the attackers were finally defeated and driven to the ‘tween deck. Then hastening to the stockade those left on deck again asked for help, and promised to behave well in future.
‘I now believe they are sincere,’ the captain said. ‘Let them pass through, Sennit.’
When grouped at the stern and supplied with biscuit and water the men expressed their gratitude. Some of them made extraordinary signs, apparently directed toward those down below, and the surrender proved genuine.
The men numbered thirty-eight all told, and seemed surprised by the kindness bestowed. They continued to direct attention to the ‘tween deck, and had the captain correctly understood what was intended, much subsequent trouble might have been avoided. He could not be expected to waste more time over such considerations, and no one took any notice of the well-intentioned warnings.
Armed sentinels were placed over each of the hatchways. Then the remaining hands set to work clearing up the forecastle, where everything movable had been knocked about and the sea-chests ransacked, and it even appeared that some attempt had been made to set the place on fire.
All that while no sound of voice or footstep could be heard in the ‘tween deck, and it was surmised that all the men there had gone to sleep. The silence, when subsequently recalled, proved beyond doubt that the mutinous Chinamen were quite differently engaged.
The forecastle having been set straight, Mr. Sennit turned his attention to setting up another galley; and when that had been arranged, one of the hands helped the steward to get the fire lit and some coffee served out.
At last Jack Clewlin’s long spell at the wheel ended, and in the cabin he found Captain Thorne who commended his conduct, and ordered a substantial supper.
For some time nothing of importance was noted, but just after four o’clock that morning a strong smell of smoke became noticeable fore and aft, and instantly aroused much alarm among the crew.
‘They are firing the barque!’ Captain Thorne exclaimed, in great anxiety. ‘Arm yourselves, all hands, and follow me!’
As he and Mr. Sennit stepped on the main ‘tween-deck ladder it gave way under the strain, and both men were precipitated into the midst of a howling mob below.
By the use of their revolvers, however, both men succeeded in keeping the enemy at bay, while without hesitation the crew leaped after their leaders, and with cutlass and rifle speedily cleared a space round the endangered officers.
By that time the smoke in the hold had become so dense that it was impossible to follow the mutineers, but by repeated volleys the latter became so cowed that no further annoyance came from that quarter. The crew promptly endeavoured to discover the seat of the fire. That it had originated somewhere in the bow there was no doubt; yet to reach that place became almost impossible, so thick were the volumes of smoke filling the ‘tween deck, and all hands were consequently compelled to return to the open.
The main hatch ladder, which had been cut from its fastenings by the mutineers, was speedily reshipped in its place, and such of the emigrants as could be found were dragged on deck, while the fore hatch grating was removed. The head pump was rigged and its hose attached, and then lowered into the ‘tween deck.
Both mates, with large oakum respirators fastened over their mouths and nostrils, descended into the hold, and presently reported that the outbreak had been started in the bo’s’n’s locker, immediately beneath the forecastle, which was stocked with bales of rope, oakum, spun-yarn, old canvas, and other highly-inflammable gear.
As though such material was not considered sufficiently dangerous, the desperate-minded Chinamen had removed all the light wood from their own bunks, and forcing the bulkhead had thrown the pieces on the fire.
Without delay a copious stream of water was directed on the flames. The conflagration had now become very dangerous. The smoke was so suffocating, that in spite of all their gallantry both officers were compelled to retire, and when hauled on deck fell exhausted. Their places were, however, immediately filled by others, while every available emigrant was also pressed into the service, and by means of buckets an endless stream of water was added to that pouring through the hose.
To give them their due, the Chinamen, knowing full well that by their extra labour the vessel could alone be saved, and that if anything happened to her their chances of reaching San Francisco would be slight, worked splendidly, and did everything in their power to carry out the orders of the captain.
Hour after hour, without a moment’s cessation; all hands struggled desperately to subdue the flames, many men being constantly overcome by heat and smoke; yet no sooner had they recovered the effects of semi-suffocation and exhaustion than each again tackled the outbreak with determination.
In spite of their heroism, however, it was no easy matter to cope with such an outbreak. Under ordinary conditions the locker was not readily reached, and for many hours it seemed that all the water poured on the fire had no effect, while everyone felt that such a serious attack on the bow of the barque would render it difficult to resist the outward pressure of water.
Although the ‘well’ was constantly sounded, no great quantity of water had as yet leaked through the sides, showing that they were still sound.
The immense volumes of smoke rolling from the hold seemed to become less dense; but Captain Thorne, wishing to be prepared for any emergency, ordered Readyman, Jack Clewlin, and the steward to clear away and provision both quarter boats.
All that morning, and throughout the rest of the day, the desperate battle continued without cessation. Somewhere about five o’clock in the evening unmistakable proof that the fire had been subdued sent a thrill of joyous satisfaction fore and aft.
ALL THAT DAY THE DESPERATE BATTLE CONTINUED WITHOUT CESSATION. See page 176.
ALL THAT DAY THE DESPERATE BATTLE CONTINUED WITHOUT CESSATION.
See page 176.
‘We’ve succeeded, sir,’ Mr. Sennit exclaimed on coming from below, his beard scorched and face and hands blackened; ‘but I’m much afraid that the injury to the bow is almost irreparable. In fact, captain, it seems to have been nearly burned through.’
‘I am not surprised,’ the old man replied; ‘if we can only succeed in getting her ashore on the nearest island, we may consider ourselves more than fortunate. Could any repairs be done so that she might remain afloat even for a few days?’
‘Well, at present, sir,’ the mate returned, ‘I should not like to touch a single rib or timber, they seem so badly burned; yet if we can manage to lay some gear against them, so as to resist the outward pressure, she might just succeed in getting on the coral.’
‘Let go the royal and top-gallant halyards fore and aft,’ the skipper ordered. ‘Lay aloft there, men, and stow the canvas. That will at least lessen the strain.’
When that work was completed the men tackled the pumps, and soon discovered that the barque was beginning to leak badly, since the fierce heat of the fire had melted all the pitch in the bow seams, and probably also destroyed most of the oakum caulking.
The available Chinamen were immediately divided into two watches, and in regular relief took their share of work at the pumps, and the crew were allowed some hours of repose after their late arduous labour.
So, under her topsails, fore and maincourses, spanker and head canvas, the ‘Alert’ stood away for the nearest island, which was only one hundred and fifty miles off. Most fortunately the breeze held fairly strong and steady, but without her upper canvas or even studding-sails to help the rate of sailing was slow, and never exceeded four knots an hour.
Captain Thorne was very anxious throughout those trying times, yet as soon as the hands had had some sleep and good meals, they promptly set to work getting the long-boat over the side. Although at first she leaked even worse than the barque, a few hours in the water closed the seams, and she subsequently proved of considerable use.
The quarter-boats were also ready for lowering at a moment’s notice, and as the pumps still managed to keep down the flow of the sea into the hold everyone believed that the badly-damaged barque would continue to remain afloat.
With the disappearance of the smoke from the ‘tween deck some of the hands were sent there, to discover what had become of the Chinamen who made such a dastardly attempt to kill the captain and Mr. Sennit, and in a heap right aft all of them were found suffocated.
Fifteen of them thus suffered death for participation in the mutiny, and from what their countrymen stated there could be no doubt that they were the murderers of the whites in the forecastle, and the chief instigators of the whole lamentable affair.
During that first night under reduced sail the ‘Alert’ leaked so badly that even a constant working of the pumps could not abate the rise of water in the well, and much anxiety was consequently aroused.
‘I think it is owing to the stronger breeze,’ the old man sang out. ‘Haul up and stow the mainsail.’
That was speedily accomplished, and, sure enough, the inflow immediately decreased.
‘At daylight we must endeavour to strengthen the bow either inside or out,’ the captain added. ‘Otherwise I don’t see how we can reach any island.’
Throughout that night matters remained somewhat hopeful, and as the vessel sailed very slowly the water below was kept under control.
An inspection of the damaged bow next morning disclosed such serious defects that Captain Thorne could not conceal his anxiety.
‘It is worse than I had supposed,’ he exclaimed. ‘The entire bow seems almost gone. Clewlin!’ he added, ‘run on deck and tell Mr. Statten to haul down and stow the whole of the head canvas. We must use the utmost caution.’
In several places the planking had been three parts eaten away, some of the ribs were burned right through, the forecastle deck overhead was gone, and but for the outer copper sheathing it was certain that the ‘Alert’ could not have remained two hours above water.
‘I would abandon her now,’ the skipper said, ‘had it not been my desire to save all the stores. The island we are shaping for is, I believe, uninhabited, and how long we may be compelled to remain there before assistance arrives depends on luck! There are the Chinamen to feed, and so we must endeavour to put her on the coral.’
‘A thrummed sail secured outside the bow might stop the leak, sir,’ Mr. Sennit observed.
‘Yes, that may be tried,’ the old man replied; ‘but the bow is so seriously injured that I’m afraid nothing can be of much use.’
THE ‘ALERT’S’ LAST BERTH
‘What is a thrummed sail, Readyman?’ Jack inquired.
‘Well, my son,’ the quarter-master explained, ‘the selected piece of canvas is worked into narrow pleats, and those are pierced with holes and filled by short ends of teazed oakum. In other words, it is a big mat placed against the injured spot, so that the material can work into the seams from outside. Our metal sheathing is nearly awash, and unless it has got strained by fire the mat won’t be of much use.’
All the same, it was placed in position, and the water casks in the forehold were shifted farther aft, so as to raise the bow slightly above the surface of the sea.
One great advantage always remained with them, the sea kept perfectly smooth and the wind moderate. Of course, the pumps were always on the move, and the Chinamen worked with a will.
After an anxious four days Jack Clewlin from aloft sang out, ‘Land, O!’
It presently became visible from the deck, and the old man decided to run to leeward.
It was a small but lofty island, perhaps twenty miles long by about eight or ten miles across, and it seemed to be covered with thickly-growing timber and dense undergrowth. The coast-line was bold and steep, but no reefs could be seen.
Within a couple of hours the ‘Alert’ had drawn well abreast of a precipitous headland, and was still striving to pass it, when suddenly everything aloft was taken flat aback by baffling winds from the shore. The sudden strain thus cast on all the head stays proved more than the good old barque could resist, and in a moment large quantities of water poured into the hold.
‘She’s done for, sir!’ Mr. Sennit shouted from the forecastle-head. ‘The bow has almost caved in.’
Captain Thorne remained perfectly calm.
‘All hands loose everything,’ he sang out. ‘Get the Chinamen at the pumps. Bear a hand! Set the stu’n’s’ls for’a’d. Carpenter and steward stand by to lower quarter-boats. We’ll put her hard and fast yet, Sennit.’
The men raced aloft faster than ever in their lives. The Chinamen worked the pumps for all they were worth. Every stitch of canvas was set in less than ten minutes, and passing the point the steadily settling vessel ran toward a clear and level bit of sandy beach under her lee, which, however, she never reached.
The vessel was driven direct for a spot where she might rest in safety, and she certainly did her best to reach it. When some attention could be directed shoreward it was seen that she had entered a spacious bay, about four miles across, and deep water seemed to run right up to the sandy beach. From the latter she was still some distance away, and, of course, as the hull was forced deeper in the water the more did the leakage increase. At last the chain-plates were awash, and it became a matter of doubt if the shore could be reached.
‘I don’t think she’ll do it, lad,’ Readyman observed to his young friend. ‘Anyhow, my son, we may not have far to swim. You must remain close to me, and we’ll see it——’
A sudden striking of the hull on submerged rocks almost capsized Jack and his protector. The damaged foremast, with all attached, went over the bow. Mr. Sennit was pitched clean off the forecastle-head into the water, and thus was undoubtedly saved from being crushed to death beneath the falling spars. Most of the after masts were also snapped off by the force of the blow, but no one was injured. The hull was lifted clear of obstruction, and with a long downward glide finally took the ground in three fathoms of water.
Mr. Sennit was immediately assisted on board, none the worse of his unexpected dip, and Captain Thorne congratulated him on his fortunate escape.
The ‘Alert,’ with slight ‘list’ or inclination to port, was hard and fast fore and aft. Readyman and Jack Clewlin had no necessity to swim ashore. The main deck of the wreck remained clear of the water, and no inconvenience was occasioned to anyone on board.
‘Well done, old girl!’ the quarter-master exclaimed. ‘You’re fixed now, and did us a real good turn.’
‘But it is hard lines, after being together so long,’ Jack said.
‘We may not part company yet,’ Readyman added. ‘I’d sooner live here than ashore. The old man managed that last scoot in a surprising way, Master Jack. Many another would have lost his head, and smothered all hands. I never saw a neater bit of seamanship. Part company? Well, sonny, when we lose sight of this island, I reckon it will be about time to talk of that, but not before. How can anyone tell that this place isn’t swarming with niggers ready to bake us for breakfast? I’ll stick to the old craft yet.’
‘Do you know, Readyman, that we are just two years out?’
‘Ay, ay, and when leaving Stonewell you or the dad never expected that through following the skipper you’d see so many parts of the world, and in the end become a second Robinson Crusoe, so to speak.’
‘That’s true,’ Jack said; ‘but now that I have been shipwrecked it does not feel half so exciting or splendid as reading of such things in a book. Indeed, Readyman, if my father could only know that I am alive and well, I should feel quite contented.’
‘Well, lad, I don’t see there’s any use in looking at the affair like that. We might be rescued to-morrow, for all that any of us can tell. Even supposing we have to bunk it out here for a spell, it might just as well be done with a light as a heavy heart. Meeting trouble half-way ain’t my motto at all; keep your heart up, sonny, and we’ll pull through all right.’
As a matter of fact, Jack was not greatly distressed by the loss of the barque. What had impressed him much more seriously was the terrible end of the men with whom he had been so long associated, and whose cold-blooded murders had made such a lasting impression on his mind, since among a small body of men, cooped up together on board ship, the loss of a single life is keenly regretted long after his belongings have been put up to auction.
An examination of the wreck showed that the sea did not quite reach the deck, and as it remained dry and cool the Chinamen were housed forward, and as the forecastle had been almost destroyed by the fire the crew was permitted to live aft. None of the hands seemed to think the position worthy of much remark, and settled down comfortably in their new quarters, as though nothing particularly exciting had occurred.
The long-boat, which was towing astern when the barque took the ground, received no injury, and as she was in good condition all necessary stores could be speedily removed. The two quarter-boats were also lowered and secured alongside.
After supper, lots were drawn for the night watching, and about eight o’clock the others turned in.
Next morning the work of salving the stores began. The three boats were in constant movement between the wreck and the beach, while under the orders of Mr. Statten the Chinamen set to work erecting tents, by means of the spars and sails landed.
‘We dare not trust the old barque,’ Captain Thorne said. ‘If a gale from the westward arose, she would be soon broken up.’
Jack was placed in charge of one boat, and for some days he was busily employed.
All the rifles and ammunition were sent ashore, even before any of the provisions, for although the island appeared uninhabited, the skipper deemed it advisable to be prepared for all contingencies, until a thorough investigation proved that no anxiety need be entertained.
When the second mate had selected a good camping-ground he and the emigrants soon rigged up very respectable tents, the Chinamen being accommodated in one set apart for their exclusive use.
The stores that were stowed in the cabin of the barque were in good condition; but most unfortunately all the beef and pork casks had been so securely stowed in the hold that they could neither float to the surface nor be reached by the crew. On the other hand, the two ‘harness-casks,’ in which a fortnight’s supply of meat was kept on deck, happened to be full, and they were put ashore. The big water-tank had not been injured by the grounding of the vessel, and it was three parts full. There was also a spring of excellent drinking water discovered on the island.
For about a week Captain Thorne and a few men remained on the wreck, but the others always slept in the tents ashore.
Bright and early next morning all hands were astir. The fires were replenished, and kettles were soon ‘singing’ away in merry tune; and as the ‘Alert’ could no longer be set on fire the Chinamen were allowed to cook their own food, and right well they did it, too. They never made the slightest disturbance, and apparently took the whole affair as a big relief from the monotony of life afloat, nor did any of them express the least dislike to detention on the lonely island.
The labour of salvage continued until everything worth removal had been sent ashore, and only the hull and lower masts of the ‘Alert’ remained above water. Then Captain Thorne took up his residence among his men, and a survey of the island was arranged.
‘I shall take a few men with me and work across country,’ he said. ‘You might take the long-boat, Sennit, and by keeping along the shore endeavour to join me on the opposite side, and thus discover if there are natives about. I have no accurate knowledge of the place.’
‘Ay, ay, sir,’ the mate replied. ‘I do not think you should travel unarmed.’
‘Of course not,’ the old man returned; ‘there may be cannibals watching us now. We must strive to support each other if attacked.’
Having selected their men both leaders set off on their separate adventures.
Mr. Statten, Readyman, Jack Clewlin, and two of the crew remained behind to look after the camp and the Chinamen.
After dinner, and with the consent of the second mate, Readyman and his young friend set out on an expedition in search of fresh water. They took an opposite course to that of the skipper, and kept a good lookout for natives. Both carried rifles and ammunition. It was not long before Jack saw something like a path, apparently made by natives, trending off through the timber and scrub toward the centre of the island. He immediately warned his companion.
‘There are people here, after all,’ he said. ‘Let us tell Mr. Statten.’
‘Hold hard, sonny,’ Readyman exclaimed. ‘No need for alarm before you’re sure that the danger does exist. Examine the marks closer, lad. Do you see anything at all resembling a human footprint?’
Jack stooped lower and examined the trail.
‘No,’ he said. ‘There certainly is no appearance of such marks. Who made the track, Readyman?’
‘That’s exactly what I want you to find out for yourself. Suppose you had been cast ashore without shipmates, and had to discover everything for future guidance? Use your eyes, lad.’
Here and there Jack discovered that, on looking still closer at the trail, it seemed to be recently disturbed. Many little pieces of compressed and decaying leaves looked as if they had been just cut asunder, and the disturbed earth seemed freshly trodden. Then he perceived among the leaves what looked like a long coarse hair. A few yards farther along the track he reached a circular clearance of the short scrub, while numerous marks showed the recent presence of many four-footed and cloven-hoofed animals.
‘Did you ever see anything like them before?’ the quarter-master inquired.
‘Cows’ feet,’ Jack said; ‘but these are much smaller.’
‘What’s that hair you picked up?’
A swift gleam of intelligence was followed by a hearty laugh.
‘I know, I know!’ Jack cried. ‘This hair is a bristle, and the marks have been made by wild pigs.
‘Exactly, lad; and if I’m not much mistaken they’ve had a big fight amongst themselves hereabouts.’
‘Let us try to shoot some of them, Readyman.’
‘I’d like to, my son, but don’t forget that the boars are always savage, and regular demons to fight. Let me go first.’
In silence, and with great caution against sudden attack by cannibals, both friends continued to follow the track that led them deeper and deeper into the forest. The light still remained fairly good, while the track held an upward course. At last they came suddenly on a great wall of rock rising almost perpendicularly before them. At the same moment Readyman pulled up so abruptly that Jack, walking close behind, stumbled against him.
Without speaking the quarter-master pointed toward a spot at the base of the cliff, and following the direction Jack immediately perceived a large number of small pigs fast asleep in their comfortable quarters, apparently unaware of impending danger.
‘Stand behind a tree, and take your choice of a good fat one,’ Readyman whispered. ‘Mind you don’t waste a shot. I’ll get under cover also, and see if we can bring home a couple of good porkers. Should you see a boar look wild, mind you get out of his road as quickly as possible. If I’m attacked, I’ll shin up one of the trees.’
Each sportsman took his chosen position. The happily snoring pigs never stirred until suddenly a stronger whiff of wind from Jack’s direction set a savage-looking but somewhat diminutive boar on its feet. A sharp squeal of warning aroused the rest of the animals. The boar snorted angrily, and with head bent close to the ground flew directly toward the tree behind which Jack stood, with rifle ready to let fly as soon as he felt certain of hitting the animal. All that while some thirty or forty pigs of various sizes and ages stood motionless, awaiting the result of their leader’s onslaught.
From behind one tree a deafening noise arose, a cloud of smoke partly obscured the outlook, but before it had time to clear off a similar noise came from another tree. One of their fattest and most cheery comrades lay stiff in their midst, while the leader, in whom the utmost confidence had always been placed, limped badly on three legs, and from another blood flowed. Nevertheless, he was still full of fight, and made desperate attempts to inflict serious if not fatal injuries on Jack Clewlin. Round the foot of the tree Jack dodged his deadly foe, and on one occasion he got in a stunning blow of the rifle stock on the hard head of the boar. The next moment he was beyond reach of the sharp and gleaming tusks, which would have ripped up his leg like paper; but the gun had been dropped.
All that while Readyman was waiting his opportunity to deal a fatal blow, and when he fired the infuriated pig dropped dead without a squeal.
‘Climb down, my son,’ the quarter-master whispered. ‘You got well out of that scrape. Let us have another shot at the crowd before they clear out.’
The pigs, apparently fascinated, remained motionless. Jack speedily recovered, and re-charged his rifle, and within a couple of seconds as many more pigs fell to the shots of the sportsmen. Thus brought to a sense of their own imminent danger, the remaining animals dashed off into the thick woods and disappeared.
With their spoils of the fight both men returned to camp. Mr. Statten had heard the firing, yet felt that as no one sang out for assistance nothing need be feared; but he mustered all the Chinamen, and made ready to repel a possible native attack.
All hands were agreeably surprised by the arrival of so much fresh food, and with the tough old boar, as their share of the meat the pigtails hastened back to their quarters to enjoy a good meal.
It was almost dark before Mr. Sennit with the long-boat returned to camp; but of Captain Thorne and his party no information was forthcoming.
‘I’ve seen nothing of them all day,’ the mate said. ‘Perhaps there are natives on the island,’ Mr. Statten observed. ‘The captain may have been lured into some trap.’
‘Well, I thought he had returned,’ the mate replied. ‘We cannot leave him adrift all night. Come along, some of you, and let us discover the truth. Don’t forget your guns, boys.’
Everyone in camp wished to join him, but taking Readyman, Jack Clewlin, and one hand, he immediately set out on the trail of the missing men. By the time that they had covered a quarter of a mile the darkness rendered progress difficult. In spite of that, however, Mr. Sennit led the way, and the almost invisible track began to ascend. Still advancing, they came out suddenly on the summit of a high ridge, and in the opposite valley heard the discharge of a rifle.
‘That comes from the captain!’ Mr. Sennit exclaimed. ‘We’ll soon find out what may be wrong.’
He discharged his piece to announce the proximity of friends, and then casting about for some trace of the path, discovered that it took a sharp easterly turn, and finally went downward over the ridge.
‘It seems almost madness to follow it in the dark,’ the mate said. ‘Anyhow, where they went safely we can chance a slight fall. Let us rope ourselves together, and Clewlin, being the lightest, must take the lead.’
Down they went without accident, and within half an hour Captain Thorne and his party were found.
‘One of my men has broken his leg,’ the skipper explained. ‘We have had to carry him all the afternoon.’
‘We only heard your signal after reaching the top of the hill, sir,’ Mr. Sennit said.
‘Did you discover anything in the long-boat, Sennit?’
‘No, sir. The place seems uninhabited.’
‘Except for wild pigs, of which there are many,’ Captain Thorne returned. ‘From certain signs, however, I’m led to think that not long ago the place must have been somewhat thickly dotted with villages. They have all been burned.’
‘Probably by native enemies, sir,’ the mate said.
‘No, Sennit, but by “black-birders” who have stolen the people.’
‘ALL HANDS ON DECK!’
The night proved so dark and the track so difficult to follow, that, hampered by the injured seaman, the captain and his party found the return no easy matter. Everyone, however, worked so cheerfully that just as dawn showed eastward next morning the camp was reached without further adventure or accident.
After breakfast the captain called a general muster before his tent, and explained his opinions on the situation.
‘The island is uninhabited,’ he said. ‘We must try to leave it as soon as possible. The stock of provisions cannot last beyond a month, and as I have the Chinamen to feed we must get them to Honolulu. Our three boats are in good condition, and might easily make the trip.’
‘I could reach there in the long-boat, sir,’ Mr. Sennit observed, ‘and hire a larger craft to take you off.’
‘Well, of course that could be done,’ the skipper replied; ‘but I believe that by a little close stowage all hands might sail together. Such a course would save a lot of time, trouble, and expense, to say nothing of being able to stick together for assistance, should foul weather set in.’
‘Yes, that would be the best way out of the fix,’ the mate said; ‘and I have no doubt we’ll do it, too.’
The boats were immediately got ready for service. Everyone became anxious that a start southward should be made. The Chinamen were informed of what was about to take place, and they made no objection.
On the morning of the contemplated departure, however, a change of weather set in, and within a few hours a tremendous gale and high sea were sweeping directly into the bay. Captain Thorne immediately gave orders for the boats to be hauled above high-water mark; but, although the two smaller ones were quickly unloaded and saved, the heavy long-boat was not so easily handled.
‘All hands on deck!’ the skipper shouted, through blinding rain, stinging spume, and screaming wind, ‘Save the stores!’
So heavy was the surf on the beach that scarcely anything in the big boat was secured, and she was finally tossed ashore in a hopelessly shattered condition.
All the tents were blown down. Much of the stores there deposited were also carried away into the woods, and the Chinamen became so frightened that all of them disappeared, and were subsequently discovered two miles inland.
The storm increased with such rapidity that in spite of their most active efforts many men were blown off their feet. The immense waves presently caught and broke up the quarter-boats, and the beach was strewn with wreckage.
For some hours the outlook remained so thick that nothing of the ‘Alert’ could be seen; but some of her spars were noticed coming ashore.
As nothing more could be done along the beach Captain Thorne turned his attention toward saving as much of the tent gear as was possible, and most of it was secured.
Toward the evening the storm abated, and a sudden clearance of the atmosphere was immediately followed by the general cry, ‘The barque’s gone!’ Of her not a trace, save the shattered wreckage ebbing and flowing with every ‘send’ of the high sea, remained, and all hands perceived that no hope of leaving the island by their own efforts was possible.
‘Well, we’re in God’s hands!’ the captain said. ‘Had we left here and been caught outside in the storm, none could have lived two hours. Let us be thankful for that mercy.’
So rapidly did the wind fall that before sundown two tents were rigged up amongst the trees near the beach, a fire was lighted, a kettle was found, and filled with water taken from a cask which the gale could only shift a few yards, and all hands settled down for the night.
Next morning not a trace of the late trouble appeared. Indeed, the sun shone with increased brilliancy, and the clearness of the atmosphere was wonderful.
A good fire soon had the kettle steaming cheerily for breakfast, while, ‘smiling all over their pigtail faces,’ as Readyman said, two of the missing Chinamen strolled into camp seeking food.
‘What you do with pigee me give yesterday?’ Mr. Statten inquired. ‘S’pose you go catchee him.’
‘Win’ allee same blow him San Francisco,’ the man replied. ‘Him no good. Wanchee too muchee chow-chow. Savvee?’
Captain Thorne laughed very heartily. ‘They can’t have enjoyed that old boar,’ he said. ‘Give them some bread, steward.’
The fellows went off smiling more serenely than ever, and the remainder of their companions soon trotted in for further supplies.
‘See here, Sennit,’ the old man observed, ‘when on my tramp we saw several apparently cultivated patches of ground. There may be things there worth having, as the owners did not turn up. These Chinamen cause me much anxiety. I must land them in California.’
‘I’ll take a couple of hands and try to cross the island,’ the mate replied. ‘There’s no time to lose.’
Three of the hands, with Readyman and Jack Clewlin, immediately volunteered for service. Each of them was supplied with a rifle and ammunition and rations sufficient for three days. Headed by the mate, all set off on the expedition, and good progress was made.
They followed the old track, and soon perceived that some easier route than that precipitous descent into the opposite valley must be found, as otherwise they would lose much valuable time in getting the crops up the rocks and into camp.
‘We must separate and find another path,’ the mate said. ‘Should any of you discover one, fire your rifle.’
‘Ay, ay, sir.’
Jack and Readyman went off together. They had some difficulty in forcing a passage through the thick undergrowth, and the quarter-master presently declared that no road in that direction would be found. ‘I thought the pigs might have given us a clue, lad,’ he said; ‘but they have never strolled up here.’
Just then Jack, who was in advance, suddenly reached a sharp bend of the ridge, and emerged on a good clearance. From there the ground began to fall away gently toward the valley, and in an instant his eye caught slight of a pig-track.
‘Then we’ve been the first to make a discovery!’ Readyman exclaimed.
He immediately discharged his rifle, and the other men speedily arrived. The track was followed, and, after about a mile of steady tramping in single file, all hands walked straight into the midst of several rudely constructed huts that stood at the foot of a great tree; but no natives could be seen.
‘They’ve only just cleared out,’ Readyman said. ‘Look! The fires are still alight.’
‘Keep quiet,’ Mr. Sennit whispered. ‘The unfortunate people probably mistake us for “blackbirders.” Captain Thorne’s suggestion was correct. The place has been raided by scoundrels who carry off the men for trade.’
Close by a large patch of ground was well cultivated, and many large pumpkins, yams, and sweet potatoes were flourishing. Suddenly Jack saw a woman approaching, and held up his arms, as a sign that nothing need be feared. Then many other females, some of them accompanied by children, approached the huts; but not one man appeared. By that time the white party had hidden their weapons away, and as the mate made friendly signs the women slowly returned to their homes.
Much chattering among the half-frightened, half friendly-disposed women ensued; but in a wonderful manner Mr. Sennit explained the real nature of his visit, and how his vessel had been wrecked on the island.
Considerable satisfaction was immediately apparent among the people, and without hesitation they led him toward another and until then unseen patch of cultivated ground, which they signified he could make use of.
With deep lamentations they also indicated that quite recently a small vessel had arrived on the coast, and after some friendly palaver suddenly seized all the men, and with them left the island. Indeed, it soon became clear that such practices had been common of late, and that in that way the beautiful spot had been denuded of all its able-bodied inhabitants.
A good stock of vegetables was secured for the camp; but when the white men attempted to load themselves up for the return journey the women immediately volunteered their services, and dividing the loads into somewhat smaller quantities set out to guide the visitors home.
Their route differed considerably from that taken by the mate; for a while it seemed as though the party were pursuing a circuitous road, but on being assured that all was correct the mate ceased his advice, and in the end he was conducted straight back to camp in much less time than could have been deemed possible.
‘Well, well, Sennit,’ the old man sang out, ‘you’ve been making hay while the sun shone, and no mistake.’
‘Hay, sir!’ the mate cried, ‘it’s good pumpkin, yams, and sweet spuds, this time. There is any amount of fruit as well, but I didn’t like to be too greedy first time of asking.’
‘Where did you find the women?’
‘Quite by accident. All their men-folk have been carried off by some ruffianly “black-birders.”‘
The women feared only the Chinamen; and when returning home each was given a couple of biscuits.
On the following day several women returned with quantities of excellent vegetables and fruit, for which they eagerly accepted ship bread; and as the meat supply in camp was running short Captain Thorne signified his needs of more.
The women immediately offered to become guides for a shooting party, and under their directions Mr. Sennit and five hands set off on the trail.
The accurate knowledge of the animals’ habits possessed by the natives proved highly advantageous, and the expedition was also fruitful of results.
On reaching a certain spot about four miles from the camp, all the white men were advised to remain in hiding, and keep a good lookout. Then the women disappeared.
An hour of inactivity ensued. Then suddenly a faint rustling among the scrub along the pig-track ahead was speedily followed by the appearance of many small and grunting animals in rapid movement, In fact, the entire track seemed to become filled with them, and the sportsmen grew excited.
As the pigs dashed forward rifles snapped out their missiles, and every shot went home.
Six fat porkers fell to the guns, and three more were killed by revolver fire. The beaters soon appeared, and as their share of the day’s sport three pigs were handed over, while with the remaining spoils slung over their weapons the men returned home. A great feast was enjoyed by all hands that evening, and the Chinamen seemed perfectly contented with the new life, and by no means anxious to reach San Francisco.
However, during the next forenoon three frightened-looking and extremely agitated women hastened into camp, and by rapid signs informed the captain that the vessel had returned to the island in search of more male natives.
‘Arm yourselves, all hands,’ he promptly sang out. ‘We shall endeavour to protect these poor people. If I can only put my hands on the scoundrels, they’ll not soon forget it.’
He then told the women that they need fear nothing, and that as long as he remained on the spot they should have his assistance.
The party soon reached the opposite side of the island, and in a sheltered little bay found the vessel, a schooner of fifty tons, at anchor. None of her crew had as yet landed. The old man hastily laid a trap for their arrest, and then awaited events.
It was not long before a boat full of cowardly foreigners came on shore, and with revolvers concealed in their clothing began to separate, in quest of some new spot likely to prove successful for their purpose. By the directions of Captain Thorne some of the women now began to show themselves, and the landing party immediately followed them.
The moment the ruffians had got well in-shore the skipper and his men surrounded them. A few shots proved so effectual that within half an hour the entire gang were made prisoners and disarmed. The schooner was also taken, and, to the intense astonishment and delight of the women, she was found to be almost filled with their sons, husbands, or brothers, captured only a few weeks previously.
All the unhappy men were promptly put on shore, and the schooner made sail for Camp Bay, where the ‘Alert’ had been wrecked; and before sundown she anchored there. The prisoners were landed, and thus another day of adventure on the island closed.
First thing next morning the carpenter set to work fitting up a stout partition in the schooner’s hold, so that the Chinamen might be kept apart from the ‘black-birders’; and on its completion the latter were again placed on board.
Meanwhile, all hands had been busily collecting stores for shipment, water from a good spring was filled into every available cask, a fresh stock of pork was killed, and, to mark their sense of gratitude, the islanders presented an enormous stock of vegetables and fruit.
At length the schooner set all her canvas, and amidst the regrets of the natives left Camp Bay.
A FORTUNATE ESCAPE
‘After all, Sennit,’ the old man exclaimed, as the vessel cleared the island on her passage to Honolulu, ‘it has turned out most fortunate that our boats were broken up by that gale. We have been allowed to help those unfortunate people.’
‘Yes, sir,’ the mate replied; ‘and help to choke the rascals down below, I hope.’
The little schooner proved to be a smart sailer, and ripped along in such splendid style that without further adventure she arrived at her destination, where all the prisoners went to gaol to await trial.
Captain Thorne, however, presently discovered that unless he was prepared to incur considerable expense in taking his men to San Francisco by steam, there was nothing left for him to do but to sail there in the captured vessel. He decided to take the latter course.
The Chinamen at first made complaint of their cramped quarters, but on finding that the entire hold was now at their service they agreed to remain. Whereupon more fresh stores and water were shipped, and exactly ten days after entering Honolulu harbour they again sailed for their original port of discharge.
With a rattling breeze and all sail set, out went the vessel on her voyage toward San Francisco.
Of that trip nothing need be said. A splendid breeze carried them safely across the last portion of the Pacific, and, as though fortune seemed determined to make up for all previous trials and difficulties, nothing worthy of the name of gale delayed their progress.
On passing through the entrance of the magnificent bay, under a full press of canvas, the schooner raced along on inclined bilge, until at last the anchor was dropped in two fathoms near the city, and there awaited the appearance of the health officer, to allow the surviving emigrants to land.
‘Well, captain,’ the doctor exclaimed, as he stepped on board, ‘you are a good while overdue. Surely you have not come all across the Pacific in a cockle-shell like this?’
Captain Thorne laughed. ‘Not exactly,’ he said; ‘yet small as she is she has brought us here much more quickly than was expected. I have not more than forty of my emigrants shipped at Hong Kong remaining.’
‘By the way, captain, did not the “Alert” belong to a certain Liverpool firm?’
‘Yes, sir, and I only joined her at Brisbane.’
‘Well, then, I do not think you’ll be long out of employment. In short, captain, one of your company’s ships is here now loading grain for the United Kingdom, but, most unfortunately, her master met with a fatal accident—fell into the hold—last week, and died yesterday. You should see the agent, and secure the vacant position.’
‘Is not her chief officer in charge?’ the skipper inquired. ‘He will likely take her home.’
‘He is not qualified to do so,’ the doctor returned. ‘Lose no time, captain.’
Leaving the schooner in charge of the mate, the old man immediately acted on the advice; and on explaining how the ‘Alert’ was lost, and his connection with the firm owning the captainless ship, he was directed to take charge of her, and get ready for sea as quickly as possible.
‘I must tell you, sir,’ the agent added, ‘that another vessel is on the point of sailing for England. She is a well-known clipper, and as your predecessor challenged her for a great race home, much excitement has been aroused here, and everyone hopes that you will do your utmost to win the prize of five thousand dollars for the first arrival at Stonewell, where both ships call for orders.’
‘Well, sir,’ the captain cheerily replied, ‘since you are intrusting me with such a pleasing and exciting task, all I can say is, that every fathom of speed to be got out of our vessel shall be strictly reeled-off. Leave the matter with me.’
He immediately returned to the schooner, packed what clothing had been saved from the wreck of the ‘Alert,’ and in charge of Jack Clewlin he also sent his chronometers, charts, and other navigating gear on board the new ship.
When Jack there learned that she was bound to Stonewell for orders his joy knew no bounds. But parting from Readyman and all those with whom he had been so long associated would prove a painful matter, since, of course, he knew that he must follow Captain Thorne. But even those troubles were speedily dispelled.
Nearly half the crew of the ‘Ocean Glory,’ as the ship was named, had been induced to desert, for the sake of high wages ashore; their places were, however, immediately filled by his old comrades, while the mate and Mr. Statten accepted passages home as third and fourth officers. Thus all the friends were enabled to meet again on the new craft, which was a splendid clipper of nineteen hundred tons, and in every respect likely to prove both comfortable and speedy. She was as finely modelled and more loftily sparred than the ‘Silver Crown,’ and Jack looked knowingly at her three standing skysail and main moonsail yards, above the royals. With so strong a crew ready to ‘put her through’ on the run home, it soon became evident that she would more than hold her own, and her supporters became correspondingly jubilant of success.
To be quite fair, however, there was no doubt that her rival would prove a formidable foe. She was also beautifully designed, was slightly larger and longer than her opponent, with wedge-like bow, clean run, and she also carried several sails above the royals. Both ships were ‘like spick and span pins,’ as sailors say, and each had all her canvas ‘bent.’
‘Well, she looks a clipper every inch, Sennit,’ the skipper observed. ‘All the same, though, if you and I cannot put our charge through several days ahead, things must have changed since we met.’
‘That’s so, sir,’ the mate replied. ‘Some believe we have no chance, but that’s all bluff. The others, however, know their ship, and we’ve to discover everything for ourselves.’
‘We’ll smash her, Sennit’
For a couple of days both vessels were busily employed in shipping the last of their stores; and during that interval Jack received a long letter from home, in which his father hoped he was well, but said that some anxiety was aroused by the lengthened voyage of the ‘Alert.’ An explanatory letter was immediately despatched.
The rival clipper, ‘Flying Scud’ sailed first, and with canvas mounting from the rails to the moonsail yard made a fine show. The long black hull was relieved by a strip of painted ports, and careening gracefully she sped quickly out of the bay.
‘Mark her time to the offing, Sennit!’ the old man exclaimed; ‘that will give us a fair idea of her speed. I take notice that they haven’t sent a rope-yarn of stu’n’s’l gear aloft yet. Perhaps she doesn’t carry any. The younger skippers say it doesn’t compensate for the cost and trouble.’
‘We’ll show them that this voyage, sir,’ the mate said. ‘I begin to think we have a good chance of getting the prize.’
‘Chance! I’ll smash her, Sennit.’
Owing to some mistake about the nationality of the ‘black-birding’ schooner, the ‘Ocean Glory’ was detained till nearly sundown, but when the chief officer sang out to man the windlass all hands rushed to the levers. The cable came in with a rattle, and across the beautiful bay went the chanty:
‘The breeze is from the east-south-east,
And she can sail ten knots at least.
Our officers we will obey,
So now to grog, my lads, I say.
For we are homeward-bound, my boys,
We are homeward-bound.’
‘Cable’s hove short, sir,’ Mr. Fortune, the mate, sang out.
The youngsters at the main capstan ‘pawled’ it. The hands, knowing what would follow, left the forecastle-head.
‘Loose all canvas fore and aft,’ the skipper sang out.
‘We’ll race the after-guards for it!’ a man cried in defiance, as he sprang up the main rigging.
‘And we’ll take you,’ Jack Clewlin returned, as, smartly mustering all his younger associates of the half-deck, he had them skipping from yard to yard on the mizen mast, casting off the gaskets, and overhauling the running gear. Then, sliding down to the quarter-deck he forced the steward, carpenter, sailmaker, and boys to man the halyards. Up went the topsail and other yards with a leap, and before those forward had realised the fact every stitch of sail aft was set.
‘Well done, Clewlin!’ the skipper exclaimed. ‘You’ve fairly beaten your opponents.’
As the anchor was broken out the ‘Ocean Glory’ canted her head seaward, and under all sail, and with bunting flowing bravely in the breeze, away toward the offing she glided with ever-increasing movement. A hearty cheer followed her from the shore. Not a moment was lost in getting more canvas spread. The studding-sail booms were dragged off the skids and sent aloft, that gear was promptly rove by experienced and nimble hands, and before sundown the clipper had reached well out beyond the Golden Gates, and the time taken by the old man proved that she had covered the distance much more quickly than her rival.
With a light five-knot breeze steady progress was made throughout the night, the anchors were secured on the forecastle-head, watches were ‘picked’ by the officers, and Jack Clewlin and his ‘side’ turned in till midnight.
The ship proved to be somewhat heavily laden, but of that no notice was taken, since long before Cape Horn was reached, the daily consumption of food and water would have made some difference in her trim, while the cargo of grain would also have settled down firmly in its place, and thus enable the captain to observe any slight peculiarity of trim.
Nothing whatever could be seen of the ‘Flying Scud’; every day a bright lookout for her was maintained by men engaged at work aloft, and still the wind remained fair and moderately strong.
Ten days after leaving port the first vessel was seen, and proved to be, not the ‘Flying Scud,’ as was at first supposed, but a San Francisco-bound ship, one hundred and twenty days out from the Mersey, and she signalled need of a few fresh provisions. Captain Thorne immediately drew closer, and having sent what food could be spared to the stranger, he inquired if she had seen anything of his rival.
‘A big painted-port craft, eh?’ the other master inquired. ‘Yes, we fell in with her three hours ago. Yet, in spite of my crippled condition and want of grub, she would not pay the slightest heed, but continued her voyage. She’s nearly abreast of you now, but several miles farther west.’
‘Then we have beaten her already,’ Captain Thorne sang out. ‘Thank you, sir, and a speedy arrival in port. I’m sorry I can afford no better assistance.’
‘So long, captain. I’ll tell them at ‘Frisco that you’re miles ahead. By the way, that other craft is not carrying stu’n’s’ls. It’s the new fashion, I believe.’
The ‘Ocean Glory’ continued her voyage, crossed the equator in good style, and after a delay of only one day she struck the first of the south-east trade winds, and in one long close-hauled board stood away about south-west-by-south, still keeping a sharp watch for the slightest sign of her opponent, and making rapid progress toward the bleak and stormy latitudes of Cape Horn.
Early one morning, in latitude 57°, 48′ south, a hand aloft reported the ‘Flying Scud’ standing as themselves, some fifteen miles to the westward, and great excitement prevailed.
‘I don’t believe it can be that vessel!’ the old man exclaimed. ‘Clewlin, you have sharp eyes; here, take my glasses, and find out if she is really our rival.’
Within a few seconds Jack had perched himself snugly on the royal yard. He had some difficulty in picking up the vessel, yet, once he got her fairly focused she was not again lost sight of, but was certainly steering much ‘freer’ than themselves.
‘It isn’t the clipper, sir,’ Jack presently sang out. ‘She is all black fore and aft, and only carries royals.’
‘I thought so,’ the old man said. ‘She’s either a Sidney or a Melbourne packet, and is, of course, going easier.’
The stranger knew nothing of the ‘Flying Scud.’ As she drew up nearly abreast Captain Thorne eased his helm, and with yards slightly checked in the ‘Ocean Glory’ almost kept her place, despite the fact that the other was flying light with wool and passengers.
‘Set our starboard topmast stu’n’s’l,’ the skipper sang out.
Mr. Fortune, unaccustomed to such ‘carrying on,’ eyed him nervously, but soon had the canvas set. It added half a knot, and made up the even ten knots an hour. Neither vessel now gained any advantage, and the old man smiled cheerfully.
Darkness soon hid both vessels. During the night the wind began to draw more aft, and although it was blowing ‘pretty fresh’ Captain Thorne immediately came on deck, and ordered the mate to set the lower and port topmast stu’n’s’ls.
‘I won’t be passed even by a wool ship, if I can help it,’ he added.
‘I scarcely think she can stand them,’ Mr. Fortune observed.
‘Then call Sennit, sir,’ was the sharp reply.
His own old mate was promptly to the fore. The extra canvas was ‘bent’ and also set. The strain on all the gear was tremendous, and in rising anxiety the watch alternately eyed it and the captain; but everything stood splendidly, and the skysails and main moonsail were stowed for the night.
Next morning the Australian was just visible astern, and she had nothing above a main top-gallant-sail set. Anyhow, she soon began to ‘wake up’ and set more canvas.
‘What are we doing now, Fortune?’ the skipper inquired.
A couple of hands were called aft, and the log was hove. The captain himself took the sandglass and awaited the order to ‘Turn!’
The line flew out astern, the reel rattled and shook as it had never done before, and the old man shouted, ‘Stop!’
‘Fourteen and a half knots, sir,’ Mr. Fortune said. ‘I’ve been in her two voyages, but never saw anything like this.’
‘But we’ve got to make up the even fifteen,’ Captain Thorne replied; ‘set the royals and skysails.’
The mate went forward wagging his head, and the watch began to talk; but the skipper got his fifteen knots, and the wool ship disappeared.
All that day the vessel flew before the wind; but toward evening the flying kites again came in.
As the flying ship drew southward of the Cape the weather became cold and stormy, while the great seas followed her with tremendous force, but they could never get any kind of serious grip, and with resounding emphasis broke on either quarter and rushed forward in seething foam.
So heavy did the wind become that, with much regret, the captain was compelled to shorten sail, and after the royals, studding-sails, and fore and mizen topgallant-sails were stowed the long winter night speedily closed down.
The barometer showed signs of further hard weather to come, and at the eight o’clock change of watches the main topgallant-sail, with the outer jib and upper mizen topsail, came in.
By ten o’clock the following gale had increased to a storm of considerable force, and after consultation with the chief mate and Mr. Sennit the skipper decided to put one reef in the main topsail, and two reefs in the fore topsail; but before going aloft the men hauled up the mainsail for stowage. It was, of course, an all hands job, and everyone knew that under such circumstances not much repose would be possible for several hours.
At that time there was a faint glimmer of moonlight, sometimes obliterated when a heavy, snow-laden cloud-bank passed overhead, but on other occasions quite a strong light prevailed for several minutes.
As the men reached the main topsail yard they immediately lay out toward the yardarms, and down on all a blinding snow-squall swooped. Even men close together could scarcely see each other, and nothing whatever of the ship. Nevertheless they set about reefing the canvas; it was so wet and stiff that, until the squall drove ahead, no hold could be obtained. The sail was like a great balloon in front of the yard.
In the ‘slings’ Mr. Statten was shouting like a bull, and up from the deck a faint ‘Bear a hand!’ occasionally struggled. In such a smother, and with a sail board-stretched by wind, it was impossible to act quickly.
At last the squall drove ahead. The moon struggled hard to cast a feeble gleam on the scene, and once more the officer sang out for another trial of strength.
One reef was ‘tied up’; but while engaged on another someone suddenly yelled—Jack Clewlin thought that a hand had fallen from the yard—and pointed at a mysterious-looking object ahead.
Jack had never seen such a weird spectacle, and for some time he could not imagine what it was. A huge, faintly traceable, and greenish-coloured mountain of mist, here and there cut into towering pinnacles; it appeared right across the course of the vessel. He was not long left in doubt.
Men more intimately acquainted with those stormy and dangerous seas knew at once the peril in which the scudding ship was placed, and in stentorian tones down to the deck went the cry, ‘Ice right ahead! Starboard, hard a-starboard!’
Instantly all hands dropped the work on which they were engaged, and by backstay and rigging slid down to man the braces. At the same moment every trace of moonlight vanished behind another black and snow-laden cloud driving across its face.
The wall of ice was no longer visible, and as the vessel came to the wind a great sea burst in over the weather quarter, almost filling the deck, but doing no more harm than soaking all hands to the skin, and lifting some of the fellows nearly over the rail; hanging on to the ropes they were hauled back in safety.
All that while the ‘Ocean Glory’ was forging ahead, everyone momentarily expecting to feel her crash on the ice, yet, most fortunately, such a disaster did not occur. More astonishing than all was the sudden subsidence of the storm, for the sea had become almost smooth.
Captain Thorne knew what that indicated, and very cheerily he sang out on his crew.
‘She’s clear, and under the lee of the berg, men!’ he cried.
‘Ay, ay, sir,’ some of them returned; ‘and it was a close shave, no mistake. But for that saving gleam of moonlight, she had smashed her nose against it long ago.’
There was to be no more racing that night.
When the hands had slipped into dry clothing they were again sent aloft to stow the upper topsails, and the ship lay-to till daylight, afraid to proceed too hastily, in case other ice dangers might prove more disastrous. A double lookout was kept fore and aft.
With the first show of daylight, and as the water ahead seemed free of obstruction, out went all the reefs, whole topsails were mastheaded, and in magnificent style the beautiful clipper again raced away on a true course. Several immense bergs some of them computed to be two or three miles long, were seen far off on the starboard beam, but during the remaining time spent in those low latitudes no more ice was sighted.
When once assured of that, Captain Thorne determined to make up for the few hours’ detention during that eventful night. The whole main top-gallant-sail was sheeted home and set, while even to the surprise of Mr. Sennit, who had had long experience of his superior, an order to ‘rig out both stu’n’s’l booms’ was passed.
Eyeing each other in amused astonishment the men immediately sprang aloft to execute the command.
‘She’ll scarcely bear it!’ one exclaimed. ‘I believe she’s doing fourteen knots now.’
‘Ay, ay,’ another fellow replied; ‘but I heard him tell the mate he meant to knock another one out of her, and shouldn’t mind losing a few booms to win the race.’
She was running dead before the wind, and the setting of those topmast studding-sails was a difficult matter. Nevertheless, they were soon pulling like horses at their booms, and had not everything been of the finest material nothing could have prevented an accident.
‘What do you think of this, Readyman?’ Jack smilingly inquired, as with great mounds of white foam gleaming round her bows the ‘Ocean Glory’ raced home in a truly surprising manner. ‘We’ve never done such sailing before.’
‘And likely never will again,’ the quarter-master replied. ‘I thought the “Silver Crown” could do a decent bit of scooting, but this one would beat her hollow. Just look how she cuts into everything like a knife, and she loaded to the scuppers.’
As the course was presently altered slightly to the northward, more canvas was spread. Day by day runs of nearly four hundred miles became quite common. The weather grew much warmer and less boisterous, the Falkland Islands were passed, and without incident worthy of notice the equator was again crossed for the second time that voyage; but there the ship was unfortunately delayed by want of wind. However, the hands were kept busy in getting her ready for port, the decks were holystoned fore and aft, and after that paint and tar pots became the order of the day.
Three days after crossing the line the Australian clipper was sighted crawling northward, and being so much lighter and higher in the water, she steadily drew level, and signalled her surprise at finding her rival so much ahead, but that of the ‘Flying Scud’ nothing had been seen.
At last the first of the north-east trade wind began to fill the canvas. The ship drew away north, and after a splendid passage of eighty-five days from San Francisco she sighted the Irish coast in the vicinity of Cape Clear. An increasing south-westerly breeze took her along in good style.
Jack Clewlin, full of delight at once again seeing the outlines of his native land rising along the horizon a-lee, could not be induced to leave his lookout perch on the fore royal yard, and was the first to hail the deck with a tremendous outburst of joy, ‘Stonewell lighthouse right ahead, sir!’
Half an hour later a pilot came alongside, and for some seconds his ears tingled with the oft-repeated inquiry, ‘Has the “Flying Scud” arrived?’
‘No,’ the man replied. ‘We’ve been watching for her or you the last couple of days. You have won the prize.’
A hearty cheer greeted the announcement.
The ‘Ocean Glory’ dropped her anchor in the outer roadstead of Stonewell Harbour, and after a voyage of three years and ten months, Jack Clewlin, now a tall, broad-shouldered young fellow of twenty, completed his sea apprenticeship.
His father lost no time in reaching the ship, gripped his son in a warm handshake, and heard from Jack himself how much the lad appreciated a life afloat.
Four days later the ‘Flying Scud’ arrived, and a cheer greeted her disappointed crew.
To Readyman Captain Clewlin returned his warmest thanks for the advice and assistance afforded his son, and the good old quarter-master felt considerable regret on parting from his young shipmate.
The two ships received orders to proceed to Liverpool, where Jack received his indentures, marked with the words, ‘The within has been fulfilled to our entire satisfaction.’
With his father he soon returned home, and thus ended the many remarkable incidents connected with ‘a boy’s adventures round the world.’
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