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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFrom Powder Monkey To Admiral: A Story Of Naval Adventure - Chapter 11. The Wreck
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From Powder Monkey To Admiral: A Story Of Naval Adventure - Chapter 11. The Wreck Post by :BizOpKing Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2099

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From Powder Monkey To Admiral: A Story Of Naval Adventure - Chapter 11. The Wreck

CHAPTER ELEVEN. THE WRECK

By the roaring sound they heard when they awoke, the lads knew that the storm was still raging.

They ate sparingly of their store of food for breakfast; and then calculating that it must be once more daylight, they made their way towards the mouth of the cavern. They were not mistaken as to its being day, but how long the sun had risen they could not tell, as the sky was still thickly overcast with clouds.

The sea was washing, as before, heavily into the cavern, throwing up all sorts of articles, among which were a number of oranges, melons, and other fruits of a southern clime.

The melons were mostly broken, but they got hold of two unbroken, and very welcome they were. The oranges were mostly green, though a few had turned sufficiently red to be eaten.

"I would rather have had more substantial food," observed Jack; "but I am glad enough to get these."

"What's that?" asked Bill, pointing to the opposite side of the cavern, where a creature was seen struggling in a hollow half filled with water.

Jack dashed across at the risk of being carried off by the receding sea; and, grasping a large fish, held it up as he rushed away to escape from the following wave, which came rolling in with a loud roar.

"Here's a prize worth having," he shouted. "Hurrah! we may spend another week here without fear of starving."

He carried his prize well out of the reach of the water, and a knock on the head put an end to its struggles.

The lads piled up their various waifs, contemplating them with infinite satisfaction; but it was evident that what was their gain was somebody else's loss.

"Some unfortunate ship has gone on shore, or else has thrown her cargo overboard," observed Bill.

He went first to one side of the cavern, and then to the other, so as to obtain as wide a prospect as possible.

"See! there's a vessel trying to beat off shore," he exclaimed; and just then a brig with her foretopmast gone came into view, the sail which she was still able to carry heeling her over till her yard-arms seemed almost to touch the foaming summits of the seas.

"She'll not do it, I fear," said Jack, after they had been watching her for some time. "It's a wonder she doesn't go right over. If the wind doesn't fall, nothing can save her; and even then, unless she brings up and her anchors hold, she's sure to be cast on shore."

They watched the vessel for some time. Though carrying every stitch of canvas she could set, she appeared to be making little headway, and to be drifting bodily to leeward.

The lads uttered a cry of regret, for down came her mainmast, and immediately her head turned towards the shore.

In a few minutes she struck, though no rock was visible, and the sea swept over her deck, carrying her remaining mast, boats, caboose, and round-house overboard, with every person who could be seen. In an instant, several human forms were discernible struggling in the seething waters alongside, but they quickly disappeared.

"They are all gone," cried Jack; "not one that I can see has escaped."

"Perhaps some were below," observed Bill. "If they were, it won't much matter, for in a few minutes she will go to pieces."

He was mistaken as to the latter point, for another sea rolling in, lifted the vessel, and driving over the ledge on which she had first struck, carried her between some dark rocks, till she stuck fast on the sandy shore. Had the people been able to cling to her till now, some might possibly have been saved, but they had apparently all been on deck when the vessel struck, and been swept away by the first sea which rolled over her. The seas still continued to sweep along her deck, but their force was partly broken by the rocks, and being evidently a stout vessel, she hung together.

It was at the time nearly high-water, and the lads longed for the tide to go down, that they might examine her nearer.

"Even if anybody is alive on board, we cannot help them," observed Jack; "so I vote that we take our fish to the camp, and have some dinner. I am very sharp set, seeing that we had no breakfast to speak of."

Bill, who had no objection to offer, agreed to this; so carrying up their newly-obtained provisions, they soon had a fire lighted, and some of the fish broiling away before it.

The fate of the unfortunate vessel formed the subject of their conversation.

"I have an idea," cried Bill. "It's an ill wind that brings no one good luck. If we can manage to get on board that craft which has come on shore, we might build a boat out of her planking, or at all events a raft; and should the wind come from the southward, we might manage to get across the Channel, or be picked up by some vessel or other. We are pretty sure to find provisions on board. Perhaps one of her boats may have escaped being knocked to pieces, and we could repair her. At all events, it will be our own fault if that wreck doesn't give us the opportunity of escaping."

Jack listened to all Bill was saying.

"I cannot agree with you as to the chance of getting off," he observed. "As soon as the wreck is seen, the Frenchmen are sure to be down on the shore, and we shall be caught and carried back to prison instead of getting away. The boats are pretty certain to have been knocked into shreds before this, and as to building a boat, that is what neither you nor I can do, even if we had the tools, and where are they to come from?"

"Perhaps we shall find them on board," said Bill. "The vessel has held together till now, and I don't see why she should not hold together till the storm is over. 'Where there's a will there's a way,' and I don't see that we have so bad a chance of getting off."

"Well, I'll help you. You can show me what we had best do," said Jack. "I am not going to draw back on account of the risk. All must depend on the weather. If the wind comes off shore, and the sea goes down, I should say that our best chance would be to build a raft. We can do that, if we can only find an axe and a saw, and we might get launched before the Frenchmen find out the wreck. The first thing we have to do is to get on board, and when we are there, we must keep a bright look-out to see that none of the natives are coming along the shore to trap us."

The lads, having come to this resolution, hurried back to the entrance of the cave.

They forgot all about the smugglers' stores, and their intention of making clothes for themselves; indeed, they only thought of getting on board the vessel. They watched eagerly for the tide to go down. The day passed by and the night came on, but the clouds clearing away, a bright moon shed her light over the scene. The wind had also sensibly decreased, and the waves rolled in with far less fury than before.

The water, however, seemed to them a long time moving off; still it was evidently going down. Rock after rock appeared, and looking over the ledge they could see the sand below them.

Knowing full well that the water would not again reach the beach it had once left till the return of the tide, they leaped down without hesitation, and began to make their way in the direction of the vessel. They had again to wait, however, for, as they pushed eagerly forward, a sheet of foam from a wave which came rolling up nearly took them off their legs.

They retreated a short distance, and in a few minutes were able to pass the spot over the uncovered sand. On and on they pressed, now advancing, now having to retreat, till they stood abreast of the vessel. The water still surrounded her, and was too deep to wade through.

They looked round on every side, but not a trace of a boat could be discovered, though fragments of spars and the bulwarks of the vessel strewed the beach. Among the spars they found two whole ones, which they secured.

"These will help us to get on board if we find no ropes hanging over the side," observed Bill; "or they will enable us to withstand the sea should it catch us before we can climb up." They now advanced more boldly.

The vessel lay over on her bilge, with her deck partly turned towards the shore, the sea, after she struck, having driven her round.

They waded up to her, for their impatience did not permit them to wait till the water had entirely receded. The risk they ran of being carried off was considerable, but, dashing forward, they planted the spars against the side.

Bill swarmed up first, Jack followed, and the deck was gained.

Scarcely were Jack's feet out of the water, when a huge sea came rolling up, which would inevitably have carried him off.

They knew that they had no time to lose, for the wreck once seen from the shore, crowds of people were certain to visit it to carry off the cargo.

The after-part of the vessel was stove in, and nothing remained in the cabin; but the centre part, though nearly full of water, was unbroken. The water, however, was rushing out like a mill-stream, both at the stern and through some huge holes in the bows. Nothing whatever remained on deck.

The lads plunged down below, and gained the spar-deck, which was already out of the water. Here the first object their eyes alighted on was a chest.

It was the carpenter's, and contained axes, and saws, and nails, and tools of all sorts.

There were a good many light spars and planks stowed on one side.

"Here we have materials for a raft at hand!" cried Bill. "We must build one; for I agree with you, Jack, that there's no use in attempting a boat. It would take too much time, even if we could succeed in making her watertight."

"I said so," replied Jack. "I wish we had some grub, though; perhaps there's some for'ard. I'll go and find it if I can."

Jack made his way into the forepeak, while Bill was cutting free the lashings, and dragging out the spars. Jack returned in a short time with some cold meat, and biscuit, and cheese.

"See! we can dine like lords," he exclaimed; "and we shall be better able to work after it."

They sat down on the chest, and ate the provisions with good appetites.

Bill cast a thought on the fate of the poor fellows to whom the food had belonged; their bodies now washing about in the breakers outside.

Every now and then they alternately jumped up, and looked east and west, and to the top of the cliff, to ascertain if any one was coming. The vessel had been driven on shore out of sight of both the villages, or they would not have been left long alone. It was to be hoped that no one would come along the cliff and look down upon the wreck.

Their meal over, they set to work to plan their raft.

They were obliged to labour on deck, as they could not hoist it up through the hold, or they would have preferred keeping out of sight. It would be a hard job to launch it, but that they hoped to do by fastening tackles at either side leading to the ring bolts on deck.

As there were no bulwarks to stop them, they laid the foundation, or, as they called it, the keel, projecting slightly over the side. They would thus have only to shove it forward and tip it up to launch it.

Their plan was to form an oblong square, then to put on bows at one end; and two pieces crossing each other with a short upright between them, on which to support the steering oar. The interior of the framework they strengthened by two diagonal braces. They lashed and nailed a number of crosspieces close together, and on the top of the whole they nailed down all the planks they could find, which were sufficient to form a good flooring to their raft.

They discovered also a number of small brandy casks, which they immediately emptied of their contents, letting the spirits flow without compunction into the water, and then again tightly bunged them down.

They fastened ropes around the casks, with which, when the raft was launched, they could secure them to either side, to give it greater buoyancy. They also brought up a couple of sea-chests, which they intended to lash down to the centre, so as to afford them some protection from the sea, and at the same time to hold their provisions.

Bill was the chief suggester of all these arrangements, though Jack ably carried them out.

They worked like heroes, with all the energy they could command, for they felt that everything depended on their exertions.

The night being bright, they were able to get on as well then as in the daytime.

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