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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdrift In A Boat - Chapter 7
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Adrift In A Boat - Chapter 7 Post by :mikevecc Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2299

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Adrift In A Boat - Chapter 7


The loss of her mizen-mast did not appear to damp the ardour of the British frigate's crew. The firing was continued with unabated fury on both sides, neither ship apparently moving through the water; now they were shrouded in smoke--now the smoke was blown away, and the firing ceased. "The Frenchman's foremast is tottering!" shouted Harry. "See! see! David. Down it comes--hurrah! hurrah!" Still the flags of their respective countries waved at the mastheads of the frigates. The mast did not come down either when Harry thought it would, neither did the firing cease altogether. Faint sounds of musketry or pistol-shots came across the water--then three or four great guns were fired--the sides of the ships were close together, or rather, the bow of the English frigate was fast to the Frenchman's side.

"They are boarding," cried Harry; "I know it must be that--then our fellows will win the day.--The Frenchman's flag will be down directly. Watch! watch! I know it will."

They waited eagerly, looking out for some time. Suddenly a cloud of smoke ascended from one of the ships. It was difficult to say from which; again and again the guns were fired. "I am afraid that after all our friends are getting the worst of it," remarked David, with a sigh.

"Oh, no, no! impossible!" exclaimed Harry. "See, see! down comes the Frenchman's flag--hurrah! hurrah! I knew it would be so. Englishmen are never licked. We would go down first with our colours flying. Hurrah! hurrah! we've gained the day." Harry waved his cap above his head, and shouted long and loudly, communicating his enthusiasm, not only to David, but to the old man himself; but so vehement in his demonstrations of joy did he become at last, that he nearly upset the raft, and then well-nigh fell overboard himself. David was rather more quiet in his demonstrations, still he did not feel less satisfaction probably than his friend.

"We must get on board to congratulate them," exclaimed Harry; "I wouldn't miss that on any account; if we pull hard we shall be able to get up to them--eh, Mr Jefferies? They will be some time repairing damages and shifting the prisoners, and they are not likely to make sail till then."

"We mustn't count too much upon that, young gentleman; we are further off than you think, and darkness will be down over the ocean long before we can get up to them. Besides, do you know, I don't think the sights aboard those ships, either the conqueror or the conquered, would be so pleasant as you suppose. I know what a man-of-war is after a hard-fought battle. The decks strewn with the dead, and slippery with blood and gore, the cockpit full of wounded men, lately strong and hardy, now cripples for life, many dying, entering into eternity, without a hope beyond their ocean grave, Christless, heathens in reality if not in name, stifled groans and sighs, and oftentimes shrieks of despair on every side. Such sights I have seen in my youth, and I speak the language of some of the great preachers who have come down to these parts, and boldly put forth the gospel of salvation to perishing sinners under the blue vault of heaven. You only look at one side of the picture, and that quickly vanishes away; mine, unhappily, is too real to be wiped out quickly." The old man spoke in a tone he had not hitherto used, which showed that his education had been superior to that which men of his vocation generally possess.

This remark, it must be confessed, considerably damped the ardour of the young midshipman. The latter, however, still continued to urge him and David to try and get on board one of the ships. They were in reality as anxious as he was to do so, for they could not but feel that they were exposed to many dangers while they remained on the raft. The wind had dropped, and in one respect this was in their favour, as the frigates could not sail away; but what little wind there was was against them, and this made rowing their heavy craft more tedious. They progressed very slowly, and after two hours' hard rowing they seemed no nearer than before. The day was drawing on; still they persevered. Hope continued to cheer the two boys, whatever the old man might have thought about the matter. At last Harry stopped. "They are making sail, and the breeze is getting up. Oh dear! oh dear! They'll be off before we can reach them. Still we'll try--pull away, David, pull away, there's a good fellow."

All the efforts of the lads brought them no nearer the two frigates. They could see the British ensign run up above that of the French. Still it was evident that they themselves were not observed: no wonder, under the circumstances, as everybody on board must have been busily engaged. Still thus, as it were, to be deserted, was very trying to the young lads. They bore up, however, manfully under the disappointment.

"Perhaps the wind may fall or shift again, and they may have after all to take a tack this way," exclaimed Harry, whose hopeful enthusiasm it was impossible to damp. At last the night returned, and the darkness shut out the frigates from their sight. The lads had to while away the time by conversation, and expressed their intentions of not going to sleep during the night; they, however, stowed themselves away in their accustomed places, where, should they by any chance begin to slumber, they might not run the risk of falling into the sea. For some time they kept to this resolution, Harry still buoyed up with the hope that they might get on board the frigate in the morning. At last David's voice began to get very drowsy, so even did Harry's, and in spite of their strange position and their anxiety, first one and then the other dropped off to sleep. The old man leaned forward to ascertain that they were both secure.

"Sleep on, lads! sleep on!" he muttered. "He who reigns above can alone tell whether or not this is the last night you will spend on earth. I liked not the look of the sky when the sun went down, and before many hours have passed this frail raft may be tossing on an ocean of foaming seas." The old man was silent, but he did not sleep. Often he prayed. He thought over many things of his past life, as men under such circumstances are apt to do. Happy are those who have not to reflect on crimes committed, injuries done to others too late to remedy! and still more fearful must be the thoughts of those who are not trusting to the perfect and complete sacrifice offered on Calvary--whose sins have not been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. The old man knew in whom he trusted, and no bitterness entered his thoughts. The hours passed on; stars became obscured; clouds were seen chasing each other across the dark sky, slowly at first, then more and more rapidly; the raft began to rock, scarcely perceptibly, then gently, then with more and more movement, but the boys slept on; accustomed to spend their time on the heaving wave, they did not feel the motion. At length a grey cold light began gradually to steal over the foam-covered ocean. The boys still slept on. The old man alone was awake on the raft. He lifted himself up, and bent forward as if in prayer. Thus he remained for some time. At length David, less accustomed to the sea than Harry, awoke from the motion of the raft. The exclamation to which he gave utterance aroused his companion; David quickly started to his feet, and gazed anxiously around the horizon. The two frigates had disappeared. No sail was in sight; nothing was to be seen but the heavy leaden-coloured waves, while the clouds seemed to come closely down on all sides. The raft drove quickly on before the storm.

"In what direction are we going?" asked David.

"To the south-west, I have an idea," answered Harry; "but I should not mind that, if I thought we were likely to fall in with the two frigates."

"Trust in God, my lads," said old Jefferies.

He spoke truly; for already the raft gave signs of breaking up, from the violence to which it had been exposed. The old man and the two boys did all they could to secure it more strongly by such ropes as they still had to spare, but it was difficult and dangerous to move from their positions. The seas followed rapidly, and more than once had almost broken over them. Still, while their mast stood, and they could keep their sail set, they hoped to continue running before the sea. They spoke but little to each other, and continued looking out on either side, in the hope of seeing some vessels which might afford them a refuge. Still none appeared. The old man continued steering the raft with great judgment and dexterity, but it was clear that the gale was increasing, and that in a very short time the frail structure on which they floated could not hold together amidst the fierce waves to which it would be exposed. Still, serious as was their position, the boys did not forget that they had had nothing to eat since the previous night. Harry dived down into their provision-box, and produced some biscuits and a piece of tongue. Their first care was to offer some to the old man.

"No, thank you, good lads, I've no hunger," he answered.

In spite of their pressing, he refused to take any of the food.

"I can't say that I'm not hungry," cried Harry, "though I'm afraid we must go without our tea."

David, who felt something like old Jefferies, when pressed, however, by Harry, gladly joined him in discussing such provisions as they could easily get at. Both of them were much refreshed by the nourishment, and in spite of the foreboding looks of the old man could not help holding sanguine hopes of escaping from their perilous position. Still they were hoping against hope, for in spite of the additional lashings they had cast round their raft, first one piece of plank and then another was torn off.

"Hold on tight!" cried Harry, as he gazed astern, "here comes a tremendous sea, and I don't know how we shall keep before it."

As he spoke a high foaming wave came roaring up. Already the raft was mounting a wave in front, or the consequences would have been more disastrous. The upper part of the sea broke completely over the raft, but it still floated on. Those on it looked anxiously round to see if any of their number were missing. The old man was still at his post at the helm, and the two boys at their places. It was evident, however, that a few more such seas would utterly destroy the raft. As Harry again gazed astern, he saw to his dismay many similar seas preparing to follow; still he would not say this, even to David, and tried in his own hearty way to keep up his companions' spirits. An hour or so thus passed away, when the raft gave stronger signs than ever of not having power to hold together.

"How fearful it would be if we were separated!" said David, who clearly comprehended what was likely to happen. Just then another tremendous sea came rolling up, and washed over the raft. The boys clung on for their lives, but when the raft once more rose to the surface, the mast was gone.

"No hope, I fear," said David.

"Yes, there is!" cried Harry; "I see a vessel bearing down directly for us."

The boys eagerly turned their eyes towards the stranger. It seemed doubtful, however, whether the raft would hold together till her arrival, or whether they could avoid being washed off the raft by the sea, which kept continually rolling over them. On she rapidly came.

"I don't much like her appearance," said the old man; "she doesn't look much better than the craft which we before refused to go on board."

"We have no choice at all," said Harry. "She looks like a Frenchman; but even the Monsieurs, considering our circumstances, would not treat us otherwise than with kindness," said David.

The boys waved and shouted with all their might. It seemed doubtful whether or not they were observed; still the stranger, a large topsail schooner, was standing directly for them. Presently they saw her shorten sail.

"All right!" cried Harry; "we're seen."

She rounded-to close to them, so close, indeed, that the two boys were able to grasp the ropes which were thrown to them, and were immediately hauled up on deck.

"But old Jefferies, we mustn't desert him!" cried Harry, as he saw the old man still on the raft. "Here! fasten this rope round my waist, and I'll go and haul him in."

The crew of the stranger seemed to understand him, but at that moment a sea rolling up drove the raft completely under the schooner's bottom. A few fragments again appeared, but the old man was not to be seen.

"Oh, where is he? where is he?" cried David and Harry; "we must save the good old man."

The people on board looked round on every side. So deep was the grief of the boys for his loss, that they scarcely for the moment seemed to think of their own preservation, nor of the character of the vessel on board which they had got. It was very clear that the old man had sunk for ever, as no signs of him appeared. Once more the vessel was put before the wind, and flew onward on her course.

Harry and David, on looking round, observed she was an armed vessel, carrying sixteen long guns, with swivels and other pieces. From the language they heard spoken by the crew, they knew she was French; while, from the varied dresses of the men and officers, they suspected she was a privateer, and not a man-of-war.

"I'm afraid we shall not much like our quarters here," said Harry. "The best thing we can do is to put a good face on the matter, and go aft and thank the captain for saving our lives; he will see by my uniform that I am an officer, and treat us as gentlemen."

Poor Harry's patch of white cloth, however, was not likely to be treated with much respect by a French privateer captain of those days.

"I wonder which of these fellows is captain," said Harry, as they approached three or four rough-looking fellows, as they were walking the deck with the air of officers. "Oh, I wonder whether they will understand English, for not a word of French can I speak."

"Nor can I indeed," said David; "I didn't think of that."

"We must make our intentions known, however," said Harry, "and I must muster up what I can say. I know they always begin by saying 'Monsieur' if they want to be polite, so I'll say 'Monsieur Captain, Monsieur Captain,'" looking round as he spoke, "we have to thank you for taking us aboard your vessel, and should be still further obliged if you could give us a change of clothes while ours are drying."

The Frenchmen looked at the boys with an air of indifference.

"Monsieur Captain," again began Harry, "I say we want to thank you for pulling us out of the water."

"Perhaps the captain is not among these men," suggested David.

"I want to see the captain," said Harry, bowing as before.

At length a small wizen-faced man appeared from below. His countenance wore anything but a pleasant aspect. By his dress, and the respect with which the others seemed to treat him, the boys had little doubt that he was the person of whom they were in search. They accordingly approached him.

"Are you the captain?" said Harry, bowing as before, for he did not forget his politeness, in spite of his wet clothes.

"Yes, I am," said the wizen-faced man.

"Oh, you speak English; how glad we are!" answered Harry, "because we can thus thank you for saving our lives."

"No great reason to thank me," said the man, in an unpleasant tone.

"You speak English very well, sir," said Harry, wishing to soothe him.

"I have had plenty of time to learn it," said the captain.

"Where was that, sir?" asked Harry.

"In an English prison," answered the Frenchman, with a grin, turning on his heel; "and I've no great cause to love those who kept me there, or their countrymen."

"I'm afraid we've gained very little by the expression of our gratitude," said David; "what are we to do?"

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CHAPTER EIGHT. THE GOOD-NATURED SEAMEN--PIERRE LAMONT--DAVID'S EMPLOYMENT--THE REPUBLICAN OFFICER. No one seemed disposed to pay the slightest attention to the two boys. The officers glanced at them superciliously. The captain, after taking a few turns on deck, scowled on them as he passed on his way below. They were left standing on the deck of the schooner, which went flying on before the still increasing gale. They were wet and cold, and grieving for the loss of their old friend, as well as very anxious about the sorrow their absence would cause their relatives at home. "I suppose the

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CHAPTER SIX. ON THE RAFT--THE SHARK--THE SEA-FIGHT. The raft still floated uninjured; the sea continued perfectly calm. Harry and David retained their health and spirits, hoping that they should reach the land at last; and the old man appeared to be steadily recovering. The calm tried them in one respect more than when the wind blew, because after the raft had been strengthened they had nothing to do. They talked of the past and of the future, but even friends cannot talk on all day, especially if they are hungry and thirsty, and are anxious about any matter.