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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Eastern Seas - Chapter 10. A Desert Island Is Reached
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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 10. A Desert Island Is Reached Post by :maustad Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2061

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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 10. A Desert Island Is Reached


As I was washed away from the mainmast a cry from Oliver reached my ears. I knew by this that he too had been carried off by the sea. I sprang towards him. "I will save him or perish!" I thought, "as I did once before." He had not been idle since his first accident, and had done his best to become a swimmer. He kept up boldly. I urged him to try and recover the mast, but when we looked round we could discover it on neither side. Now I felt myself carried to the summit of a sea, to be hurled over again on the other side. I had little hope of escape, but still I resolved to struggle to the last. Oliver swam bravely by my side, but I knew from the exertions he was making that he could not long continue them.

"Oh, I am sinking! I am sinking!" he cried out suddenly. I caught him by the collar. At that instant, as I put out my hand, I felt it grasp a hard object. It was a large spar. I threw myself on it, dragging Oliver with me. With great difficulty I hauled him on to it, but so violent was the agitation of the sea that we could scarcely retain our hold. It seemed to me that we were driving onwards, carried perhaps by some current, but that might have been fancy. Again and again I looked out, in the hopes of seeing the mast. Every instant I feared that Oliver would again be washed off, but the foaming sea around and the dark sky above was all I could discern. I put out my hand, and caught hold of a rope which was secured to the spar. The end of this I passed round Oliver's body, fastening myself with another portion. Still, though I kept my head well out of water, the sea was so continually breaking over us that we were almost drowned, even though clinging to the spar. I do not pretend that I thought of much at the moment but my own safety and that of my companion, but the thoughts of my old friend, Dick Tarbox, and Roger Trew, as well as indeed of the other men, did come across my mind. I felt very sad, for I was afraid that they had been washed off, and had not been so fortunate as we were, in getting hold of a spar. Strange as it may seem, I scarcely for a moment expected to lose my own life. In a cold climate I do not think I could have held on as I did, but the sea was warm, and I did not feel in any way benumbed.

The previous part of the night had appeared very long; this, however, seemed far longer. I often felt very sleepy, but I was afraid, if I gave way to sleep, that I should lose my hold, and resisted the influence. Had I been alone, I felt that I should not have held on, neither perhaps could Oliver Farwell, but we encouraged each other. We did not say much, but not a minute during the whole night passed without our exchanging a word or two.

At length I began to hope that the sea was going down: indeed, after a little time it appeared evident that the water was calmer. It did not break over our heads so frequently as at first. I thought with what joy we should welcome the first streaks of day. At length, as we rose to the top of a sea, we caught sight of the sun himself rising above the horizon. The clouds had cleared away, the wind had almost completely fallen. How gloriously the sun shot upwards in the clear blue sky. Still the ocean rose and fell considerably. As we again reached the top of a billow, I caught sight of an object at no great distance. At first I thought it was a rock just above the water, but on looking again, I saw it was a piece of wreck, and on it was seated a human being. I looked again and again, and so did Oliver. We were certain that we could not be mistaken. We shouted at the top of our voices. We saw the person look round. Again we shouted. He stood up. He had not discovered us. At length I managed to get my knees on the spar, and to kneel and wave my hand above my head, shouting at the same time. He now saw us, and waved his hand in return. At first I thought he was one of the Lascars, but now I saw that it was Macco. The raft on which he floated afforded far more security than did our spar, but how to reach it was the question. In smooth water I might have pushed the spar before me with the help of Oliver. Presently we saw Macco slip off the raft and strike out towards us. He swam beautifully. I did not think a human being could make such rapid way through the water. In a short time we saw his dark-skinned face close to us.

"Ah! ah! Bery glad, Massa Walter. Bery glad to see you safe."

"What has become of the other poor fellows, Macco?"

"I not know. Come now, I help you to get on my raft." Saying this he swam round, and began pushing the spar before him, one end first, by which means it was easily driven through the water. It took us some time to reach the piece of wreck, which appeared to be part of the poop-deck. Getting on it himself, he hauled up Oliver first at my request, and then assisted me, making fast the spar to one side. The deck, under which were some beams, floated well, and supported us completely. We were thankful that our lives had been thus far preserved; but yet here we were, out in mid-ocean as far as we could see, without land in sight, and with no provisions, not even a drop of water to support life. We all too well knew that unless help should come, our lives had only been preserved to suffer a more lingering death than the one we had escaped. One of my first impulses was to stand up and look round, in the hope of seeing the mast, with some of my companions clinging to it, but though several pieces of wreck were visible, nothing of the mast could we discover. Macco could give very little account of the way he had escaped. He had, I found, been in the top, and a sea striking him had washed him away; but being a good swimmer, he struggled manfully for life, now floating on his back, now looking round in the hopes of seeing something to which he might cling. At last he found himself close to the deck; which, indeed, was on the point of being thrown over him, when, had he been struck, his fate would have been sealed. Darting away from it, however, he escaped the danger, and then swimming round, succeeded in placing himself upon it.

"I so glad," he exclaimed, "dat I saved my life, because now I try to help save yours."

Oliver and I thanked him very much, though I said that I could not exactly see how that was to be.

"A way will be found," observed Oliver, quietly. "Let us trust in God; he knows how to bring all things about."

As the sun rose higher in the sky, the heat became very great, striking down upon our unprotected heads. Fortunately we had all eaten a good supper; but after a time we began to feel hungry, and thirst especially assailed us. Oh, what would we not have given for a glass of water! My companions were inclined to drink the salt water; but I had heard of the danger of so doing, and urged them to refrain from the dangerous draught. Oliver and I had fortunately on our jackets. These were soon dried, and covering up our heads with them, we lay down to sleep on the raft. In an instant, it seemed to me, my eyes closed, and I forgot all that had occurred, and the fearful position in which we were still placed. I suspect that Macco must have slept too, though when we lay down he said that he should keep on the watch. I was still dreaming, with my head covered up, thinking that I was seated at dinner at my old school, and that a number of fellows suddenly burst in, shouting out that it was to be a half-holiday. The noises grew louder and louder; and presently a voice shouted close to me. It sounded strangely like that of Macco; but how he came to be at school I could not tell. Throwing the jacket off my head, I started up, and there I saw close to us a large native prow. She was full of fierce-looking people, whose voices I had at first heard. Macco, who had been asleep, had not till just before perceived them. Oliver rose at the same time that I did.

"If they are human beings, they will treat us kindly," he observed, standing up, and waving his hand.

Macco seemed far from satisfied with their appearance. "Me no like dem fellows," he said; "dey cut t'roat--eat! eat!"

"No fear of that," I observed. "She looks to me like a trading prow, though her men certainly would suit the deck of a pirate."

However, we had no choice. It was now perfectly calm, and the prow rowed up to the raft, the men in her making signs to us to come on board. As the vessel's side touched the raft, ropes were thrown to us, and we soon clambered up on her deck. The people began to shout to us, evidently asking us questions; which, of course, we were not able to answer, not understanding a word that was said. The vessel was a strange-looking craft, with large mat-sails, her deck sloping from the stern down to the bows, which were by far the lowest part. In the after-part was a poop-deck; under which there was a sort of cabin, while a small house of bamboo in front of it formed another cabin. She was steered by two rudders, one on either quarter, the tiller ropes coming in through ports in the sides, and being worked by men who sat on the deck under the poop. Her crew were brown-skinned men, in the usual dress of Malay seamen; that is to say, a pair of trousers fastened round the waist, a handkerchief encircling the head, and a thin cotton jacket, which, however, was thrown off when they were at work. Their captain, however, wore a handsome costume. He was seated on a cushion just before the poop, enjoying the luxury of an evening smoke, a long pipe with a bowl being in his hand. We were now taken up before him; and he again put questions to us, which of course, as before, we were unable to answer. At length we heard him shouting out to the men forward. One of them came aft, and the chief said a few words to him. On this he turned round to us, and said, "Talky Inglis?" I nodded. "Where you come from?" he asked, pretty quickly. I told him we had been wrecked at no great distance, and had been floated away from the place. After I had put my explanation in several different ways, he seemed to understand me. He explained what I had said to the chief, who seemed greatly delighted, and immediately issued some orders to his men. They forthwith got out their sweeps, and began pulling away in the direction, we supposed, of the wreck. I was very glad of this, as I thought there was a possibility, should any of our companions have escaped drowning, of finding them.

I now told our interpreter that we were very hungry and thirsty. He understood me more by the signs I made than the words, I suspect; and, nodding, made me understand that some food would be brought us. "But we are thirsty, thirsty!" I exclaimed. Indeed, my parched tongue made me feel that without a draught of water I could scarcely swallow food. On this our interpreter, going into the hold, brought up a thick cane of bamboo, and pulling a stopper out of the top, showed us, to our great satisfaction, that it was full of water. I never enjoyed a more delicious draught. I thought of my companions, however, and handed it to Oliver, who passed it on to Macco, after which I took another pull at it; and so we continued passing it round, till we had drained the contents.

We were ready by this time for dinner, and were thankful to see several dishes brought out of the little building which formed the cook-house on deck. The chief signed to us to sit down and fall to. One was rice; of that there was no doubt. Another, too, I soon discovered to be that most valuable production of the East, the bread-fruit: this was cut in slices and fried. The third, however, puzzled me excessively, and its appearance was far from attractive. There was, besides, a little saucer with red pepper. Oliver and I at once attacked the bread-fruit, when Macco pointed to the other dish.

"Eat, eat; good!" he said.

"Do you take some of it," I observed, unwilling to begin.

He immediately did so, swallowing a good portion.

"What is it?" I asked.

"You know; what sailor call 'squid,'" he answered. "Dem very good."

I now guessed that it was octopus, or ink-fish, the favourite food of the sperm whale. I would rather have kept to the bread-fruit and rice; but Oliver was not so particular, and took a little with some red pepper. On his pronouncing it very good, I followed his example, and found it far more palatable than I had expected, and I doubt not very nutritious. I remembered having heard that it was dangerous, after a long fast, to eat much, and I therefore took but little. Oliver also was equally abstemious. Macco, however, laughed at my warning, and very soon finished off the contents of the dishes.

We hoped, from the hospitable way we were entertained, that we should continue to be treated equally well. After we had finished our repast, Oliver and I felt very sleepy. The chief seeing this, made signs to us that we might go into the bamboo house and rest. It was very clean and neat; a sort of sofa being on one side, on which there was room for Oliver and me to lie down, one at one end, and one at the other--with our legs somewhat drawn up, to be sure, as the whole length was not more than six feet. We must have slept there the whole night; for when we got up we found the sun just rising, while the chief and his crew were turning their faces towards Mecca--or where they supposed it to be--and offering up their morning prayers. By this we knew that they were Mohammedans: such, indeed, is the religion of a large number of the people of the archipelago inhabiting the sea-coasts.

We had time to look about us, and examine the strange craft we had got on board. She had no masts, but the sails were hoisted on huge triangles, which could be lowered at pleasure. Her anchor, too, was of curious construction: it consisted of a tough, hooked piece of timber, which served as the fluke or hook, being strengthened by twisted ratans, which bound it to the shank; while the stock was formed of a large flat stone, also secured by ratans to the shank. I observed that all the crew were armed; and on a small piece of timber in the bows a small swivel gun was placed, a similar piece being fixed in the after-part of the vessel. The cable also was formed of ratan, which, though strong, could easily, I suspected, be cut by rocks.

We found, on seeing Macco, that the vessel had made but little progress during the night, having anchored near a reef in order not to pass the spot where the wreck was supposed to have occurred. Little notice of us was taken by the chief or his men: they all seemed eagerly looking out for the expected wreck. We also kept our eyes about us in every direction, earnestly hoping that she might appear; but not a sign of her was visible. I thought I saw a sail in the far distance. I pointed it out to Oliver. He was of the same opinion; so was Macco: but whether the natives saw it or not, we could not tell.

We continued our course, the breeze being light. After a time the prow was steered first to the right, then to the left. Then she made a traverse to the south as near to the wind as she could lay (which, by-the-by, was not very near, even with the aid of her oars); but though several reefs were seen, on one of which probably the ship had struck, she was nowhere to be discovered. We saw, however, pieces of timber and various articles floating about. At length we caught sight of a long object in the water. We steered towards it. Yes; it was the very mast to which we had clung! So it seemed to me, and so Oliver thought. If so, what had become of our unfortunate companions? Shortly afterwards another mast was seen. A human form was entangled in the rigging. We eagerly looked down on it as we passed. The dark skin showed that it was the body of one of the Lascars. The mast was undoubtedly the foremast to which they had clung. A light boat was launched from the deck of the prow, and three hands went into it to the mast. I saw that they were taking off the girdle of the dead man. As they lifted him up I distinguished the features--so I thought--of Ali Tomba, who had been the cause of the destruction of the _Bussorah Merchant_. Leaving the body, the men returned with the sash and clothes. They were examined, and found to contain a considerable number of coins, at which the natives gazed with eager eyes.

Their whole conduct now changed towards us. The chief had seated himself in his usual place on the deck, when we were dragged up to him, and he made signs to us to empty our pockets. Oliver and Macco had, of course, but a few small coins: I had rather more, but no great sum, in Dutch money, which Captain Davenport had given me to make some purchases in the town of Ternate. I suppose they had treated us with civility at first, not understanding that our ship was entirely lost, and perhaps expecting that our countrymen would have punished them had they behaved ill to us. The chief seemed very angry at finding we had so little of value about us. He now made us a sign that we were to be gone from his presence. We sat down in the shade before the house, in the centre of the deck, where Macco began to bewail our hard fate, observing that he was sure the natives would kill and eat us. I endeavoured to comfort him by saying, that as they were Mohammedans they certainly would not eat us, though I could not be answerable for their not taking our lives; and, as far as I could, I endeavoured to persuade him to be prepared for whatever might happen.

"The great thing, Macco," said Oliver, joining in the conversation, "is to be sure that He who lives up there,"--(and he pointed to the blue sky)--"who made this world, and all those stars we see, loves us, his creatures whom he has placed on the earth; and if we trust him, he will do everything that is best for us."

"But how I know he does love us?" asked Macco. "He let many people die; many be drowned; many be killed with blow up mountain or shake of earth; many die fever, plague; many kill each other."

"Very true," answered Oliver. "Sometimes he lets those who love him best die. He does not say that he will keep even his friends alive; but if he takes them out of a bad world and puts them into a good one, does not that show his love? Some of those who are killed in the terrible way you say, are not his friends; but we know he loves us, because he gave One he loves better than anything else, to die for us, to be punished instead of us. We deserve punishment; we all feel that. He has told us, too, that he loves us; and if we believe the Bible, we must believe that. If man had not sinned, but had always been good and obedient, we might have reason to doubt God's Word; but we are sure that man has sinned, and continues sinning, and it was sin which brought all this suffering on man. Besides, again, as I said, we must not look upon death--the mere death of the body--as a punishment. It may be a great blessing; it is indeed so to many. But then, again, Macco, we cannot pretend to understand all God's dealings with us."

I listened very attentively to these remarks made by Oliver. A new light seemed to break on me. God's love! God's love!--oh, how little do we understand that! It is only a knowledge of that which can enable us in any way to comprehend his dealings with man.

"You see, Macco," continued Oliver, "that God is just as well as loving. He punishes those who continue to refuse his offers of mercy. With many he tries loving-kindness first. Sometimes his love makes him afflict people for the sake of bringing them to him, making them feel their own helplessness. The great thing of all, however, is to know for a certainty that he loves us, and that whatever he does is for the best. When a man is sure of this, he trusts to God, whatever happens. I have a loving mother, who taught me this. I am very sure it is the most valuable knowledge she could have given me. Though we know that we are sinners, and deserve punishment, yet we also know that when God's Son became man and died on the cross, being sacrificed for our sins, he took away the sins of all those who trust to him; and so, instead of being sinners in God's sight, when we thus trust to him we are made pure and holy, and fit to go to heaven--nay, sure of going to heaven when we die. If you believe this, Macco, you will not be afraid even though the people round us should suddenly jump up and kill us all, and throw us overboard."

Macco was silent for some time. At length he looked up, and said,--"Bless you, Oliver; you tell me great truth. I no fear to die now."

I felt indeed grateful to my young companion. His words had given me a courage I could scarcely have expected to possess; and though I did not feel indifferent as to our fate, yet I was prepared, at all events, far better than I should otherwise have been for whatever might happen.

The native seamen sat round in the bow of the vessel, eating from a huge dish of rice, with some dried fish of some sort, seasoned with red pepper. After they had eaten their fill, they put down the remains of the dish--into which they had all plunged their unclean fingers--before us, much in the way they would have put it before a hungry dog, and made us a sign to eat it if we chose. At first I could scarcely bring myself to touch the food; but Macco urged me to do so, and he and Oliver at length beginning their repast, I could no longer resist the desire to eat.

I could not make out exactly whether we were on board a trader or a pirate; perhaps a mixture of both. If she was a trader, I concluded she was bound to the coast of New Guinea for tripang, or sea-slug-- considered a great delicacy by the Chinese and other people to the north; perhaps for pearls to the Aru Islands, or for other productions of the southern part of the archipelago. We found, at all events, that they were steering to the south. For several days they stood on, not altering their course. We were treated in the same manner as we had been since they had failed to discover the wreck of which we had told them. They gave us but scanty food, and allowed us but little water. The interpreter no longer came near us, while scowling looks were cast at us from every side. At length an island appeared on our port-bow, towards which the prow was steered. It was thickly wooded, down to the very water's edge. A variety of strange-looking shrubs were seen, with lofty and elegant palms rising above them. What they were going to do we could not surmise. Having got close in, the sails were lowered, and the anchor let go. A boat was then launched. As we were standing looking towards the shore, the chief touched me on the shoulder, and made signs that I was to get into the boat. I knew that resistance would be useless. Two men then stepped in. I also did as I was ordered. He then signed to Oliver and Macco to follow; Macco going forward, and Oliver and I sitting in the stern. We endeavoured to ascertain from the chief why we were to be carried to the island; but he did not answer, making only an impatient gesture to us to be off. Without wasting further words, we took our seats, and the two men began to pull away towards the shore.

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