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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cruise Of The Mary Rose - Chapter 20. A Fearful Hurricane
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The Cruise Of The Mary Rose - Chapter 20. A Fearful Hurricane Post by :65587 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1272

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The Cruise Of The Mary Rose - Chapter 20. A Fearful Hurricane

CHAPTER TWENTY. A FEARFUL HURRICANE

But a few years ago, before the power of God's word was felt among the inhabitants of the fair islands of the Pacific, to the numerous dangers usually encountered by mariners, that of being attacked and cut off by cannibal savages was to be added throughout its whole extent. Now, throughout the eastern portion, the greater number of the islands may be visited, not only without fear, but with the certainty of a friendly reception. There are still some,--like the Marquesas and parts of the Pomautau group, or Low Archipelago,--which still remain in the darkness of heathenism; but on the western portion of that mighty ocean, the bright spots on which the gospel shines are the exception to the general rule, and over the widest parts the spirit of evil reigns supreme. It was here that true soldier of Christ, the energetic Williams, fell; and here, too, Mr Gordon and his wife and family were lately murdered by the savage inhabitants.

It was towards a group of islands in the eastern Pacific that the _Olive Branch was now holding its course. We had seen Vihala happily united to Alea, with the full consent of the old king, and they had devoted themselves for missionary labour wherever they might be required. This was surprising to many, and to the heathen perfectly incomprehensible. It was as astonishing to them as it would be to people in England, if a young noble of high rank were to declare his resolution of going forth as a missionary of the gospel to these heathen lands. Yet what undertaking more glorious, what work more pleasing to the Lord and Master, whom Christians of all ranks, rich and poor, profess to serve. We had likewise visited the island of the once cannibal chief, who had heard of the new religion from his countrymen, had confessed its vast superiority to his own, cast away his idols, and gladly received the two teachers we had brought with us. All this had been most cheering and encouraging.

We had landed Mr Bent at the station, and now we hoped shortly again to meet my brother John and his wife, and to convey them, and some other missionaries and their wives, to a general meeting to be held shortly at the central station. We had received on board a variety of stores, and books, and numerous articles to distribute among the various stations at which we were to touch. Indeed, it was highly satisfactory to me to find how useful my little _Olive Branch could be made.

Hitherto the little vessel had not encountered a single storm. It was like the rest we might suppose the ocean enjoyed after the subsidence of the waters when the ark rested on Ararat,--not a calm, though; for gentle breezes filled our sails, and rippled over the blue surface of the sea with glittering wavelets, laughing joyously in the sunbeams. A lovely island hove in sight, with blue mountains, and rocks, and sparkling waterfalls, and green shrubs, and pastures, and graceful palm-trees, and yellow sands; and we sailed in through an opening in the never absent reef, and dropped our anchor in a sheltered and beautiful harbour, and numbers of canoes surrounded us. But we had no boarding nettings up, no guns loaded, no pistols in our belts, no cutlasses and pikes ready at hand; for the gospel ruled here. The canoes were filled with well-clothed, intelligent natives. Not an oath was heard, not a man showed an angry temper, and not one who could not read the word of God, and understood it too, and could give a clear reason for the hope that was in him, and who was not probably, even in secular matters, far better educated than the larger portion of the watermen of any port in England, or other long-civilised country in the world.

Provisions of various sorts had been brought in the canoes; but when I enquired for John Harvey, and announced that I was his brother, and that my wife was the daughter of Mr Bent, not an approach to payment would any one receive. When we landed they lifted us up in their arms, and carried us thus to the mission house, where our appearance was a pleasant surprise to our sister-in-law, who had not been made aware of our arrival. My brother was away, but every hour expected back.

I had looked upon Mr Bent's station as a model of neatness; this was larger, and superior in many respects; nor was it inferior in respect to spiritual things. The church, built entirely of stone, was a large and handsome building, and the most conspicuous object from the sea. Running parallel with the shore were two rows, facing each other, of neat cottages, many of stone, with verandahs round them, and gardens both in front and in the rear. Between them was a broad hard road, with two rows of trees, and a stream of sparkling water led through the centre, fed by a waterfall which came foaming down the side of a rocky hill at a little distance inland. Several streets of equal width had been commenced at right angles with the main street, and on the same plan, and new houses were in course of erection in several directions. Here it was evident, indeed, was the commencement of a large town. The cottages were all very fair copies of the mission-house, though on a smaller scale. Those of some of the chiefs, however, were of good size, and were arranged so that they could enjoy all the privacy of domestic life.

And why, it may be asked, was this congregation of natives in one place? What could be the attraction? My love and admiration of John suggested the answer, and I was right: the power of God's word put forth through His faithful servant. The inhabitants of this town had been collected by concern for their soul's welfare, and the belief that the nearer they were to the preacher the more that welfare would be cared for. They displayed a wisdom which is foolishness to the world, and is, alas! too often neglected by those at home, by those who profess to be seeking after the food which perisheth not. I write this, as well as other comparisons I have made, not to find fault with my countrymen at home, but that (should my journal ever be read by any of them) I may excite in them a holy emulation with these so late savage heathens, that they may examine themselves, and ascertain whether they are using all the means in their power to attain to holiness of life and conversation, and without which their spiritual life will too probably languish.

I found my sister-in-law actively engaged from morning till night in her household duties, and in affording instruction of every description to native women of all ages. She declared with perfect sincerity her belief that she was one of the happiest of her sex. She retained the most perfect health, though her figure was slight and delicate, and she had been most gently and tenderly nurtured. Not only that, but she had been what is called highly educated, and was not a stranger to the gay and brilliant assemblies of "civilised" life. It was not that she knew no other lot, and therefore esteemed her present one the best; but she had weighed it with many others she did know, and found it immeasurably superior. She knew from experience that worldly rank hides many a heavy or vacant heart where God is not acknowledged, that wealth cannot give peace of mind, and that gaiety and dissipation most assuredly quench spiritual life. She had found, too, that even a decent church-attending style of existence may be unprofitable to the soul, and as certain to lead to spiritual death. My sister-in-law was not entirely alone. There were two other stations on the island, which was large, and the missionaries and their wives enjoyed frequent intercourse, thus encouraging and supporting each other.

Indeed, I have as a rule found the stations the most prosperous both spiritually and physically where two missionary families have been living together, or where they are near enough to meet frequently. A missionary's wife has to attend to her household duties, often not slightly onerous when she has children requiring instruction. Then she has the female schools to look after, adult classes to receive at her own house, to afford advice to all who ask it, to call on the sick and to administer medicine, and to visit often from house to house. She must correspond with friends at home; she has her private devotions, and must take time for reading and self-examination, or she will find that she can ill perform her other duties. I do not believe that I have overstated the amount of work I have known my sister-in-law and other missionaries' wives perform. Indeed, my own wife was in the habit of getting through not less daily, for weeks together.

Although the greater number of the inhabitants of the island had become Christians in name, there was still a large district the powerful chief of which remained a stubborn heathen. He seemed to hate the gospel with a deadly hatred, and threatened to club any of his subjects who should venture to lotu. Notwithstanding this, several who had heard the truth, either directly or through their friends, had secretly escaped to Christian villages. Many of these persons had become really converted, and were of course longing to induce their relatives and friends to become Christians likewise.

Such was the state of things when the _Olive Branch arrived at the island. A more beautiful picture could scarcely be found than that presented by the calm bay on which our little vessel floated, with her mission-flag flying,--the glittering sand, the tall cocoa-nut and bread-fruit trees, the wild rocks and fantastic-shaped hills, the green fields, the foaming waterfalls and shining streams, and the rows of neat habitations, the church and school-houses,--all showing that the gospel had indeed here found an entrance, and made it doubly beautiful in our sight.

We had been some hours on shore when we saw the natives hurrying out of their cottages and assembling in the chief street, and the cry arose that the missionary was coming. I was scarcely prepared for the warm and affectionate greeting with which they welcomed him. There was no adulation and nothing cringing in their manner; but it was evident that they knew him from experience as a sincere and loving friend.

Great as was our mutual satisfaction at again meeting, so multifarious were his duties that we had but little time for private conversation. I was able, however, to ascertain that John's heart was in his work, and that he infinitely preferred being a missionary in the South-Seas to holding the highest secular office at home. The Sabbath came. It was a day of toil to the preachers and teachers, and yet a day of refreshing to them as it was to hundreds of others, who collected from all quarters to worship the true God, and to hear His word expounded. Many came with their wives and little ones, bringing their provisions, to spend the day of rest in obtaining spiritual food for their souls' welfare. The service over, numbers collected round my brother and the native teachers, and almost the whole interval between the services was devoted to affording advice and consolation to these seekers after life eternal.

But the faith of the young Christian community in the especial providence of God was sorely to be tried. All things were prepared for our departure, and we were about going on board the _Olive Branch_, when the somewhat threatening appearance of the weather made me resolve not to sail before the following morning. I was convinced shortly that a gale of more or less strength was coming on, and leaving Mary at the mission house, I went on board to secure the vessel and make all things snug. Scarcely had I got out a second anchor and two fresh warps than dark clouds were seen rushing across the sky, the wind howled among the hills and trees, lightning flashed brightly, and the thunder roared and rattled fearfully. I was in hopes, however, that the vessel would, notwithstanding, ride in safety, when it struck me that the sea outside was roaring louder than usual, and in an instant a huge roller appeared rushing with fearful violence into the harbour, while before I could look round I found the vessel lifted up, cables and anchors dragging, and warps giving way, and on we drove helplessly towards the shore. My crew held on to the bulwarks with affrighted looks, for we could expect nothing else than that our little vessel would be dashed to pieces, and if so, that we ourselves should be swept out of the harbour by the receding wave. Another dread seized me, that the roller might sweep up to the mission house and overwhelm those so dear to me. This feeling made me forget all fear for my own life, or for those with me. As I gazed landward, I saw the devastation the hurricane was already committing. Several cottages were in view. Now the wind lifted the roof of one and bore it in shattered fragments to a distance. Now the walls of another trembled and fell; tall trees were bending and breaking, or being torn up by the roots and laid prostrate; house after house was thus destroyed; whole groves of trees, as it seemed to me, fell to the ground; darkness appeared to be coming down like a thick mantle to add to the horrors of the scene.

On drove our little vessel; the rocks against which I expected to be dashed appeared; these were covered, and over them we were carried by the raging tide, above even the sands, and lifted high up on to a soft bank amid brushwood stern first, where she hung while the waters rushed back leaving her uninjured on the shore. We were mercifully preserved from the sudden death we expected, and were grateful; but yet, though not cast down, knowing all would be for the best, I felt most anxious to assure myself of the safety of my dear wife and her companions.

We had come on shore, as far as I could judge, half a mile or more from the mission house, a distance which it would be not only difficult but extremely dangerous to traverse while the storm was raging and tall trees were being hurled about like straws. One of my crew--a true Christian man--volunteered to accompany me. The _Olive Branch had already been made snug aloft, so when I had seen her securely shored up, trusting and believing that no second roller would come to move her, I set off, leaving the rest of the people on board to attend to her. My companion and I provided ourselves each with a stout pole. I led the way, he to help me should I fall, and I promising to turn back should he cry out.

The noise of the tempest prevented our having anything like conversation with each other, indeed it was only when we shouted at the very top of our voices that they could be heard. The darkness had increased, and as I began to move on I felt that the attempt was almost beyond my power; still the incentive was so great that I resolved to persevere. I prayed for strength and protection. In my own arm I knew that I could not trust. There were no stars to guide me, and the flashes of lightning sadly confused and dazzled my eyes, so that it was only by keeping as near as possible to the shore that I could hope to keep in the proper direction. This way was longer, however, and very rough where rocks covered the ground, and I dreaded a return of the roller, when we might have been swept helplessly away. The dangers to be encountered by keeping inland were equally great. We might be struck by lightning, crushed by falling trees, or losing our way, fall into some gully or chasm.

Feeling the ground before us with our poles, my companion and I began our hazardous march, I desired him to keep as close behind me as he could, and to shout frequently to assure me that he was following. The tempest increased in fury, the rain came down in torrents, causing such floods as in some places almost to sweep us off our feet.

We had made good some five or six hundred yards, when I thought that we might make faster progress on the higher ground, where the water would not be so great an impediment to our progress. I knew also that we should be able to steer our course more or less directly by feeling the direction the water was flowing, so that we might always regain the sea by following down the streams. Accordingly we attempted gradually to gain the higher ground, but as we ascended, we felt the wind blowing with greater force, and were again nearly carried off our legs by it. I had to exert all the energies of my mind not to become totally bewildered. Over rough rocks we climbed, and fallen trunks of trees, and through the beds of streams, down which the fierce waters now rushed foaming and roaring with fearful force, and across swamps and marshes, till at last we reached a grove of tall trees. We could discover no way round it, so I resolved to push through it by a path in which we found ourselves. The trees were bending and writhing, and the loud crashes we heard told us that every instant some were hurled to the ground. Now one fell directly before me, and impeded my progress. I climbed over it, my companion followed, and we continued our course, guided as before by the way the rain beat on our heads and the waters flowed past our feet. Again the thunder rolled loudly and the lightning flashed with startling vividness, casting a horrid glare over the whole scene, now darting amid the lofty boughs, and then snake-like running with loud hisses along the ground. How utterly helpless and insignificant I felt amid the war of the elements.

Still onward we must advance. How much farther I could not tell. My companion's frequent shout cheered me. Perhaps trusting to the aid of another made me more careless, for neglecting for an instant to keep my stick feeling the ground before me, I stumbled forward, and found myself floundering in a foaming stream. My cry prevented my companion from falling likewise. Descending more cautiously he rushed into the flood after me, and seizing me by the jacket just as I was being borne down, assisted me to regain my feet, and helped me across, the water being scarcely up to our middles. In another instant I should have been carried helplessly down the stream beyond my depth. We struggled out, I scarcely know how, and pushed on.

Again, I took the lead. We were passing through a second grove of bread-fruit trees. Another tall tree fell directly before me. I climbed over it. Crash succeeded crash. I prayed for preservation from the fate which might any moment overtake me. I began to hope that we were approaching the station. Still we were not out of the wood. I was working my way on when it occurred to me that my companion had not sung out to me for a longer time than usual. I called to him. There was no answer. Eager as I was to push on, I could not desert him. I turned back. Again and again I called. There was no answer. I reached a fallen tree. Was it the one I had climbed over, or was it one which had fallen after I had passed? I felt along it. My foot struck against a soft substance. I stooped down. There lay a human form--quite still though--the hand I lifted fell powerless. My companion was dead. "One shall be taken and the other left." God in His good providence had thought fit to spare me. My companion was trusting wholly in Christ's blood. I could not mourn him as one without hope.

It was no time to delay. Once again I was straining all my energies to find and follow the right way. It appeared to me that far more than double the time had passed which I had believed would suffice to reach the station. I almost ran against the gable end of a house the greater part of which was in ruins. I heard a loud moan. It was repeated. I hunted about till I came on a native crouching down and endeavouring to find shelter under part of the building yet standing. I asked him if he would guide me to the mission house. My voice roused him, and he said he would gladly do so. He sprang to his feet, and led me on by the hand. "Here it is!" he exclaimed; but, alas, it was roofless and deserted.

------

Note 1. In the course of this volume the author, it will be observed, has transcribed much from the actual reports of missionaries, and from the journals of naval officers who have visited the South-Seas. Even in the connecting thread of narrative, and in descriptive scenes such as this of the storm, the writer has stated nothing for which he has not ample authority in published works. In a most interesting book, "Gems from the Coral Islands," by the Reverend William Gill, volume two, chapter 9, an account is given of the fearful hurricane of 1846, which devastated the island of Raratonga. Dr Bourne, son of the Reverend R Bourne, one of the founders of the Tahitian mission, the friend and associate of Williams, thus writes concerning the illustrations which accompany our letterpress, proofs of which he had seen: "The engravings represent the tropical aspect of the vegetation with great correctness. Many are not aware of the grandeur of the mountain scenery in some of the islands. Dr Darwin, who was with Captain Fitzroy's expedition, says of Tahiti: 'Until I actually visited this island, and tried to penetrate its mountain fastnesses, I could never understand the statement made by Ellis, in his "Polynesian Researches," that after the great battles of former times the defeated party took refuge in the mountains, where it was impossible to follow them.' Mr Darwin then describes the rugged ravines and forest-clad precipices, wilder than anything he had witnessed in the South American Andes or Cordilleras." Raiatea, Eimeo, and others in the Society group, are composed of vast and abrupt mountain ranges, rising almost abruptly from the sea, and having very little habitable ground, but all covered with the densest vegetation. The most stupendous volcanoes in the world are those of the Sandwich Islands, compared with which Etna and Vesuvius are mere hillocks.

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