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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 6. Saved From The Wreck
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The History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 6. Saved From The Wreck Post by :Laurie Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2173

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The History Of Little Peter, The Ship Boy - Chapter 6. Saved From The Wreck

CHAPTER SIX. SAVED FROM THE WRECK

With the exception of the gale spoken of in the last chapter, the _Primrose had enjoyed fine weather for the greater part of the passage. But dark, heavy clouds now rolled across the sky; the wind blew fiercely, and the seas rose up in mountainous billows, such as Peter had never before beheld. The wind, however, was fair, and with her after-sails furled, and closely-reefed topsails only set, the ship flew on before it. As Peter stood on deck he watched sea after sea rolling up astern and threatening to break on board, but with a loud roar, just as they reached her, their foaming summits came hissing down, and she glided up the side of a huge billow ahead. For an instant she seemed to hang on the top of the watery ridge, and then slid down into another valley, up the opposite side of which she climbed as before.

She had thus run for some distance when the wind dropped, and she lay rolling in the trough of the still heavy sea. The sky overhead was dark and lowering, a drizzling rain fell, and the air was oppressive. The captain and officers looked anxious. They had cause to be so, for suddenly the wind again rose, now blowing from one quarter, now from another, and all hands were kept on deck ready to brace round the yards as might be required. For several days no observation had been taken, and old Hixon told Peter that he feared the ship had been driven considerably out of her course.

"Will the captain soon be able to get an observation to steer the right way?" asked Peter.

"If the sky clears he may, but I have known it to remain like this for days and weeks together, and though Captain Hauslar is as good a seamen as I should wish to sail with, he may be out in his reckoning, and there are some ugly rocks and shoals to the eastward, which on a dark night it is a hard matter to see till one is right upon them," answered old Hixon.

After the ship had been knocking about for some days, the wind again came fair, though somewhat strong, and the captain, anxious to make up for the long delay, and hoping to escape all dangers, with the ship under moderate canvas steered to the eastward, ordering a bright look-out to be kept. The middle watch had been called, and the fresh look-outs, rubbing their eyes, had just gone to their posts. It was Hixon's turn at the wheel. Peter, who was in the same watch, followed him aft, for the old man had undertaken to give him lessons in steering. As he stood by his side he frequently quoted passages of Scripture from his Bible, and sometimes, by the light of the binnacle lamp, he referred to the book, and read long portions.

Hixon having just received the course from the man he relieved had taken hold of the spokes, when there came a sharp cry from the look-out forward, of "Breakers ahead!" followed quickly by "Land! land!"

"Down with the helm!" shouted the officer of the watch. "All hands on deck; brace up the yards!"

Almost before the ship's course could be altered, a fearful blow was felt, which made the masts quiver and the ship tremble from stem to stern--another and another followed. The sea dashed up wildly over her, throwing her on her beam ends; then came a fearful crash, and the tall masts fell over her side towards the dark rocks which rose close to her. The captain and all below had rushed on deck. Awakened suddenly out of their sleep they stood aghast, expecting instant death. Some seemed to have lost their senses and cried wildly for help. The captain took his post by the companion-hatch, gazing around and considering what orders to issue.

Hixon, when he found that all hope of the ship moving off the rock was gone, quitted the helm, and seizing Peter dragged him to the weather bulwarks. The next instant loud shrieks were heard. A tremendous sea washing across the deck had carried several of the crew overboard, sweeping some away as it receded, and dashing others against the rocks. The stern, which had been driven furthest in, afforded the most secure place. The captain shouted to the crew to come aft; some heard him, but the roaring of the breakers drowned his voice. Sea after sea struck the devoted ship, and the crashing sound which followed each blow showed that she was breaking up. Still the darkness was so great, and so fiercely did the waters rage between the ship and the shore, that destruction appeared to await any who might attempt to reach it. Already the stern of the ship was quivering under the blows of the fierce seas.

"Hold on where you are, Peter," said Hixon; "I will try if there's any way of getting on shore."

"But you may be washed off," said Peter.

"My life is worth little," said the old man, "I am not afraid to die now, and I may, if I succeed, help to save others."

Fastening a rope round his waist which he secured to a ring-bolt in the deck, he struggled to the side of the ship nearest the shore. Peter could no longer distinguish him.

The captain was standing still, undecided what to do, with the third-mate and five or six seamen who had succeeded in getting aft, when old Hixon was seen making his way along the deck from amid the mass of wreck which cumbered it.

"The foot of the mainmast still hangs to the ship and the head rests on a rock," he said; "what is beyond I cannot tell, it may be water or it may be land, but the sea does not break over it; it is our only chance if we can manage to reach it."

"Well, lads, we had better follow old Hixon's advice," said the captain. "Those who wish it can go."

The mate and the other men hung back.

"Come, Peter," said Hixon, "you and I will set the example then. To my mind the ship won't hold together many minutes longer; and if we succeed, as I think we shall, they will follow if there's time. I'll go sir," he cried to the captain, and grasping Peter, he led him along, holding on to the rope. They reached the mast, when Peter, keeping close to his companion, scrambled up it. Alone he felt that he might have been unable to succeed, but supported by his old friend he made his way along the mast, which all the time was swayed up and down by the movement of the ship. He feared lest it should be hurled from its position, and the rest might be unable to escape by it.

They gained a rugged rock of some extent, but the water washed round them and the spray occasionally flew over their heads. They were still at a distance from the mainland, but for the moment safer than on board the ship. They shouted as loud as they could to induce the rest to follow them. Every instant they feared that the mast would give way. Again and again they shouted. At last they caught sight of some one moving along the mast. He reached them, and it proved to be Emery, the black steward.

"Are the rest coming?" asked Peter eagerly.

"Hope so; captain tell us to come first," was the answer; and soon afterwards Bill the cook made his way to the rock. They all shouted together to give notice of their safe passage. At length several seamen were seen creeping along the mast, one after the other, as fast as they could move.

"The ship is breaking up fast!" said one of them; "and if the skipper don't make haste he will be lost."

"Oh, I wish you had all come at once!" cried Peter. "I'll go back and hasten him."

"No, no, boy; you will lose your life if you do!" said Hixon. "It's his own fault if he delays."

"That is no reason why we should not try to get him to come," said Peter.

"You are right, boy," cried Hixon, "but if any one goes, I'll go."

Hixon was just getting on the mast, when he exclaimed that the skipper and mate were coming along it. At that moment the end of the mast began to rise. Hixon threw himself off it.

"Stand clear of the rigging," cried several voices. The mast moved more rapidly, the end lifting up in the air, then with a crash came down on the rock, against which it was at once violently dashed by a sea which broke over the wreck. One of the poor fellows who had escaped was dragged off into the seething waters.

"The captain is gone," cried several voices.

"I see a man close at hand," said Peter. "Will any one pass a rope round my waist? I am sure I could clutch him."

There were several ropes scattered about the rock. Old Hixon did not hear Peter, but two or three of the other men did. One of them fastened a rope as he requested. While they held on, Peter sprung off from the rock into the water close to where the person he saw was floating. He clutched him tightly. The next sea which came roaring up would have clashed him against the rock, and his burden must have been torn from him had not his companions, roused by the example set by the young boy, whom they had been in the habit of laughing at, rushed forward and dragged them both up together.

"It is the captain," cried one. "But I am afraid he is gone," exclaimed another.

"No! I trust he is still alive," said Peter, sitting down by the captain's side, and taking his head on his lap. "He is breathing; he will come to, I hope."

Peter rubbed the captain's chest while the steward and Bill moved his arms gently up and down. He uttered a groan; it showed that he was in pain, and had been injured against the rocks, but it was an encouraging sign. They persevered, and at length the captain spoke in a low voice, asking where he was.

"You are safe on a rock," answered Emery. "We shall know better when sun rise."

Just then a voice was heard at no great distance, shouting.

Hixon hailed in return, "Where are you?"

"On an island of some sort," was the answer. "Many more saved?"

Hixon replied that the captain and ten men had escaped.

Although the channel between the rock and the land might be deep, with the help of a man on the latter, if a rope could be passed to him, they might all cross in safety.

They waited anxiously till daylight. The wind had gone down by that time, and the sea was much calmer. A rocky island of some height rose before them, but as the sea rushed in and out in the intervening space, even a good swimmer might have hesitated to cross.

The larger portion of their gallant ship had disappeared, but the afterpart still remained entire.

Several lengths of rope were cut from the rigging of the mainmast, which had been thrown back on the rock. They were eager to get across, for they had no food and no water on the rock. Several attempts were made to heave a rope to the man on the island, but in vain, the distance was too great. At length a short piece of a spar was fastened to the end of the signal halyards. How eagerly it was watched, as it floated now in one direction, now in another; gradually it drew out the line; it was hoped that it might be drifted by some surge towards the man, who was eagerly on the watch to catch it.

"We must not despair," said Peter to Hixon, who had come to see how the captain was getting on. "If we pray that God will send the spar to shore He is certain to hear us, and He will do it if He thinks fit."

"What you say is true, I know," observed the old man; and together they knelt and prayed that a way to serve them might be found.

The captain, who had returned to consciousness, looked at them with astonishment, but said nothing. In a short time a shout came from the men who held the line on the inner side of the rock that the spar had reached the shore, and that Tom had hold of it. A stronger rope was soon hauled across, and then one which could bear the weight of two or three people at a time, if necessary. That was secured between the rock and the mainland. First one man made his way along it, then another and another, and all were going, with the exception of Emery and Bill, who, with Peter and old Hixon, stayed by the captain. The latter, seeing this, cried out, "Shame, lads; would you desert the captain when he is unable to help himself?" The men, however, did not heed him: they were eager to get hold of a cask of provisions which, with another of water, Tom told them had been thrown up on the island. The news made even Emery and Bill inclined to go.

"Go, if you wish it," said the captain; "only come back and bring me some water, for I am fearfully thirsty."

This made the men no longer hesitate. Peter sat still.

"Are you not going?" asked the captain.

"I could not leave you, sir, while you are suffering," said Peter.

"But you want food and water as much as they do," said the captain.

"They will bring it to me, sir," answered Peter.

Notwithstanding what the captain said, neither Peter nor old Hixon would leave him. The latter was busily hauling pieces of planking and rope. Having collected enough for his purpose, he set to work to manufacture a cradle sufficiently large to contain the captain. Having arranged his plan he shouted to the other men to come and assist him. Two only, however, responded, Bill and the black; the remainder were wandering along the shore, looking out for whatever might be washed up. The black set the example. Bill followed him back to the rock, but they brought only a small piece of salted tongue and some biscuits, almost soaked through, but no water. The captain could only taste a very little, but there was enough to satisfy Hixon's and Peter's appetites. In vain the poor captain cried out for water--nothing had been found to carry it in.

"The more reason we should make haste with the cradle," observed Hixon.

It was at length placed on the rope, with a line attached, which Bill carried across. Peter volunteered to go in it, and safely passed over. It was then hauled back, and the captain was drawn across. Hixon and the black followed. By this time the rest of the men had disappeared. The captain was soon sufficiently revived by the water which had been obtained to look about him. He told his companions that he believed they were on one of the many wild rocky islets which exist in that part of the ocean, and that they must carefully husband the water, as possibly no spring might be found.

As the captain wished to ascertain whether his surmises were correct, Peter volunteered to climb to the summit of the height above them. It was fatiguing and very dangerous work, but he succeeded at length. On looking around him, he found that they were nearly at one end of a rocky island, which extended for three or four miles to the eastward. Not a tree, or scarcely a shrub, was to be seen. In every direction all was desolation and barrenness. He returned, not without difficulty.

"I thought I was right," said the captain. "You must do your best, my men, to collect all you can from the wreck; we shall need it; and, Gray, I have a word to say to you. You saved my life, I am told; if we ever get away from this, I will prove your friend."

"I only did my duty, sir," said Peter. "I thought I could save you, and God helped me."

"You seem to have great trust in God."

"Yes, sir," said Peter. "He is a very present help in time of trouble, and we all have reason to trust Him."

"I have never done so before," whispered the captain; "but I will try in future."

In the meantime the other three men were collecting fragments of sails and spars, pieces of rope, and several things which formed part of the cargo, a bale of cloth and another of clothing--the latter was especially acceptable to all the party, who, with the exception of Hixon and Peter, had little on when they left the ship; but of still greater value was a cask of biscuits, another of herrings, and a few pieces of pork. What the rest of the crew might have discovered they could not tell.

As the captain could not move, a hut was built of the pieces of sail and spars, and a bed having been made up beneath it with some dry grass and a piece of canvas for the captain to lie on, he and his companions prepared to pass the first night of their sojourn on the desolate rock.

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