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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part 1 - Chapter 10. The New Crew
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Dick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part 1 - Chapter 10. The New Crew Post by :novedresources Category :Long Stories Author :Jules Verne Date :May 2012 Read :713

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Dick Sands, The Boy Captain - Part 1 - Chapter 10. The New Crew

PART THE FIRST
CHAPTER X. THE NEW CREW

Dick Sands, captain of the "Pilgrim," would not lose a moment in getting his ship under sail. His prime object was to land his passengers safely at Valparaiso or some other American port, and to accomplish his purpose it was in the first place necessary that he should ascertain the schooner's rate of speed and the direction that she was taking. This information was to be obtained readily enough by means of the log and compass, and the result of each day's observations would be entered regularly on the chart.

The log on board was a patent log, with a dial-plate and screw, by means of which the distance that is travelled can be measured accurately for any definite time; it was an instrument so simple that the negroes were very soon taught its use. The slight error in the reckoning caused by the action of the currents could only be rectified by astronomical observations, which, as already has been stated, were beyond Dick's attainments to make.

The idea more than once crossed Dick's mind whether he would not take the "Pilgrim" back again to New Zealand; the distance was considerably less than it was to America, and had the wind remained in the quarter whence it had been blowing so long, it is more than likely he would have determined to retrace his course. But as the wind had now veered to the north-west, and there was every probability that it was settled for a time, he came to the conclusion that he had better take advantage of it and persevere in making his way towards the east. Accordingly he lost no time in putting his ship before the wind.

On a schooner the fore-mast usually carries four square sails; on the lower mast a fore-sail; on the top-mast a top-sail; on the top-gallant a top-gallant-sail and a royal. The main-mast carries only a main-sail and a top-sail. Between the masts upon the fore-stays can be hoisted a triple tier of triangular sails; while the bowsprit with its jib-boom will carry the three jibs.

The jibs, the main-sail, the main-top-sail and the staysails are all managed with comparative ease, because they can be hoisted from the deck without the necessity of ascending the mast to let fly the robbins, by which they are fastened to the yards. With the sails on the fore-mast it is altogether a more difficult business. In order either to unfurl them, to take them in, or to reef them, it is necessary for a man to clamber up by the shrouds, either to the fore-top, or to the top-gallant cross-trees, and thence mounting by loose ropes, extended below the yards, to hold on by one hand whilst he does his work with the other. The operation requires alike the head and arm of an experienced mariner; and when a fresh breeze has been blowing, it is a casualty far from uncommon that a sailor, confused by the flapping of the canvas and the pitching of the vessel, should be blown overboard in the act. For the unpractised negroes the danger would necessarily be very great. However, the wind at present was very moderate, and the ship ploughed her way over the waves without any violent oscillations.

At the time when Dick Sands, in obedience to the signal he received from Captain Hull, proceeded to make his way to the scene of the disaster, the "Pilgrim," as she lay to, was carrying only her jibs, main-sail, fore-sail, and fore-top-sail. In order, therefore, to put her as near as possible to the wind, it had been merely necessary to counter-brace the fore-sail yard, a manoeuvre in which the negroes had rendered all the assistance that was necessary. It was requisite now to do something more. To enable him to get straight before the wind Dick wanted to increase his sail, and was desirous of hoisting the top-gallant, the royal, the main-top-sail, and the stay-sails.

He was himself standing at the wheel.

"Now, my men," he shouted to the negroes; "I want your help. Do exactly as I tell you. Bear away, Tom!"

Tom looked puzzled.

"Bear away! unfasten that rope, I mean. And, Bat, come along; do the same as Tom."

The men did what they were bidden.

"That's right!" continued Dick, and calling to Hercules, said,-

"Now, Hercules; a good strong pull!"

To give such a direction to Hercules was somewhat imprudent; the rigging creaked again under his giant strength.

"Gently, gently, my good fellow!" said Dick, laughing; "you will have the mast down."

"I declare I hardly touched the rope," answered Hercules.

"Well, next time, you must only pretend to touch it," said Dick; and, continuing his orders, shouted, "Now slacken! let fly! make fast! now brace in the yards! all right! that's capital!"

The yards were loosened, the foresails turned slowly round, and, catching the breeze, gave a slight impetus to the ship. Dick's next orders were for the jib-sheets to be set free, and then he called the men to the stern.

"Now," said he; "we must look to the main-mast; but take care, Hercules, not to have it down."

"I will be as careful as possible, Mr. Dick," submissively replied Hercules, as though he were afraid to commit himself to any rash promise.

The manoeuvre was simple enough. The main-sheet was gradually slackened, the great sail took the wind and added its powerful action to that of the fore-sails. The main-top-sail was next brought to bear; it was only clewed up, so that there was nothing to do except to pull the halyards, haul it aboard the tack, and unfurl it. But in pulling at the halyards the muscular energy of Hercules, which was supplemented by that of Actæon, not to forget little Jack, who had volunteered his assistance, proved to be overpowering, and the rope snapped in two. All three of them, of course, fell flat upon the deck; but fortunately neither of them was hurt, and Jack laughed heartily at his tumble as an excellent joke.

"Up with you!" cried Captain Dick; "there's no harm done; splice the rope, and haul away more gently next time."

It took but a few minutes to execute the order, and the "Pilgrim" was soon sailing away rapidly with her head to the east.

"Well done, my friends!" said Dick, who had not left his post at the helm; "you will be first-rate sailors before the end of the voyage."

"We shall do our best, I promise you, Captain Sands," replied Tom, making it a point to give the young commander his proper title.

Mrs. Weldon also congratulated the new crew upon the success of their first attempt.

"I believe it was Master Jack who broke that rope," said Hercules, with a sly twinkle in his eye; "he is very strong, I can tell you."

Jack looked as though he thoroughly appreciated the compliment, and evidenced his satisfaction by giving his huge friend a hearty shake of the hand.

There were still several sails that were not yet set. Running well before the wind as the "Pilgrim" was, Dick nevertheless felt that the gallant, royal, and stay-sails, if brought into service, would materially assist her progress, and he determined not to dispense with their help. The stay-sails could be hoisted from below, but to bring the gallant and royal into play demanded more experience than any of his crew had had. Knowing that he could not entrust the task to them, and yet resolved not to be baulked of his wish to set them, he undertook the task himself. He first put Tom to the helm, showing him how to keep the schooner's head in the right direction, and having placed the other four at the royal and top-gallant halyards, proceeded to mount the foremast.

To clamber up the foreshrouds and the top-shrouds on to the cross-trees was mere child's play to the active apprentice. In a few minutes he had unfurled the top-gallant-sail, mounted to the royal-yard, unfurled the royal, again reached the cross-trees, and having caught hold of one of the starboard backstays, had descended to the deck; there he gave the necessary directions, and the two sails were made fast, and both yards braced.

Nor did this content him. The stay-sails were set between the masts, and thus the "Pilgrim" was running along, crowded to the full, with all her canvas. The only additional sails which Dick could possibly have employed would have been some studding-sails to larboard, but as the setting of these was a matter of some difficulty, and they were not always readily struck in the case of a sudden squall, he contented himself without them.

Again he took his place at the helm. The breeze was manifestly freshening, and the "Pilgrim," almost imperceptibly heeling to starboard, glided rapidly along the surface of the water, leaving behind her a wake, smooth and clean, that bore plain witness to the true adjustment of her water-line.

"This is good progress, Mrs. Weldon," he said; "may Heaven grant the wind and weather may continue thus favourable!"

The lady, in silence, shook the boy's hand; and then, worn-out with the excitement of the past hours, went to her cabin, where she lay down and fell into a troubled doze.

The new crew remained on watch. They were stationed on the forecastle, in readiness to make any alteration which the sails might require, but the wind was so steady and unshifting that no need arose for their services.

And Cousin Benedict? all this time, where was he? and what had he been doing?

He was sitting in his cabin; he had a magnifying-glass in his hand and was studying an articulata of the order orthoptera, an insect of the Blattidae family; its characteristics are a roundish body, rather long wings, flat elytra, and a head hidden by the prothorax. He had been on deck at the time of the calamity; the ill-fated captain with the crew had been drowned before his very eyes; but he said nothing; not that he was unmoved; to think that he was not struck with horror would be to libel his kind and pitying nature. His sympathy was aroused, especially for his cousin; he pressed her hand warmly as if he would assure her of his truest commiseration; but he said nothing; he hurried off towards his cabin; and who shall deny that it was to devise some wonderfully energetic measures that he would take in consequence of this melancholy event?

Passing the kitchen, however, he caught sight of Negoro in the act of crushing a blatta, an American species of cockroach. He broke out into a storm of invective, and in tones of indignation demanded the surrender of the insect, which Negoro made with cool contempt. In a moment Captain Hull and his partners in death were all forgotten; the enthusiast had secured a prize with which he hastened to his own little compartment, where he was soon absorbed in proving to his own satisfaction, in opposition to the opinion of other entomologists, that the blattae of the phoraspous species, which are remarkable for their colours, differ in their habits from blattae of the ordinary sort.

For the remainder of the day perfect order reigned on board the "Pilgrim." Though they were unable to shake off the sickening feeling of horror roused by the frightful disaster, and felt that they had sustained a startling shock, all the passengers seemed mechanically to fall into their usual routine. Dick Sands, though avowedly at the wheel, seemed to be everywhere, with an eye for every thing, and his amateur crew obeyed him readily, and with the promptness of a willing activity.

Negoro made no further overt attempt to question the young captain's authority, but remained shut up in his kitchen. Dick made no secret of his determination to place the cook in close confinement if he exhibited any future sign of insubordination. Hercules was ready to carry him off bodily to the hold, and old Nan was equally ready to take his place in the cooking department. Probably Negoro was aware of all this; at any rate he did not seem disposed to give any further cause of offence at present.

As the day advanced the wind continued to freshen; but no shifting of the sails seemed necessary. The "Pilgrim" was running well. There was no need to diminish her spread of canvas. Masts as solid and rigging as strong as hers could stand a far heavier breeze.

As a general rule, it is deemed prudent in case of a squall to shorten sail at night, and especially to take in gallants and royal; but the weather prospects now were all so promising and satisfactory that Dick persuaded himself he was under no necessity to take this precaution; he rather felt himself bound to take the strongest measures he could to expedite his reaching less unfrequented waters. He made up his mind, however, not to leave the deck at all that night.

The young captain made every effort to get an approximate reckoning of the schooner's progress. He heaved the log every half-hour and duly registered the result of each successive examination. There were two compasses on board; one in the binnacle, close under the eye of the helmsman, the other, an inverted compass, being attached to the rafters of the captain's cabin, so that without leaving his berth he could see whether the man in charge of the wheel was holding a proper course.

Every vessel that is duly furnished for a lengthened voyage has always not only two compasses but two chronometers, one to correct the other. The "Pilgrim" was not deficient in this respect, and Dick Sands made a strong point of admonishing his crew that they should take especial care of the compasses, which under their present circumstances were of such supreme importance.

A misfortune, however, was in store for them. On the night of the 12th, while Dick was on watch, the compass in the cabin became detached from its fastening and fell on the floor. The accident was not discovered until the following morning. Whether the metal ferule that had attached the instrument to the rafters had become rusty, or whether it had been worn away by additional friction it seemed impossible to settle. All that could be said was that the compass was broken beyond repair. Dick was extremely grieved at the loss; but he did not consider that any one was to be blamed for the mishap, and could only resolve for the future to take extra care of the compass in the binnacle.

With the exception of this contretemps, everything appeared to go on satisfactorily on board. Mrs. Weldon, reassured by Dick's confidence, had regained much of her wonted calmness, and was besides ever supported by a sincere religious spirit. She and Dick had many a long conversation together. The ingenuous lad was always ready to take the kind and intelligent lady into his counsel, and day by day would point out to her on the chart the registers he made as the result of his dead reckoning; he would then try and satisfy her that under the prevailing wind there could be no doubt they must arrive at the coast of South America: moreover, he said that, unless he was much mistaken, they should sight the land at no great distance from Valparaiso.

Mrs. Weldon had, in truth, no reason to question the correctness of Dick's representations; she owned that provided the wind remained in the same favourable quarter, there was every prospect of their reaching land in safety; nevertheless at times she could not resist the misgiving that would arise when she contemplated what might be the result of a change of wind or a breaking of the weather.

With the light-heartedness that belonged to his age, Jack soon fell back into his accustomed pursuits, and was to be seen merrily running over the deck or romping with Dingo. At times, it is true, he missed the companionship of Dick; but his mother made him comprehend that now that Dick, was captain, his time was too much occupied to allow him; any leisure for play, and the child quite understood that he must not interrupt his old friend in his new duties.

The negroes performed their work with intelligence, and seemed to make rapid progress in the art of seamanship. Tom had been unanimously appointed boatswain, and took one watch with Bat and Austin, the alternate watch being discharged by Dick himself with Hercules and Actæon. One of them steered so that the other two were free to watch at the bows. As a general rule Dick Sands managed to remain at the wheel all night; five or six hours' sleep in the daytime sufficed for him, and during the time when he was lying down he entrusted the wheel to Tom or Bat, who under his instructions had become very fair helmsmen. Although in these unfrequented waters there was little chance of running foul of any other vessel, Dick invariably took the precaution of lighting his signals, carrying a green light to starboard and a red light to port. His exertions, however, were a great strain upon him, and sometimes during the night his fatigue would induce a heavy drowsiness, and he steered, as it were, by instinct more than by attention.

On the night of the 13th, he was so utterly worn-out that he was obliged to ask Tom to relieve him at the helm whilst he went down for a few hours' rest. Actæon and Hercules remained on watch on the forecastle.

The night was very dark; the sky was covered with heavy clouds that had formed in the chill evening air, and the sails on the top-masts were lost in the obscurity. At the stern, the lamps on either side of the binnacle cast a faint reflection on the metal mountings of the wheel, leaving the deck generally in complete darkness.

Towards three o'clock in the morning Tom was getting so heavy with sleepiness that he was almost unconscious. His eye, long fixed steadily on the compass, lost its power of vision, and he fell into a doze from which it would require more than a slight disturbance to arouse him.

Meantime a light shadow glided stealthily along the deck. Creeping gradually up to the binnacle, Negoro put down something heavy that he had brought in his hand. He stole a keen and rapid glance at the dial of the compass, and made his way back, unseen and unheard as he had come.

Almost immediately afterwards, Tom awakened from his slumber. His eye fell instinctively on the compass, and he saw in a moment that the ship was out of her proper course. By a turn of the helm he brought her head to what he supposed to be the east. But he was mistaken. During his brief interval of unconsciousness a piece of iron had been deposited beneath the magnetic needle, which by this means had been diverted thirty degrees to the right, and, instead of pointing due north, inclined far towards north-east.

Consequently it came to pass that the "Pilgrim," supposed by her young commander to be making good headway due east, was in reality, under the brisk north-west breeze, speeding along towards the south-east.

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