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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 10
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Dick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 10 Post by :headdreamer Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2721

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Dick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 10

CHAPTER TEN

Dreamland--A vision of home--Strange proceedings of my brother Ned-- Roughish weather--I make a slight progress--A ray of light--The cargo--The wooden case--A disappointment--In darkness again--A welcome draught--My bed--My slumbers interrupted by ugly visitors--I determine to catch some rats--My further efforts at escape--My ill-success--My conscience troubles me, but I succeed in quieting it--My visions-- Tantalising Aunt Deb and Mr Butterfield--The conference of the rats-- Their opinion of mankind--Their grievances and proposed remedies--A sneeze and its effects.

My slumbers were far from tranquil. I think, indeed, that sometimes I must have been half awake, for I was convinced that creatures were running over me; but when I put my hand out they escaped. Then I began to dream, and I fancied I was at home again in my own room. How I got there I could not tell.

Suddenly my brother jumped out of bed, and began scrambling about the room, overturning the chairs and table, and then got behind the chest of drawers, and sent them down with a loud crash to the ground, laughing heartily as he did so. It was very unlike his mode of proceeding, as he was the quietest and best conducted member of the family. When he got tired of this sort of amusement he began pulling the bed about, and lifting it from side to side.

Naturally I expected to be tumbled out. I begged him to let me alone, as I had gone through a great deal of fatigue, and wished to be quiet. But he would not listen to me, and only shook the bed more violently than before. Losing patience, I was going to jump up and seize him, when I awoke.

I found that the movement was real, for the ship was rolling and pitching more heavily than she had before done, and I could hear the bulkheads creaking, and the timbers complaining, and the heels of the mast working, and the dull sound of the water dashing against the sides of the ship. There was still less chance than ever of being heard should I again shout out, so I refrained from exhausting my strength by the exercise of my voice. So much did the stout ship tumble about that I could not attempt to make another exploring expedition. I therefore lay still, waiting till the ship would again be quiet. I didn't know then that a storm sometimes lasts for days, and that I might be starved to death before it was over. Though the bun and draught of cold water had somewhat satisfied my appetite, I again began to feel hungry, though not so hungry as I might have been without them. Having nothing to eat, I went off again to sleep.

When I once more roused up I began to think of the astonishment and alarm my disappearance would cause to Aunt Deb and Mr Butterfield. Would they have any suspicion of what had become of me? Perhaps they would fancy that I had fallen off the quay into the river; but then Aunt Deb would most likely insinuate that such was not to be my case. I confess that any anxiety she might feel didn't trouble me, but I regretted the anxiety my disappearance would cause my parents, and brothers and sisters at home. However I could not help it, so I put the thought from me. Hunger at last induced me to make another attempt to escape, in spite of the way the ship was tumbling about. I fancied that one of the bulkheads against which I had come was not so stout and strong as the others. I thought I would try and force my way through, but with only my hands how was that to be done.

Whilst creeping about I shoved my legs or arms into any opening I came across. In doing so I kicked against some object which moved. I worked my foot on till I came to the end of it, and then contrived to draw from under one of the casks what proved to be a handspike, which had probably on some occasion dropped down into the hold. I can't express the satisfaction the possession of this instrument gave me. I felt it all over, and tried its strength by a blow on the kelson, for at first I was afraid it might be rotten. It proved sound. Armed with it I returned to the bulkhead, against which I determined to make my attack. Standing as firmly as I could, I dealt blow after blow as high up as I was able to reach.

I suspected that had it not been for the noises which were constantly issuing from all parts of the ship the sound of my blows would have been heard. At last, to my joy, I felt something give way. This encouraged me to proceed. On feeling with my hands I found that I was working against a small upright door, which opened, I concluded, into another part of the hold. I redoubled my efforts, and getting in the handspike worked away till the door yielded still more. This further encouraged me to proceed, but the operation took me a long time. Occasionally no progress was made, but, like the dropping of water on a hard rock, ultimately prevailed.

Now one nail was drawn, now another, and I was sure that the door was giving way. A strong man would with one or two wrenches have forced it open. Weak as I was for want of food, it now seems surprising to me that my exertions should have produced any effect. I had begun at the top. By working the handspike lower and lower down I by degrees tore away the door, or as I may more properly say the panel, as there were no hinges that I could discover. I was exerting all my strength in another effort when it gave way, and down I fell with my head almost through the aperture I had made. A faint light which came down from an opening far-away revealed the sort of place I was in. Had I not been so long accustomed to darkness I don't think that its strength would have been sufficient for me to discover the objects around. I made out several bales, cases, and packages, stowed tightly together; but still I failed to see any outlet.

After recovering from my fall, by which I was somewhat hurt, I crept out, endeavouring to move some of the huge packages; but I did so in vain. I tried one and then another, but they did not yield to the utmost efforts I could make. Though I could not move the packages, I determined to try if any of them contained something edible. I first felt the packages. I was convinced they were bales of canvas or loose cloth. At last I came upon a wooden case. This I hoped might prove to be full of biscuits or hams. I accordingly got out my knife, expecting by patience to make a hole sufficiently large to admit my hand. As I was completely in the dark I had to be very cautious not to cut myself or break my knife, an accident which I knew was very likely to occur, I cut out, therefore, only a small piece at a time. Then I felt with my left hand to ascertain how I had got on. The case was very thick, and it must have taken me a couple of hours or more before I could make a hole an inch square. Even then I was not through it. I cut and cut away, till to my satisfaction my knife went through. I now made fast progress, and before long, as I ran in the blade it struck against a hard substance. Still I went on, and at last found to my bitter regret that the case contained iron goods of some sort. In spite of all the care I had taken I had much blunted my knife, and I was afraid I might not be able to make a hole in any other case I might find. I was ready to cry with vexation, but it would be of no use to do that, so I shut up my knife until I could discover some promising package to attack. I felt about in vain for another case. By this time the faint light I had observed had faded away, and I thus knew that evening had come on. I had had only two buns all this time. Unless I could get some food I fancied that I must die. Though I had nothing to eat I had plenty to drink, and to refresh myself I returned to the part of the ship out of which I had clambered. I soon discovered the water-cask, to which, pulling out the plug, I eagerly applied my mouth. The huge draught of water I swallowed greatly refreshed me, and prevented me feeling the pangs of hunger. I now went back once more to that part of the hold to which I had just gained access.

Feeling about, I came upon a piece of canvas, and I thought to myself that it would somewhat add to my comfort could I make use of it to sleep on. I dragged it out, and found that it was of sufficient size for my purpose.

The exertions I had made had greatly exhausted my strength. I should have lain down on the packages, but when I felt about I found that they would not form an easy couch. There was no room to stretch myself, and they were secured by hard ropes. Besides this I thought it possible that from the working of the ship some of them might slip out of their places, and come down upon me. I therefore dragged the piece of canvas into the lower part of the hold, and, stretching it under one of the water-casks, lay down to rest, intending before long to be up again and at work.

I quickly dropped off to sleep, but was soon awakened by feeling some creatures crawling over me. That they were rats I could have no doubt, from their weight and the loud thud they made as they jumped off and on the kelson. I lay perfectly quiet. Now I felt a fellow running up my leg--now scrambling over my body. But the rogues did not venture near my hands, their instinct telling them that they would have their necks wrung if they did so. My object was to catch one or two of them, and, disgusting as the idea would have been at any other time, I determined if I could to get hold of one forthwith to eat him.

I had often grumbled at home of having on a Monday morning to consume the dry bread which had remained over from the previous week. This system had commenced on the arrival of Aunt Deb, who would not allow a scrap of food to be lost, and she therefore persuaded my mother to give up the hot rolls which we previously had for breakfast on that day. It was the first of the many reforms introduced by our respected aunt which didn't endear her to us.

The rats continued their gambols. Now I felt a fellow perched on my leg--now he would run along my arm, and before I could lift up my hand he was off again. I kept my feet covered up in the canvas, for I had no wish to have them nibbling at my toes. Somehow or other none of them came near my face, or I should certainly have caught one.

At length I jumped up determined to make chase, but the moment I moved they were off in all directions. Perhaps they thought they had a hungry enemy to deal with. I felt about everywhere, thinking I might find one of them stowed away under a cask, or in some hole or corner, but they had gone off, like imps of darkness as they were, at sunrise.

I wished more than ever for light. I thought that I could then infinitely better have endured my confinement.

Fortunately for me, the ship must have been well cleaned out before the cargo was taken on board; and as she was as tight as a bottle, there was no bilge-water in her. Had there been, I could not have existed so long far down in the depths of her hold.

The chase after the rats had aroused me, and I felt less inclination than before to sleep, so I got up, resolved to have another search for food of some sort. I was not very particular. A pound of tallow candles would have been welcome as a meal. I did not stop to consider whether I could have digested them. They would at all events have allayed the gnawing of hunger. I remembered reading of people suffering from hunger when navigating the ocean in open boats, and how much a flying-fish, or a booby, or a lump of rancid grease, had contributed to keep body and soul together. But neither booby nor flying-fish could I possibly obtain. I tried to think of all the various articles with which the ship was likely to be freighted. During my numerous visits to the quay alongside which she had been moored, I had had the curiosity to try and ascertain the contents of the packages about being hoisted on board. I had in some places observed large packages of raisins, dried figs, and hams, and kegs of butter, and dried fish, but they were being landed. I had, however, seen no things of the same description alongside the "Emu."

Still, unless I searched I was sure not to find; so, again crawling through the opening I had made, I once more began to feel my way about, and to try every package I could reach.

The cases I felt were all rough and strong. The packages were covered with a stout material, showing the nature of the goods within. Again I tried to move some of them so that I might make my way onwards, but I found as before that they were all firmly jammed in their proper positions. It was difficult to divine how the space I had got into had been left vacant.

I might have spent two or three hours in the search, for of course I was obliged to move slowly and with the greatest caution to avoid knocking my head against any object, or falling down again and injuring myself. I no longer felt any pain from my sprained ankle. The enforced rest I had given it had contributed to restore it to use.

How little those on deck supposed that a human being was creeping about so far down beneath their feet.

Before I gave in I tried another case, which seemed more promising than any of those I had hitherto discovered. I got out my knife. I carved and cut, feeling each little chip as I got it off; the case was of soft deal, so that I had no great difficulty in cutting it, but I did so without much hope of reaching food after all, and began to feel that I should have to fall back on raw rat for supper. That was if I could manage to catch the said rat. As before, I was disappointed. I got into the case, but could only feel a mass of hay serving to pack china or crockeryware of some sort. I had had hopes of success, and I could not help feeling much disappointed.

The desire of sleep, which I had for some time thrown off, returned, and I crept back to the spot which I had selected for my couch. I wrapt myself up in the canvas, taking care to guard my feet, and putting one hand over my nose, and the other under me, so that the rats should not be able to nibble any of my extremities, which I thought it likely they would try to do. I hoped, however, that if they made the attempt I should be more successful in catching one.

For some time hunger prevented me from going to sleep. Again I thought over my past life--my childhood's days--the time I spent at school--my various companions--my chums and enemies--the tricks I had played--the canings and floggings I had received--for instruction at that period was imparted with a much larger proportion of the _fortiter in re than of the _suaviter in modo_. I used then to wish heartily to get away from school, but now I would very gladly have found myself back there again, even with the floggings in prospect, provided I could be sure of an ample breakfast, even though that breakfast might have consisted of larded bread and sugarless tea. Though I had often had quarrels with my brothers and sisters, I would willingly have entered into a compact never to quarrel again. I would gladly have endured one of the longest lectures Aunt Deb had ever given me, repeated ten times over, always provided I was sure of obtaining a lump of bread and cheese after it. I would thankfully have listened to the driest of some of my father's dry sermons, with the expectation of obtaining a cold dinner on my return home from church. But I knew that regrets were unavailing, and that as I had made my bed so I must lie in it.

I thought and thought till my thoughts became confused.

The sound of voices struck on my ear. People were talking in whispers all round me, but I could not distinguish what they said. Then even the consciousness of where I was faded from me, and I was fast asleep. Even when I was sleeping I still suffered the painful sensations of hunger. I was tantalised by seeing in my dreams tables spread out, sometimes for breakfast, and at others for dinner or supper. My brothers and sisters were seated round them, laughing and talking merrily, and eating the good things with excellent appetite. Once Mr Butterfield brought me a bowl of turtle-soup, and assuring me of its excellence, ladled it into his mouth before my eyes, and then disappeared with a hop, skip, and a jump.

In the same way Aunt Deb appeared with a plate of crumpets, her favourite dish, and swallowed them one after the other, making eyes at me all the time they vanished down her throat. This done, she went off waltzing round and round the room, till she popped up the chimney. I cannot now remember one-tenth of the sensations which presented themselves to my imagination, showing, as I opine, that the stomach is in intimate connexion with the brain. Among others, by-the-bye, I fancied I was wandering about the streets of Liverpool, looking into cookshops and eating-houses, where people were engaged devouring food, which they in the most provoking manner held up to me on the ends of their forks, and instead of allowing me to take it, put it down their own throats.

Again all was a blank. Silence reigned around; when suddenly a faint light streamed across the space before me, and I saw armies of rats tripping from all directions and assembling not five feet from my nose. Over the casks and bales and packages they streamed in countless numbers, whisking their tails, leaping and tumbling over each other; some making somersaults, others playing at leapfrog. Numbers climbed up from beneath the kelson; some came from the fore part of the ship, others from aft. "Why, she must be perfectly overrun with the brutes," I thought. "I wonder how any human being can exist on board. It's surprising that they should never molest me." They were merry fellows. I could not help laughing at the curious antics they played.

Presently I heard a voice shout "Silence!" A buck rat had seated himself on the top of a plank, which I had not before observed. Much to my surprise he held a note-book in his hand, and opening it began to read. He was too keen-sighted, I suppose, to require spectacles, though how he managed to see in that light I could not tell.

"Silence!" he again cried; and he then shouted at the top of his voice, which was somewhat squeaky for an orator, "Friends, Romans, countrymen,--Lend me your ears."

I thought this a very odd way for a rat to commence an oration. As he spoke, all the rats, cocking up their ears, sat on their tails--some on the tops of the casks, others round and below me.

"Thank you for the attention you seem inclined to pay me, brother rats," he continued. "I wish to impress on your minds the serious fact that we, as a race, have been maligned, abused, hunted, and ill-treated in all varieties of ways. We have had traps set for us, and although we are not often caught in them, it serves to exhibit the malice of our enemies. Adding insult to injury, they have, as I have only lately discovered, designated us in one of their popular dictionaries as troublesome vermin of the mouse kind. Why should they not have described us as rodents of graceful form, endowed with wonderful sagacity and activity to which the smaller animal called the mouse is allied? These human beings have also the audacity to malign our character, to insinuate that we are fickle and undependable, besides being fierce and savage. Thus, when one of their own race changes sides, they say that the wretched biped has 'ratted,' Not content with abusing us, they make savage war against our race by every cruel mode they can devise. They chase us with cats and dogs. Not that we care much for the cats, who seldom venture into our haunts; but those horrid, keen-scented terriers, are, it must be confessed, justly to be dreaded. Still more so are those cunning little ferrets which insinuate themselves into our abodes. The hatred of our enemies is exhibited in their use. Nowhere are we safe from them. They make their way through the narrowest crevices, dive down to the lowest depths we can reach, disturb our domestic happiness, watch for us on our hunting expeditions, and rout us out of our securest strongholds. This fearful persecution is originated, aided, and abetted by our malignant persecutors, who, besides the traps I have already spoken of, even attempt our destruction by mixing poison in the food they leave in our way. We have only the melancholy satisfaction of creeping beneath the boardings of their rooms, there to die, and to allow our decaying bodies to fill the air with noxious odours. Friends, Romans, countrymen," he went on, repeating his former curious style of address, "we have met to devise means to assert our rights among created beings, and to revenge ourselves for the injuries we have for so many centuries of the world's history suffered. We are now decidedly in the majority on board this ship. We hold possession of her chief strongholds. Her captain, officers, and crew exist only on sufferance; so then, brother rats and sister rats, young and old, as it is our glorious privilege to belong to a free republic, express your opinions without fear. It is my business to note and record them."

Directly the speaker ceased, even for a moment, the rats began frisking and whisking about, biting at one another's tails and leaping over one another, till he again shouted "Silence!"

"Has no one any opinion to offer?" he asked.

On this a grave-looking rat from the top of a cask answered, "Yes, I have an idea, which I'll propound as soon as those frolicsome young fellows at the bottom of the hold will keep quiet."

On this the president again cried out, "Be quiet, you young rascals, or I'll singe your whiskers. Now, Brother Snout, let us hear what your idea happens to be," he said, turning to the rat on the top of the cask.

The last-mentioned rat accordingly spoke, curiously using the same expressions as the former one had done. "Friends, Romans, countrymen: we are resolved on revenge. Revenge is sweet. Is it not so?"

To which all the rats, in chorus, shouted out "Yes, yes."

"But the mode in which we shall execute our vengeance is the question. Now I have an idea--a bright idea. I propose that we should sharpen our teeth, and having sharpened them, that we should begin to gnaw a hole in the bottom of this ship. We can make our way, as we know by experience, through the stoutest cases. Why should we not do so through whole planks? 'Perseverance conquers all difficulties.' It will undoubtedly take time, but if we all work together and with a will we may bore not only one hole, but a thousand holes, when to a certainty the water will rush in and carry the captain, officers, and crew, our cruel tyrants, to the bottom, and our vengeance will be complete. So, brother rats, is not mine a bright idea, a grand idea, a superb idea? Who will second me?"

There was silence. When a grey-headed rat from the further end of the platform, lifting himself up, rose in his eagerness not only on his legs but on his tail, and said--

"Brethren and sisters. Has it not occurred to you that when we have succeeded--should we be so foolish as to make the attempt--in cutting holes through the ship's bottom, we ourselves should be involved in the same catastrophe as the captain, officers, and crew? When the water rushes in, what will become of us? Why, we should be whirled round and round, and to a certainty become the first victims, perhaps the only ones, for there are boats on deck by which the captain, officers, and crew may make their escape, if they don't happen to be loaded up with all sorts of lumber so that they can't be cleared in time."

"Ah, but I have a resource for that. Let us first nibble holes in the boats; it will be good practice, and we should succeed in the course of the night in effecting our purpose," exclaimed the previous speaker.

"Brother Snout, with all due deference to your opinion, you are talking nonsense," said the grey-headed orator. "To my certain knowledge there are two dogs on board--one a Newfoundland, the other a terrier; I don't much care for the big fellow, but the terrier would be at us, let the night be ever so dark, and a good many of our race would lose the number of their mess. Let me observe, in the politest way possible, that your plan is not worth the snuff of a candle."

The orator on the top of the cask was thus effectually shut up.

"Has no one else an opinion to give?" asked the president.

"I have," exclaimed a ferocious-looking rat with long whiskers, which he twirled vigorously as he sat upright. "I propose that we marshal our forces, one division to march aft to the captain and officers, and the other to the part where the crew are berthed. That at a given signal we set upon them and let the blood out of their jugulars. We shall thus gain the mastery of the ship, and be able to enjoy unlimited freedom."

"General Whiskerandos, your remarks savour very much of war, but pardon me remarking, very little of wisdom," remarked the aged orator. "You have omitted to mention several important matters. In the first place, let me observe that the crew of a ship never sleep all at one time. Supposing a complete victory were gained over those below, the rest would discover the cause of their death, and would wage ruthless war against us. And what about the terrier? He sleeps at the door of the captain's cabin. He would not be idle, depend on that. He would be delighted to encounter our leading column. It would be rare fun to him, but a disastrous circumstance for us. Let me advise you, Brother Whiskerandos, that your idea is a foolish one. Suppose just for one moment that we should succeed, and that we should put to death every human being on board, what would become of the ship? She would float about unless dashed on the rocks by a hurricane till, her timbers and planks rotting, the water would rush in and she would go to the bottom."

"That suggestion seems to be disposed of. Is it not?" asked the president.

"I have a proposal to make," exclaimed an aldermanic old rat, sitting up on the top of a chest. "I suggest a course of proceeding which cannot fail of success, and will, at the same time, be pleasant and agreeable to ourselves. We will sally forth and eat up all the provisions in the ship, cut holes in the water-casks and let out all the water. We will commence at the bottom, working our way upwards, so that we shall not run the risk of having our proceedings discovered. What we can't eat we will destroy, so that those wretched mortals triumphing in their strength and intelligence will be deprived of the means of sustaining life, and must succumb before long to inevitable death; and we whom they have despised and ill-treated will gain possession of the ship and be our own masters, and sail in whatever direction we may please. The kingdom will be our own. We shall be lords of all we survey, and there will be no one to interfere with our proceedings."

"What about Nero and Pincher?" asked a small rat with a squeaky voice. "What will become of them, Brother Doublechops?"

"When provisions run short they will to a certainty be killed and eaten by the bipeds," answered the stout orator. "I shall watch for the result with intense interest, and have made up my mind to have a nibble at their livers and other bits of their insides. It will afford me intense satisfaction to eat a portion of those who have destroyed if not devoured so many of our race."

"Oh! Brother Doublechops, oh! Brother Doublechops you are talking nonsense," said the aged orator, who was evidently one of the most influential rats of the assembly. "If, as I before observed, we were to kill the captain, officers, and crew, what's to become of the ship without any one to navigate her? She can't steer a course for harbour, and would remain tossed by the waves and blown about by the winds till she met the fate I before described, and went down to the bottom, carrying us with her."

"Has no one a further proposal to make?" inquired the president.

Nobody answered; even the squeaky voice of the little rat, who looked as if he had no end of suggestions to offer, was silent. A murmur of rattish voices filled the air.

"Friends, Romans, citizens, again I ask you all to lend me your ears," exclaimed the president, at which all the rats put on a look of profound attention. "You have heard the proposals offered as well as the answers made to them. To me, speaking with due deference to the opinion of others, the proposals appear to be the most insane, foolish, and impracticable that could have been devised by rattish brains. Here we are, cut off from all connexion with the dry land and the whole race of rats. It is very clear that we can't navigate this ship into harbour by ourselves. If we sink her we ensure our own destruction. If we kill the captain, officers, and crew by any of the means hinted at, we are equally certain ultimately to suffer. Here we are, and here inexorable fate dooms us to remain till we once more get alongside the shore and a plank from the ship enables us during the dark hours of night to effect our escape. Let us, therefore, like wise rats, in the meantime, be content with our condition, and enjoy at our ease the provisions with which the ship is stored."

"Granted, Mr President, that your remarks are correct," exclaimed Whiskerandos, who had before spoken, "I have still an idea which has long been hatching in my brain. I suggest that we wait until the ship reaches port and is moored securely alongside, when we will attack her planks both tooth and nail, and by boring holes in her bottom let in the water and make our escape."

Loud cheers followed this suggestion. No one waited to hear what the president said. It was sufficiently encouraging to suit the minds of the most fiercely disposed, while the more timid were pleased with it as it indefinitely put off the time of action.

I had been an interested listener to all that was said, and was very thankful that the rats had arrived at this conclusion. At first I was afraid that they might decide on attempting to sink the ship, and though I might have tried to prevent them, yet should they have attacked me with overwhelming numbers I might have found it impossible to contend with them. I cared little for their projects of sinking the ship in harbour. I hoped before then to have made my escape. They had hitherto curiously enough not discovered me, and I hoped that I should be able to remain concealed, as I dreaded a conflict with the savage creatures now surrounding me in countless numbers. I remained perfectly quiet, scarcely daring even to breathe. Suddenly I was seized with a fit of sneezing.

At the first sternutation the rats jumped up and looked about them, evidently considerably alarmed. Again I sneezed, when off they scampered, disappearing like greased lightning, as our American cousins say, through countless crevices and holes and other openings I had not before perceived.

The light which had during the time pervaded the hold, faded away, and I was left in total darkness. It was sometime before I could persuade myself that what I had seen and heard had been only conjured up by my imagination, though I had no doubt that real rats had been running about in the neighbourhood, and had given rise to my dream.

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