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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 4. On Board The Primrose
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The History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 4. On Board The Primrose Post by :Laurie Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2422

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The History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 4. On Board The Primrose

CHAPTER FOUR. ON BOARD THE PRIMROSE

As day dawned Peter looked out for the boat, earnestly hoping that the captain and crew had escaped destruction. It was nowhere to be seen. Here and there he caught sight of a dark sail just rising above the horizon, while in the west he could just distinguish a line of low coast.

How solitary and wretched he would have felt, how ready to give way to despair, had he not known that, all alone as he was, God his Father was watching over him.

He had thus clung on for some time to the mast, when he became aware that the wind had greatly moderated; the waves no longer clashed so savagely over the sand-bank as before. Gradually the sea became calmer and calmer; the clouds cleared away; the bright sun shone forth and dried his wet clothes. He felt hungry, but his strength did not desert him. He descended to the cross-trees, now above water, and seating himself, searched in his pocket and discovered two biscuits which he had put into them when in the cabin and had forgotten. He ate one of the biscuits and felt revived, and then finding that there was no danger of falling off, he drew forth his beloved Bible and read. How full of comfort and assurance it was to him who read with an eye of faith! There was no one to disturb him now. Alas! where were those who had been wont to interrupt him? What would they now have given to have trusted to that book, and obeyed its precepts? Peter did not, however, allow such a thought to enter his mind. He only hoped that they had escaped, and were making their way to the land; not a particle of bad feeling was in his heart against those who had so ill-treated him.

He read and read on till, feeling a drowsiness come over him, he restored the book to its case, and then once more climbed up the mast to look round in the hopes of seeing some vessel or boat approaching.

The sun had completely dried his clothes, and warmed him. A soft air blew off the land. He knew well that vessels would generally give the sands a wide berth. "Still, if God thinks fit to send me help He will direct some craft this way," he said to himself. "Perhaps some fishing-boats will be passing, or Captain Hawkes may send out to learn what has become of the brig."

As he looked northward, he saw afar off a large ship under all sail standing to the south. Whether or not she was inside or outside the shoals he could not tell. She came on but slowly, for the wind was light. He judged, however, that she would not pass at any great distance from where he was. How beautiful she looked, with her spread of white canvas shining in the sun. Nearer and nearer she came. He was convinced at last that she was outside the shoals.

"Those on board will scarcely notice the thin masts of the brig above the water," he thought; "still God will turn their eyes this way if He thinks fit."

Let no one suppose, that little Peter placed a presumptuous confidence in God's protecting care of a young boy like himself. He had read that not a sparrow falls to the ground but He knows it; that the hairs of our heads are all numbered, and he well knew that he should be offending his kind Father if he doubted His words. What strength and fearlessness did this simple faith give him.

The proud ship glided on, her canvas swelling to the breeze; it seemed that she would quickly run past him. He could almost distinguish the people on her deck. He shouted, fancying that his feeble voice would be borne over the water towards her. Presently he saw the hitherto full canvas flap against the masts; her courses, and her topsails, and topgallant sails hung down uselessly; the breeze which had hitherto fanned his cheeks died away.

The ship was almost abreast of him, but rather to the southward, so that those on her deck saw the rays of the sun striking directly on the brig's masts. Without thinking of this, however, he took off his hat and waved it again and again. The ship appeared to be drifting in towards the bank. How eagerly he watched her. Presently he saw a boat lowered from her quarter; several people jumped in, and with rapid strokes pulled towards him. The tide had again risen, and scarcely a ripple was observed on the bank. The boat crossed it, and an encouraging cheer reached his ears; he waved his hat in return, and descending the rigging stood ready to step into the boat as soon as she came.

"Glad to rescue you, my lad," said the officer, who was steering. "How long have you been on the mast? What's become of your shipmates?"

"Since last night," answered Peter; "and I hope they have reached the shore in the boat."

"I should think if they have deserted you, you would wish rather that they had gone to the bottom as they deserve," said the officer.

"We should wish harm to no one, and do good to our enemies," answered Peter.

"Very good," said the officer, "though the other is most natural. But how were you left behind?"

"I was in the cabin getting up provisions for them, when, as the brig appeared to be going down, they, I suppose, shoved off in the boat and forgot me."

"Scoundrels! I can only hope their boat was swamped," exclaimed the officer. "But give way, lads; the ship is closer in to the bank than is altogether pleasant, and we shall have to tow her head off if the breeze does not spring up again."

The boat was quickly alongside, and Peter soon found himself on the deck of a ship larger than he had ever before seen. He looked round with astonishment and admiration. Every one was busy in lowering the boats to tow the ship away from the dangerous proximity to the bank. Peter was, therefore, for some time left alone. The breeze, however, soon again returning, filled the sails, and the boats were hoisted in.

The captain, a fine-looking young man, with a frank countenance, then called Peter aft, and put to him nearly the same questions the mate had asked.

"How came you to escape, my lad? You don't even look much the worse for your adventure."

"God took care of me, sir," answered Peter, simply.

The captain smiled. "Well, I suppose it's something to fancy that," he observed.

"But I know it, sir," said Peter firmly.

The captain cast a somewhat astonished glance at him. "Well, lad, you must be hungry and sleepy; the steward will give you some food, and find you a berth forward. If we have an opportunity, we will put you on shore, that you may return to your friends."

"I have no friends on shore, sir," answered Peter, "and I want to go to sea."

"Then do you wish to remain on board?" asked the captain.

"Yes, sir, please; I wish to visit foreign lands."

"Very well, you will have the chance with us, and I'll enter you as one of the ship's boys," said the captain. "Below there!" he shouted, and the steward, a black man, appeared. "Give this lad some food, and find him a berth, Emery," said the captain, in a good-natured tone. Turning aft he said to himself, "There is stuff in that lad, though he has evidently been brought up among the Methodists."

The black steward took Peter into his pantry, and having given him a good meal, pressing him to eat as much as he wanted, led him forward. On the way he told him the ship was the _Primrose_, of 600 tons, bound out to the Mauritius, and that afterwards she was to visit other places in the Eastern Seas. Entering the seamen's berth, he pointed to one of the standing bed-places on the side, and told him he might turn in and go to sleep as long as he liked. Little Peter, who had never before seen a black man, and fancied that all such were savages, was much surprised to hear him speak English and address him in so kind a manner.

"Thank you," said Peter, "I do feel very sleepy, and am glad to go to bed."

Before Peter took off his clothes, however, he knelt down, and from the bottom of his heart returned thanks to God for having preserved his life and brought him on board so fine a ship.

If Peter was surprised at the appearance of a black man, much more astonished was the latter at seeing the boy in the attitude of prayer. He stood a moment at the door gazing at him.

"What! the little chap pray and not afraid of being seen!" he muttered to himself; "that beats anything I ever heard; I can't make it out." Yet Emery did not feel angry at what he had seen; but as he went aft to attend to his duties, he kept muttering, "Dat is strange; he not afraid; can't make it out."

He was soon afterwards sound asleep, when the men, with a fellow-feeling for what he had gone through, took care not to arouse him, and he slept till breakfast time the next day.

Peter found a considerable difference between the crew of the _Primrose and that of the _Polly_. They were generally a hearty, merry set; but, alas! he soon heard oaths and curses coming out of the lips of most of them. Some, too, were morose and ill-tempered and discontented with their lot, and all seemed utterly indifferent about their souls.

Peter, however, was treated kindly, though of course he had to perform the usual duties of a ship's-boy, shared by the two other lads somewhat older than himself, apprentices on board.

The first day he got into the berth when no one was there, and was able to read his Bible without interruption for nearly an hour. He was thinking that it was time to go out lest he should be wanted, when a tall handsome lad entered the berth.

"What! young chap!" exclaimed the latter, "are you a book-worm? I used to be fond of reading tales and adventures; let us have a look at the story you have got hold of."

"It's no story, it's all true," answered Peter; "it is God's word."

"Is that your style of reading? I have no fancy for it, though each man to his taste, I say," observed the youth.

"You would find it a very interesting book, though, Owen Bell," said Peter, who had heard the youth's name. "I never get tired of it, but I read it whenever I can; for it's only by reading it that we can know how to obey Christ, and be prepared to live with Him in heaven."

"Oh, but I have to live down here and knock about at sea," answered Owen Bell, with a careless laugh. "It will be time enough when I become an old chap, like Simon Hixon, to think about matters of that sort."

"Who is Simon Hixon?" asked Peter.

"The oldest man on board. You might have heard him growling away and swearing at the cook, after dinner to-day, because the soup was not thick enough," answered Bell.

"Does Simon Hixon read the Bible?" asked Peter.

"Not he. You had better just try and persuade him to do so, or to listen to you, for I doubt if he can spell his own name," said Bell.

"Perhaps when he was young he might have said that he would begin to read the Bible when he was old, and you see he has not begun yet," observed Peter.

"No, because he is such a sulky, swearing old ruffian. If he had been a decent sort of fellow, I dare say he would have begun, if he had intended to do so, just like my father, who used to read the Bible to the day of his death," remarked the lad.

"But if Simon had begun to read the Bible when he was young, he would not have become such as you say he now is," observed Peter. "Jesus Christ would have changed Simon Hixon's heart, and then he could not have become a sulky, swearing old ruffian."

"You are too deep for me," said Bell, with a forced laugh. "I never quarrel with anybody, and don't want to quarrel with you; but let me advise you not to go on talking in that sort of way to the other chaps aboard; you won't hear the end of it if you do. The cook was shouting for you as I came along the deck; just hide away your Bible and go and see what he wants."

Peter put his Bible into its case.

"You will let me read it to you sometimes, Owen?" he said, as he went out of the berth.

"Well, I don't mind if I have a spell of it some Sunday," said Bell, with apparent carelessness. "It would put me in mind of old times at home; but I should not like to be seen reading it on a week-day. I have no fancy to be called a Methodist, as you will be if you are found out."

Peter, going to the caboose, asked the cook what he wanted, and was told to clean the pots and pans. He set to work with right good will.

"You have done it handsomely, boy," observed the cook, when he had finished. "I have not had my pans so bright for many a day."

The _Primrose had a fine run down Channel. On her passage a sudden squall struck her; the watch on deck flew aloft to shorten sail. Peter, who was aft, lay out on the mizen top-gallant-sail yard, and taking the weather earring, succeeded, with Owen Bell and two others, in handling the fluttering sail. As he reached the deck the captain called to him.

"You did that smartly, youngster; it's not the first time I have observed you. I'll keep my eye on you. Go on as you have begun, and you will make a famous seaman."

"I thank you, sir," said Peter, touching his hat as he went forward.

"I didn't expect it from a psalm-singer," observed the captain to the first-mate with his usual good-natured laugh.

"There is no harm in the lad for all that," was the answer.

Peter, however, had his trials. Being placed in a watch, he had to turn in and out with his watch-mates. The first night, as usual, he knelt down to say his prayers. He hadn't been long on his knees, before he was interrupted by a suppressed titter, which soon broke into a peal of laughter from all hands, and several shoes came flying about him. He knelt on, however, trying to keep his thoughts calm, and his heart lifted up to God.

"Well, that young chap does sleep soundly," cried one; "wake him up, Bill."

"Hilloa, Peter! are you acting parson?" cried Bill, one of the wildest of the crew.

Peter made no reply, and endeavoured, though it was a hard task, to continue his prayers. Similar jeers and questions were now showered on him from all sides.

"Oh, my Father in heaven," he mentally ejaculated, "help me to continue to pray and soften the hearts of my shipmates towards me and towards themselves. May they see what a fearful state they are in when thus obeying Satan, and strangers to Thee."

The men and boys, who, prompted by them, had been the worst, were silent for some minutes, and Peter had nearly finished his prayers, when a fresh volley of all sorts of articles was hove at him. Still he persevered. Now his tormentors burst forth afresh with ribald jests and shouts of laughter.

"If he stands all that he will stand anything," growled out old Simon Hixon, who, though not taking so active a part as the rest, had encouraged them in their conduct.

Peter at length rose from his knees without saying a word, took off his clothes, and turned into his berth. Although he never lay down without commending himself to God, he did not kneel down before turning in after the middle watch was over, and it was not till the second night he again went to bed during the first watch. The same conduct as before was pursued towards him, but although he received two or three severe blows he persevered.

"Well, for my part, I shall be ashamed to try him any more," he heard Owen Bell exclaim as he rose from his knees. "Peter, you are a brave little chap, and if you had followed my advice this would not have come upon you," said Owen, addressing him.

"You meant it kindly," answered Peter; "but as God gives me everything, and takes care of me, I am sure it is my duty to thank Him night and morning for all His benefits, and to ask Him to continue them to me. I would rather not have the things hove at my head, but you know it would not be right for me to put God aside for fear of what any of you may choose to do."

When on another night two or three began the same sort of work, the rest cried out and told them to let the little psalm-singer alone; even old Hixon held his tongue, and from that time forward Peter was allowed to say his prayers in peace.

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