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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 5. At Death's Door
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Charley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 5. At Death's Door Post by :teachmaster Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2848

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Charley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 5. At Death's Door

Chapter Five. At Death's Door


"How many years have we been here, Dick?" asked Charley. "It seems to me a great many, for I was a very little fellow when you first took charge of me, and now I am a strong big chap."

"Bring me the bundle of sticks and I will tell you," said Dick; "for I have not thought of reckoning lately, though I have kept the score as carefully as at first." Charley went and brought several sticks tied together and notched all over. Dick examined them.

"It's three years to-day, according to my reckoning, since we were put on shore. To my mind we ought to thank God, who has taken such care of us all this time. I should not mind, however, getting away soon, for your sake. It's time you should be having some book-learning. I don't want you to grow into a poor ignorant fellow like me."

"You are not ignorant, Dick," said Charley. "You taught me all I know, and I have no greater fancy for books than you have."

"But, Charley, I have another reason for wishing to get away," said Dick. "You see our clothes are pretty nearly worn out, and I have only stuff enough to make one more suit for you and one for myself, and you will grow out of yours pretty fast, as you have done the others. Then we may not always find provisions as plentiful as we have generally up to this time; birds don't come to the island as they did once, and I fancy that even the fish don't bite as freely along shore as they used to do. I have been thinking of building a larger boat, so that we may go farther off. That wreck which drove on the reef six months ago has given us plenty of stuff for timbers and planking, as well as canvas for sails, and now you are big enough to help me, I shall get on faster than when I built the small one."

Charley replied that he should be glad to do whatever Dick wished, and would try to learn carpentering. Dick accordingly set to work to build a large boat. The undertaking was, however, more difficult than he had expected, and at last he had to abandon his design, and, instead, to try and enlarge the little punt, or the coracle rather, which he had constructed some time before.

The two carpenters laboured away every day, when not engaged in shooting or fishing, or otherwise providing for their support.

Dick had husbanded his ammunition, but even that was coming to an end, and though eggs were still to be found, he could not hope longer to shoot many birds, which had become wilder in consequence of hearing the report of his gun.

Among the treasures sent on shore by the pirates was a small keg of tobacco. Dick had used it pretty freely for the first year or two, but latterly, finding that it must also come to an end, he put himself on an allowance, and only smoked a pipe occasionally when his day's work was over, and he took his seat with Charley on the bench under the porch in front of their hut. Charley had asked one day why he should not smoke too.

"A very good thing for grown men like me," answered Dick, "but very bad for little boys. When you have been at sea a dozen years or so, you may try if you like it. If it was to do you good I would share my last plug with you--you know that, Charley."

"Yes, indeed I do," was the answer, and Charley never again asked for tobacco.

They were seated, as I was saying, within the porch one evening, when Dick, whose eyes were turned towards the boat, drawn up on the beach in the little bay in front of them, observed--

"I have a fancy for taking a cruise farther out than we have been yet; we shall get bigger fish, and not lose so many lines and hooks. I am afraid we shall soon have nothing else but fish to live upon, and though they are not bad food, yet, if there was to come a spell of foul weather, such as we have had now and then, we should not be able to get even them. Now what I want is to catch a good quantity, that we may salt them down for a store, should there be nothing else to be got."

Charley was well pleased with the thoughts of a longer cruise, and early in the morning, having carried down some cocoa-nuts and boiled roots, with a few eggs and fish, which they cooked over night, they launched their curiously-built boat. She was, as Dick observed, a good one to run before a breeze, but where it came to sailing with the wind abeam, she was apt to go as fast to leeward as she did ahead. He, however, had made three oars, two of which he pulled himself, while he had taught Charley to steer with the third.

Though the wind blew off the land, it being light, Dick had no doubt he should easily be able to pull back again. Having examined the reefs from a height in the neighbourhood, and easily making his way among them, he reached the outer circle. Here he let down a big stone, to serve as an anchor, attached to a long rope; but he found the water deeper than he had expected, though, as the stone touched the bottom, he hoped that it would hold the boat.

The lines had not been long over the side before Charley hooked a big fish, larger than he had ever before seen. Dick helped him to haul it in, though, as he was so doing, it nearly broke away. Dick caught two or three, then Charley got another bite; he was again obliged to cry out for Dick's assistance. Dick saw that, from the size of the fish, skill would be required to capture it, and he continued playing it a considerable time, before he ventured to haul it up to the boat. On getting it on board he found that the hook was twisted, and some more time was employed in putting on a new one. Thus eager in and occupied with the sport, Dick did not observe that the boat was slowly drifting along the reef, away from the entrance, by which alone he could regain the shore. The wind was also increasing, though as the sea was smooth he did not discover this. At length, looking up, he observed the position of the boat, and on going to the bows, found that the cable was slack and the stone no longer at the end of it. It had been cut through. Quickly hauling in the cable and the fish-lines, and telling Charley to take the oar to steer, he began pulling hard to regain the passage through the reefs. A strong current was, however, against him, as was the wind, which had shifted slightly, and though he exerted himself to the utmost, he could make no way.

"I have been so long ashore that I have forgotten my seamanship, and have done a very lubberly thing," he said, as he tugged away. All his efforts were of no avail to urge the heavy tub-like boat against the forces opposed to her. She drifted farther and farther away from the land, and the farther she got the more she felt the influence of the breeze; while the sea also, though smooth near the land, began to tumble and toss in a way which made Dick feel more uncomfortable than he had ever before been in his life. The wind at the time blew only a moderate gale, but he could not help acknowledging that the craft he had been so proud of was very ill able to contend with the heavy sea which was rapidly getting up.

"There's no help for it, and I don't want the craft to capsize. I must run before the breeze, and may be it will shift, and we shall be able to get back again--but if not! well, I won't think of that," said Dick, to himself. "I must keep my own spirits up, for Charley's sake. It will be hard, however, for the poor little chap to lose his life after being saved from the sinking ship and those villainous pirates. For myself I don't care; I have well known ever since I came to sea that any day what happens to so many might happen to me."

The heavy boat, though flat-bottomed, behaved better than might have been expected. Dick, who had taken the helm, steered carefully, keeping right before the seas. As he had not communicated his fears to Charley, the boy was delighted with the way in which she flew over the foaming waters.

"I didn't think you were going to give me such a sail as this, Dick," he exclaimed.

"No more did I, Charley," answered Dick. "Maybe we shall not get back as soon as we wish, but the weather looks fine. I hope we may, some day or other."

Dick, however, was disappointed. The wind continued to freshen, and he was compelled to stand on, fearing the risk of making another attempt to regain the shore.

Night came on. He told Charley to take some food; but he was too much occupied himself to eat. He then, making the boy lie down near him, covered him up with a piece of canvas.

All night long he sat steering his boat and praying that the wind might not further increase. As day dawned he cast a hurried glance astern; the land was not to be seen. He had no compass, and even should the wind change, he would have difficulty in regaining so small a spot. He had not the heart to awake Charley, fearing that he would be frightened on finding himself out of sight of land. At length, however, the boy got up and gazed about him with an astonished look.

"Why, Dick, what has become of our island?" he exclaimed. "You never told me you were going to leave it!"

"I wish I had never done so," said Dick. Charley saw that his friend looked anxious.

"I don't know if we are in any danger; but if we are, remember, Dick, that God took care of us on the raft, and can just as well take care of us now. That's what you have taught me; and so I will pray to Him, and I am sure He will hear me."

"Do, Charley, do," said Dick; "and I'll mind the ship."

All that day the boat ran on. Charley insisted on bringing Dick some food, and putting it into his mouth, for he could not venture to leave the helm for an instant. Charley himself seemed perfectly happy, for after getting accustomed to the movements of the boat, the confidence he had in his friend prevented him from thinking of danger.

At length the wind began to fall, and the sea went down, and in a few hours a perfect calm came on. The boat floated without movement.

Dick determined, after he had had a few hours' sleep, to try and pull back. He slept longer than he expected, and Charley, who sat watching by his side, would not awake him. When at last he did open his eyes, it was nearly dark. A thin mist spreading over the ocean and obscuring the stars, he had no means of ascertaining in what direction to pull.

"I might be working away all night, and find that I had only gone farther from the island," he observed. "You and I, Charley, will keep watch and watch. You shall take one hour and I three; that will be about the proper proportion, seeing that I am about three times as old as you are, and want less sleep." So the night passed by.

At last the sun rose, his beams dispersed the mist, and Dick, seizing the oars, began to pull away lustily in the direction he supposed the island to be. Suddenly a crack was heard--one of his oars had gone--he took the steering oar, but that in a few minutes went also.

"It cannot be helped, Charley," he said. "We must trust to Him who knows well how to take care of us."

The boat lay motionless. Hour after hour and day after day passed away. Dick, as he had before done, gave Charley the largest portion of provisions and water, he himself taking barely enough to support life. He felt, too, very sorrowful, thinking of the fate which he feared might be in store for the poor little boy, on whom he had bestowed all the love of his big and tender heart.

As long as he had strength he stood up and gazed around, in the hopes of seeing a sail approaching. At length he sat down, and felt that he should not be able to rise any more. Charley brought him some water.

"Drink it, Dick," he said; "it will do you good; I am not thirsty."

Dick took a few drops; they revived him, and once more he rose to his feet, holding on by the mast. As he turned his eye to the northward it fell on a sail; he gave a shout of joy, though his voice sounded hollow in his own ears. "Charley," he said, "she is coming this way; pray to God she may not change her course."

So eager was he that he forgot his weakness, and continued standing up, watching the vessel, which came on, bringing up the breeze. He was now sure she would pass near where the boat lay. On and on she came.

"She is an English ship, by the cut of her sails!" he exclaimed. "Charley, my boy, we are saved. I don't think I could have held out many hours longer, and you would not have been far after me."

The stranger approached. It was evident, from the way she was steering, that they were seen; still Dick could not help shouting out as loud as his weak voice would allow. The stranger hove-to, and a boat was lowered.

"I hope they are not pirates," said Charley, "like the others."

"I hope not; but if they are we shall soon find out, and we can but ask them to put us ashore again; for depend on it they will know the whereabouts of our island."

This was said while the boat was approaching.

"What strange craft is that?" said the officer in command of the boat, examining Dick's wonderful specimen of naval architecture.

Dick explained that he and the boy had been out fishing, and been blown off the island, of which they had been the sole occupants for some years.

"We will hear more about it when we get you on board," said the officer, a fine-looking young man, in a kind voice, observing Dick's exhausted condition.

With the assistance of the crew Dick was lifted into the boat, for he had scarcely strength remaining to move, though Charley scrambled on board by himself. Dick heard from one of the crew, as the boat pulled towards the ship, that she was the _Dolphin_, Captain Podgers, bound round Cape Horn.

"We've two petticoats aboard--the skipper's wife and daughter, so your youngster won't want for nurses to look after him," said the man who told Dick this. "To my mind, however, he'll be best off with the young lady, for t'other's a curious one, and it will depend what humour she's in how she will treat him."

The officer helped Charley up the side, and Dick was hoisted on deck after him. When placed on his feet he sank down, unable to stand.

"He is almost starved," said the doctor, who now appeared. "Take him below, and I will attend to him. But the youngster seems in good case."

"Glad you say so, sir," murmured Dick. "I could not let him want while there was food to be had, and I hope they'll be kind to him aboard, for his parents are gentlefolks, and he wasn't brought up to the hard life he's had to lead of late." Dick said this that Charley might be treated with more consideration than might otherwise have been the case. He was not disappointed; indeed, though roughly clad, the boy had the look and air of a young gentleman.

The captain, a stout, burly man, and his wife, Mrs Podgers, a much stouter woman, already mentioned, now appeared from below, followed by a slight, fair, delicate-looking girl, who offered a strong contrast to her parents--if such could possibly be the relationship they bore to her.

"Let me look at the little fellow," said Mrs Podgers, as she waddled to the gangway, where Charley was still standing near the third mate. "He don't seem as if he had been starved; yet I was told that he and the man were a whole week in the boat without anything to eat. But bring him into the cabin, Mr Falconer; I want to hear all about it." Mrs Podgers, as she spoke, gave Charley a kiss, for which he seemed in no way grateful. He showed less objection, however, to the same treatment from the young lady, and willingly followed her into the cabin, keeping close to her, and at a distance from the stout captain and his wife. Finding, however, that Mrs Podgers did not again attempt to kiss him, he became more reconciled to her, and did good justice, while sitting next to Miss Kitty, to the ample supper placed before him.

Mrs Podgers, and more especially the young lady, listened with great interest to his account of his adventures, and he apparently made his way into the good graces of the elder personage. "Well, Kitty," she said, "as he is too young to go and live among the men forward, and seems well-behaved, if you like to look after him, he may remain in the cabin, and you can teach him to read; which if he's the son of gentlefolks he ought to know how to do, and it will be an amusement to you, my dear." Miss Kitty said she should be very happy to take care of the boy, and asked him if he wished to remain.

"Yes, with you," he answered, looking up in her face, "but you'll let me go and see Dick whenever he wants me?"

"Oh, yes, as often as you like," she answered; "and I am glad to find that you are grateful to one who seems to have devoted himself to you; for if we are not grateful to our earthly friends, we are still less likely to be grateful to our heavenly Friend."

"I know whom you mean," said Charley, nodding to her. "Dick has told me about Him; He took care of us all the time we were on the island and in the boat, and Dick has taught me to pray to Him every night and morning, and I shouldn't be happy if I didn't."

"I am very, very glad to hear of that," observed Miss Kitty, pressing the boy's hand. "We shall be friends, Charley."

Honest Dick, who had meantime been placed in a hammock, hearing that Charley was in good hands, felt satisfied about him, though still he begged the doctor to let him have a look at the boy as soon as possible, to assure himself that he was all right.

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