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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 12
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Dick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 12 Post by :silvereagle Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1705

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Dick Cheveley: His Adventures And Misadventures - Chapter 12

CHAPTER TWELVE

Still in the hold--Conscience again troubles me--My new food and its effect on my health--I picture to myself the crew on deck--Rather warm--Another storm--My sufferings and despair--A cold bath--I lose my stock of provisions--The rats desert me--The storm subsides--My fancy gives itself rein.

Days, possibly weeks, may have passed by; I had no means of calculating the time. The ordinary sounds from the deck did not reach my ear, or I might have heard the bells strike, or the voice of the boatswain summoning the watch below on deck. I scarcely like to describe this part of my adventures, for fear that they should not be believed. I have since read of similar accounts of young stowaways being shut down in the hold of ships, but whether they were true or not I cannot say. Perhaps they were written with the purpose of deterring boys running off to sea. If so, they had a good object in view, for from my own experience I can say that a more mad or foolish act a silly youth cannot commit. A sailor's life is not without its attractions; but to enjoy it he must have a good conscience, and be able to feel that he went to sea with his parents' or friends' consent; and then when disaster occurs, he has not bitterly to repent having acted contrary to their wishes. For my own part I tried to persuade myself that I was an unwilling stowaway, that I had only gone on board to take a look into the hold; but conscience whispered to me over and over again, "You know you thought of hiding yourself, and thus getting away to sea in spite of your Aunt Deb, and the kind old gentleman who was ready to do what he considered best for your advancement in life."

I tried to silence conscience by replying, "I didn't intend it, I should never have actually concealed myself in the hold if I could have helped it. I am simply an unfortunate individual, who is undergoing all this suffering through no fault of his own. Though I had no wish to become a merchant, I would, with all the contentment I could muster, have taken my seat in Mr Butterfield's office, and done my duty to the best of my ability."

Though I said this to myself over and over again, I found it more convenient to satisfy conscience and to think only of the present. I had plenty to do, much of my time being spent in endeavouring to catch rats. I seldom killed more than one in a day, though occasionally I was more successful. I ate them without the slightest disgust, taking some of the pickles at the same time with a piece of biscuit, my dessert consisting of three or four olives. I was afraid of exhausting my supply, or I could have swallowed many more. The rats' flesh was tolerably tender. I suspect that I generally caught the young ones, for at length I caught one which must have been the father, or grandfather for that matter, of the tribe, as he was so tough that it was only with considerable difficulty I could masticate him. This food, however unattractive according to the usual ideas, must be wholesome, for I kept my health in an extraordinary manner. I was much indebted for this, I believe, to the olives, which prevented my being attacked by that horrible disease, scurvy. I was not aware at the time of its existence, but I have since witnessed its horrible ravages among crews insufficiently supplied with antiscorbutics, or who have neglected the ordinary precautions against it.

I every day made excursions to try and effect my liberation. The crate must have had something weighty on the top of it, I thought, or I should have been able to force it open. It had hitherto resisted all my efforts, though I frequently spent an hour within it.

The ship all this time was gliding on smoothly, and I supposed was making a prosperous passage. I occasionally pictured to myself what was going on over my head, canvas spread below and aloft, the ship under her courses, topsails, topgallant sails and royals with studdingsails rigged out on either side. The sea glittering in the rays of the sun, the sky bright, the captain and officers walking the deck or reading in their cabins. The crew lolling about with folded arms, smoking their pipes or spinning yarns. I forgot that some of them would be employed in spinning very different sorts of yarns to what I fancied, and that chief mates are not apt to allow man to spend their time with their arms folded, doing nothing. On and on sailed the ship. The atmosphere was becoming sensibly warmer. I supposed that we should soon get into a tropical climate, and that then I might find it disagreeably hot even down below. But I didn't allow myself to think of the future, as I was beginning to abandon all hope of working my way out.

My desire now was that the ship might reach a port in safety, and begin to discharge her cargo; when I should have the chance of liberating myself. I did not, however, abandon altogether my efforts, and the exercise I thus took every day contributed to keep me in health. During the time I was sitting down and not sleeping, I employed myself in repeating all the English poetry and Latin speeches I had learnt, and sometimes I even attempted to sing the sea songs of which I had been so fond--"Cease, rude Boreas," "One night it blew a hurricane," "Come, all ye jolly sailors bold," "Here a sheer hulk lies poor Tom Bowling," and many others; but my voice was evidently not in singing trim, and I failed to do what Orpheus might have accomplished, to charm the rats from their hiding-places.

The sea continued calm for some time; at all events I felt no movement to indicate that it was otherwise; but whether the ship was moving fast or slowly I could not tell. I expected that she would continue her steady progress to the end of the voyage. I had gone to sleep, and I now generally slept on for eight or ten hours at a stretch, so I could not say whether it was night or day. All was the same to me. Suddenly I was awakened by a fearful uproar, and I found myself jerked off my sleeping-place on to the hard boards. From the noises I heard I fancied the ship must be going to pieces, or that the masts were falling. She heeled over so much on one side it seemed impossible that the water-butts could keep their positions, and I thought every instant I should be crushed to death by the one on the weather side falling upon me. A fearful storm was raging. My ears were deafened by the dashing of the fierce waves, and the howling and whistling of the wind, which reached me even down where I was; and by the incessant creaking of the bulkheads. Crash succeeded crash; the whole cargo seemed to be tossed about, now to one side now to the other. I could feel the ship rise to the summit of a sea, and then plunge down again to the depths below. I had hitherto retained my composure, but I now almost gave way to despair. It seemed that the ship, stout as she was, would not be able to survive the fierce contest in which she was engaged with the raging elements. Not for a moment was she quiet; now she appeared to be rolling as if she would roll the masts out of her, had they not already gone; now she surged forward and went with a plunge into the sea, which made her quiver from stem to stern. I thought that ribs and planks could not possibly hold together. I expected every moment to be my last. It would have been bad enough to have had to endure this on deck, surrounded by my fellow-creatures--down in the dark hold it was terrible.

I now wonder that my senses did not desert me, but matters had not yet come to their worst. I dared not move, for fear of being dashed against the casks. There I lay helpless and almost hopeless, while the violence of the movements increased. I did not feel sick, as before. Terror banished all other sensations. Suddenly I heard a loud crash close to me, and I found myself nearly overwhelmed by a strong rush of water. The instinct to live made me spring to my feet, for I should have been drowned had I remained where I was. I fully believed that the side of the ship had been forced in, and that before many seconds had passed I and all on board would be carried down to the bottom of the sea. Still I endeavoured to escape from the water, which in large masses came rushing against me, though my efforts would have been utterly useless had what I had supposed occurred. I made frantic efforts to escape out of the way of the torrent, and endeavoured to reach the only opening I was aware of by which I might escape if I could find egress to the upper deck. In my hurry, not using the caution I had generally exercised, I ran my head against a cask with so much force that I fell back senseless on the kelson. There I lay unable to rise, and believing that the water would soon cover me up and terminate my sufferings.

I was not altogether senseless; I should have been saved much wretchedness and suffering had I been so. I continued to feel the violent motion of the ship; to hear the uproar, the crashing of the cargo, the casks and chests being hurled against each other. I expected that the bulkhead near me, which had hitherto served as my protection, would give way, and that some of the huge cases would be hurled down upon me; but I had no strength to shriek out, and lay silent and motionless. Suddenly the rush of water ceased, and I heard only a little washing about beneath me. This surprised me greatly. I began to recollect that it must have been impossible that the side of the ship should have been smashed in, or the water would have continued entering with as much force as at first. This idea made me fancy that matters might not be so bad as I had at first supposed. By slow degrees I recovered my courage. "The ship is not going to sink, I may yet survive," I thought, and I got up to try and ascertain the cause of the rush of water. I was not long in doing this. In groping my way about I came upon one of the huge butts, which, from the large fracture I felt in its side, had evidently burst and let out the whole of its contents.

It was fortunately not the water-cask from which I drew my supplies of the necessary element, but I guessed that it would prove ultimately of serious consequence to the crew, who would probably be depending on it when their stock in the other part of the ship had been exhausted. Still that at the time did not give me much concern. I was wet through, bruised, and exceedingly uncomfortable. I feared, too, that as one butt had given way, the others might before long follow its example, and that I should then have no water on which to support my life. Having made this discovery, I crept back to my sleeping-place.

As I had no other means of drying my clothes, I took them off and wrung them out, then wrapped myself in the sail, which being in a higher position had only been slightly wetted by the splash of the water. Unpleasant as my life was, this altogether was the most miserable period of my existence in the hold of the "Emu." I thought that the storm would never end. Hour after hour the ship went plunging and rolling on, every timber shaking and quaking, my heart beating I must confess in sympathy. Regrets were useless. My only consolation now was that should the ship in the meantime not founder or be driven on the rocks, this state of things must come to an end.

I tried to forget where I was and what was happening and to bring my senses into a state of stupor. I would willingly have gone to sleep, but that seemed impossible. I was mistaken, however. After some time, in spite of the violent movements and the terrific uproar, I began to doze off, and an oblivion of all things, past and present, came over me. It was sent in mercy, for I do not think I could otherwise have endured my sufferings. When I awoke to the present matters had not improved, so I endeavoured, and successfully, to go to sleep again. This occurred several times. At last, in spite of my painful feelings, I found that I had become very hungry, and to my surprise my clothes, which I had hung up against the bulkhead on some nails stuck in the upper part, were very nearly dry. I put them on, unwilling to be without garments should I be discovered. I had no rats in store, so intended to make my meal off biscuits and olives. I put my hand down to where I had stowed them, when what was my dismay not to be able to find either the cask of biscuits or the jars of olives and pickles. I felt about in all directions, hoping that I had made a mistake as to their position. I was at length convinced that they had gone.

I then recollected that the chief volume of water out of the butt must have washed them away. Still they could not be far off. I lay down on the kelson and felt about with my hand on every side. My search for a moment was in vain. At last I picked up an olive, and then another. My fear was that the jar was broken. What if the pickles and biscuits had shared the same fate? That this was the case was too probable, and if so my stock of provisions, would be spoiled, if not lost altogether.

After further search I came upon the jar broken in two. It was especially strong, so that the bottle of pickles would have had no chance of escaping. I had fortunately my handkerchief, and I managed to pick up several olives, which I put into it. Creeping along I came at last upon the pickle-bottle, and nearly cut my hand in feeling for it. A few pickles were near it. I drew them out of the water which had escaped from the butt. Their flavour I guessed would be gone and all the vinegar which was so cooling and refreshing; but almost spoiled as they were, I was glad to recover them. I found, however, scarcely a fourth of the olives and pickles. The loss of the biscuits was the most serious. They, if long in the water, would be mashed up into a pulp, and perhaps dispersed throughout the bottom of the ship. The sooner I could recover whatever remained the better. I ate three or four olives and a piece of pickle to stay the gnawings of hunger, and went on with my search.

The ship, it must be remembered, was all this time rolling to and fro. I searched and searched, my hopes of recovering the biscuits in a form fit to be eaten growing fainter and fainter; still I knew that the keg, either entire or broken, must be somewhere within my prison-house, for so I must call it. I stopped at last to consider in what direction it could have been thrown. Perhaps being lighter and of larger bulk than the other things, it might have been jerked farther off, and rolling away got jammed in the casks or cases. My search proved to me that it could not be close beneath the kelson; I therefore felt backwards and forwards everywhere I could get my hand. I tried to recollect whether I had, when last taking a biscuit out, fixed on the head tightly or not. Having smashed it in, in order to broach the cask, it was not very easy to do so, and I had an unpleasant feeling that I had put on the top only sufficient to prevent the rats jumping down into the inside. If so, the chance of the biscuits having escaped was small indeed.

At length I touched the cask, which had been thrown from one end of the hold to the other. It was on its side. With trembling eagerness I put in my hand. Alas! Only a few whole biscuits and a few broken ones remained. These I transferred to my pocket-handkerchief with the olives and pickles, for fear of losing them. The remainder must be somewhere on the way. I tried back in a direct line, but could not find even a mashed biscuit. I then recollected that the cask had probably been jerked from side to side before it had found its last resting-place. It was a wonder that any of its contents remained in it.

Without loss of time, I enlarged the field of my search, and picked up several large pulpy masses which had once been biscuit. They were too precious to be thrown away. I put them into the bottom of the cask. I got back also several bits, which, though wet, had not lost their consistency. I was grateful for them; for though they would not keep, they would assist me to prolong existence for some few days. I ate some of the pulp, and a couple of olives to enable me to digest it. The other pieces of biscuit and the olives and pickles had been, I suppose, washed away out of my reach, for I felt about in every direction, but could lay my hands on nothing more. It may be supposed that the exertions I had made were not very fatiguing, but it must be remembered that the ship was tossing about all this time, and that I had to hold on with one hand while I felt with the other, to prevent myself from being jerked about and battered and bruised. As it was, I slipped and tumbled several times, and hurt myself not a little. I therefore crawled back to my couch, and rolled myself up in the sail, to go to sleep. I had not for some time been annoyed by the rats, who I suspect sat quaking and trembling in their nests as much alarmed as I was, and possibly more so, and I was amused at thinking that they must have heartily regretted having come to sea, and wished themselves safe back on shore in the houses or barns from which they had emigrated. I hoped, however, that when the storm was over they would come forth again, and give me the opportunity of catching them. I expected that it would quickly cease, but in this I was disappointed. There came a lull, and the ship did not toss about as much as before. I was contemplating getting up and making an excursion among the cargo, supposing that I might do so without much risk, when I was again thrown off my couch by a sudden lurch; and from the sounds I heard, and the violent pitching and rolling, I had good reason to suppose that the hurricane was once more raging with redoubled force. With the greatest difficulty I crawled back to my couch, and drawing the canvas round me, tried to retain my position. Every minute I imagined that one or the other water-butts would give way, and that I should be either crushed by its falling on me, or half-drowned by its contents. Then I thought what would be my fate should the fearful buffeting the ship was receiving cause her to start a plank. The water would rush in, and before I could possibly make my escape to a higher level I should be drowned, even should the ship herself keep above water, and that I thought was not very likely.

I had read enough about shipwrecks and disasters at sea to be aware that such a circumstance sometimes occurs. The end of a plank called a butt occasionally starts away from the timber to which it has been secured, and the water pressing its way in, opens the plank more and more, till the sea comes in like a mill-sluice; and unless the damage is at once discovered, and a thrummed sail is got over the spot, there is little chance of a ship escaping from foundering. When a butt starts from the fore end, and she is going rapidly through the water, her destruction is almost certain, as a plank is rapidly ripped off, and no means the crew possess can prevent it. Though I had heard crashing noises which had made me fear that the masts had been carried overboard, yet I judged from the movement of the ship that they were standing. She was seldom on an even keel, but when she heeled over it was always on one side. As yet all the strain to which she had been subjected had produced no leaks, as far as I could judge from the small quantity of water in the hold, and that was chiefly what had come out of the butt. Had I not put the remnants of the olives and biscuits in my pockets I should have starved. When hunger pressed, I took a small portion, sufficient to stop its gnawings. I suffered chiefly from thirst, as I was afraid of getting up to go to the water-butt, lest I should be thrown over to the opposite side after I had drawn out the spile, before I could catch any water as it spouted out, and that much of it would be lost. I felt the necessity of economising my store, for I so mainly depended on it for existence, as it enabled me to subsist on a much smaller quantity of food than I could have done without it. At length I could bear my tortures no longer, but getting up, cautiously crawled towards the butt, stopping to hold on directly I felt the ship beginning to give a lurch.

I must again observe, that close down to the keel as I was, I felt this much less severely than I should have done at a higher level. I went on, until I believed that I was close to the butt, then waiting for another lurch. Directly it had taken place, I drew myself carefully up, and searched about for the spile. I found it, and drew it out, and let the water spout out into my mouth. How I enjoyed the draught. It restored my strength and sadly flagging spirits. I stopped to breathe, and then again applied my mouth to the hole. I should have been wiser had I refrained, for before I could drive in the spile I was hove right away to the opposite side of the hold, almost into the opening of the water-butt which had burst. I could hear the water rushing out, and it was some time before I could recover myself sufficiently to crawl back to try and stop it. I was almost wet through before I could accomplish this, though I had to mourn the loss of no small quantity of the precious fluid. My purpose accomplished, I made my way back to my couch. Hours passed by. Sometimes I would fancy that the storm was never to end. In my disordered imagination, I pictured to myself the ship, officers, and crew under some dreadful doom, destined to be tossed about on the wide Atlantic for months and years, then perhaps to be dismasted and lie floating motionless in the middle of the Sargasso Sea, of which I had read, where the weeds collect, driven by the current thrown off by the gulf-stream, till they attain sufficient thickness for aquatic birds to walk over them.

I remembered the description that Mr Butterfield had given me of the captain of the "Emu." I thought, perhaps, that he had committed some dreadful crime, and was being thus punished for it. The only one of the crew whom I remembered, Gregory Growles, was certainly a bad specimen of humanity. Perhaps, though pretending to be honest traders, they were pirates; and even when I had obtained my liberty they would not scruple to make me walk the plank, should my presence be inconvenient. I cannot, however, describe the hundred-and-one gloomy ideas which I conjured up. How far they were from the truth time only was to show. The ship continued her eccentric proceedings with more or less violence. The tempest roared above my head. Crashing sounds still rose from the cargo which had shifted, and which it appeared to me must ere long be smashed to atoms. The worst of the matter was, that I had no one to blame but myself. Had I been seized and shut up in the hold by a savage captain, I should have felt myself like a martyr, and been able to lay my sufferings on others. When I was able to reflect more calmly on my situation, I remembered that the storm must inevitably some day or other come to an end. I had read of storms lasting a week, or even a fortnight, and sometimes longer, but if I could hold out to its termination, as by means of the biscuits and olives I might do, I hoped that I should at last effect my liberation. I must not, however, take up more time by further describing the incidents of this memorable portion of my existence.

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