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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 8. Jonas Webb
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Charley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 8. Jonas Webb Post by :teachmaster Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :482

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Charley Laurel: A Story Of Adventure By Sea And Land - Chapter 8. Jonas Webb

Chapter Eight. Jonas Webb

We were a long time regaining our lost ground. I remember at length finding the ship gliding over huge glass-like billows, which came rolling slowly and majestically, as if moved upwards and onwards by some unseen power, with deep, broad valleys between them, into which the ship sinking, their sides alone bounded the view from her deck ahead and astern. On the right rose however, above them, a high, rocky headland, which the third mate told Miss Kitty, as she stood on the deck gazing at the shore, was Cape Horn.

"I could fancy it some giant demigod, the monarch of these watery realms," she observed. "He looks serene and good-tempered at present; but how fearful must be these mighty waves when he is enraged, and fierce storms blow across them."

"You are indeed right, Miss Kitty," he answered; "and for my part, on such occasions, I prefer giving his majesty a wide berth and keeping out of sight of his frown. Provided the ship is sound, and the rigging well set up, we have little dread of these vast waves. A short chopping sea is far more dangerous. However, we shall soon be round the 'Cape,' and then I hope for your sake we shall have fine weather and smooth water."

She stood for some time holding on to a stanchion, gazing at the scene so strange to her eyes.

The captain coming on deck to satisfy himself that all was going on properly, the mate stepped forward to attend to some duty. As the former's rubicund visage disappeared beneath the companion-hatch, Mr Falconer returned aft.

"I have been thinking, Edward, that I was wrong to give the reins to my fancy, as I did just now," said Kitty, in her sweet, artless way. "I should have remembered that He who made the world governs the wide ocean--the tides and currents move at His command, and He it is who bids the waters be at rest, or sends the whirlwind sweeping over them. I feel that it is wrong, even in poetry, to assign to beings of the imagination the power which alone belongs to Him. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, though I should not have thought you wrong," answered the young officer, gazing at her with admiration. "But I do understand you, and I am sure that you are right. God is a jealous God, and cannot of course admit of any detraction from His authority by the creatures He has formed. I see that every form of idolatry, whether the idol be worshipped or not, must be offensive to Him--whether men assign His power to others, or attempt to approach Him in prayer through the mediation of saints or angels, when He has told them to draw near to the throne of grace according to the one way He has appointed."

It may seem strange that I should have recollected this conversation. In truth, I did not, and it was not till many years afterwards that I was told of it. Indeed, I may confess once for all, that had I not possessed the advantage of communicating with some of the principal actors, I should have been unable to describe many of the events which occurred at that period of my existence. I remember, however, the captain, and his amiable consort, Mrs Podgers, and the snappish cruel way she spoke to sweet Miss Kitty and Edward Falconer. She appeared, indeed, to detest him, and took every opportunity of showing her dislike by all sorts of petty annoyances. He bore them all with wonderful equanimity, perhaps for Kitty's sake, perhaps because he despised their author. Sometimes, when he came on deck after dining in the cabin, he would burst into a fit of laughter, as if enjoying a good joke, and would continue to smile when Kitty appeared with a look of vexation and pain on her countenance, supposing he must have been annoyed beyond endurance.

We had just doubled the Cape, when another sail was seen crossing our course, now rising up against the clear sky, now sinking so low that only her upper canvas was visible. We approached each other, when the stranger made a signal that she would send a boat aboard us. We also hove-to, and began gracefully bowing away at each other, as if the ships were exchanging compliments. A seaman with his bag stepped on board when the boat came alongside, and offered to remain, if the captain would receive him as a volunteer. The mate who came in the boat, saying he was an experienced hand, and had been in the Pacific several years, the captain at once accepted his services. We gave the mate the last news from England and several newspapers, and he, in return, offered to take any letters our people might have ready to send home. In a short time we each filled, and stood on our respective courses.

From what the mate had said, our captain was eager to have a talk with the new-comer, Jonas Webb by name. The latter said he had gone out many years before in a South Sea whaler, and when on her homeward voyage he had exchanged into the ship he had just left, then outward-bound. Both ships had been very successful in fishing and making prizes, and he had saved a great deal of money. Not content with what he had got, he wished to make more. He had been all along the coast, and knew every port. Among other pieces of information, he told the captain that two South Sea whalers, captured by the Spaniards, lay in the Bay of Conception, and advised that they should be cut out, declaring that it might easily be done, as the harbour was unguarded by forts. I don't think Captain Podgers was fond of fighting, but he was of money, and he believed that by getting hold of these two ships, he should make more than by catching a score of whales.

After this, both fore and aft, the only talk was about the proposed undertaking. Miss Kitty looked very grave, but though she knew the captain would take very good care to remain safe on board, she guessed that Edward Falconer would be sent on the expedition; and, though he made light of it, he had observed that Jonas Webb was wrong with regard to the place being unfortified. Captain Podgers had got angry, and declared that the man, an experienced old sailor, who had just come from thence, must know more than a young fellow, as he was, could do. Mrs Podgers, with a sneer, also remarked that perhaps he would rather not have any fighting, lest he might get a cut across his face, and spoil his beauty, or the smell of gunpowder would make him faint.

I am sure that the third mate was as brave as steel, and did not think a bit about his good looks; but the sting, somehow or other, struck deeper than most of her venomed darts.

Hoisting American colours, we stood in towards an island off the Bay of Conception. Here heaving to, as night closed in, four of the boats were manned under charge of the three mates and the boatswain. Jonas Webb and Dick went in Mr Falconer's boat.

Those who remained on board anxiously watched for their return, expecting, as the night was light, to see them towing out their prizes.

Some hours passed by, when the rattle of musketry and the boom of great guns came over the calm waters.

"Why, that fellow Webb mast have deceived me!" exclaimed the captain, stamping about the deck in a state of agitation. "Falconer was right. There will be more glory, as he will call it, than profit in the expedition. Bah! I cannot afford to lose men."

Eager eyes were looking out for the expected ships. They did not appear, but at last first one boat and then another was seen emerging from the gloom.

"Well, gentlemen, what has become of the whalers?" exclaimed the captain, as the two first mates stepped on deck.

"The Spaniards peppered us too hotly to enable us to tow them out, sir, and the wind afforded no help," was the answer. "I am afraid Mr Falconer's boat, too, has got into a mess--he had taken one of the whalers, but would not leave his prize, though I suspect several of his men were killed or wounded."

"Was Mr Falconer himself hit?" asked Mrs Podgers, who had come up to hear the news.

"I cannot say, ma'am," answered the first mate. "His boat must have been terribly mauled, and I am afraid that she must have been sunk, or that her crew must have been taken prisoners. I cannot otherwise account for his not following us."

I had hold of Miss Kitty's hand. I felt it tremble; she seemed to be gasping for breath.

"You should have gone back and looked for them," said the captain, who had judgment enough to know that the third mate was one of the best officers in the ship.

"Oh! do, do so!" exclaimed Miss Kitty, scarcely aware of what she was saying. "It was cowardly and cruel to leave them behind."

"Not far wrong," growled the captain, who, if not brave himself, wished his subordinates to fight well--as has been the case with other leaders in higher positions.

The mates were returning to their boats when the shout was raised that the fourth boat was appearing. She came on slowly, as if with a crippled crew. Kitty leaned against the bulwarks for support.

"Send down slings; we have some wounded men here," said a voice which I recognised as Dick's.

"Let the others go first," said another voice. "They are more hurt than I am."

Miss Kitty sprang to the gangway and looked over. Three men were hoisted on board; one especially was terribly injured--it was Jonas Webb. The last who appeared was Mr Falconer.

"I am only wounded in the shoulder, though I am faint from loss of blood," he said, in a feeble voice. He spoke so that Kitty might hear him. "We should have got the prize with more help."

Kitty ran to his side to assist him along the deck, not caring what Mrs Podgers or anybody else might say to her. The exertion, however, was too much for him; and if Dick and another man had not held him up, he would have fallen, for Kitty's slight frame could scarcely have supported him. He was taken to his cabin, and after the doctor had attended to the other men he allowed him to examine his wound.

I have not before mentioned our doctor. The men used to say he was only fit for making bread pills, and they, poor fellows, had better means of forming an opinion of his skill than I had. After his visit, Mr Falconer would not let him dress his wound, though he did manage to get out the bullet. It was dressed, however, and Kitty used to say that I was the doctor. I know that I went every day into the cabin with her and Dick, and that we used to put lotions and plaster on his poor shoulder. Mrs Podgers declared that it was very indelicate in her to do so, but Kitty replied that if women were on board ship, it was their duty to attend to the wounded.

We visited the other men who were hurt, especially poor Jonas Webb; but Kitty confessed that his injuries were beyond her skill--indeed, it seemed wonderful that, mangled as he was, he should continue to live on.

The miscarriage of the expedition was owing also to him. Mr Falconer had gallantly carried the prize, got the Spaniards under hatches, and taken her in tow, when, on passing the batteries, Webb's pistol went off. This drew the attention of the garrison to the boat, and they immediately opened a hot fire. Webb was the first struck, and soon afterwards several of the other men were hit. Mr Falconer, who had remained on deck, on this let himself down into the boat to assist in pulling, and, in spite of the hot fire, would have continued doing so, had not the Spaniards broken loose, and, getting hold of some muskets on board, began firing at the boat. Mr Falconer, on being himself wounded, cut the painter, and the boat escaped without further injury.

Dick was very angry with the other officers, and did not mind expressing his opinion of them. I never saw him so put out. He felt much for poor Webb, and I heard him declare that he was very doubtful about Mr Falconer's recovery. If he died, what would become of poor Miss Kitty?

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