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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 18. An Adventurous Voyage
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 18. An Adventurous Voyage Post by :Satish Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3720

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 18. An Adventurous Voyage


Who would not rather command a gunboat, or even a despatch vessel or fire-ship, than be a junior lieutenant, mate, or midshipman on board a line-of-battle ship or the smartest frigate afloat? Such were Murray's feelings as he and Adair paced the deck of the somewhat unseaworthy little schooner of which he had been placed in charge by Captain Grant. While he stood away towards Sierra Leone, the _Ranger continued her course to the southward.

"I can't say much for your accommodation," observed Terence, after they had stood watching the fast-receding frigate, and Murray had shown him over his craft.

"I won't boast of it, and if I had to fit out a yacht, I should choose something better," answered Murray, laughing. The whole cabin was only eight feet long, and though it was five high in the centre, under a raised skylight, it was scarcely more than three at the sides, which being right aft, it decreased rapidly as the stern narrowed. There was a fore-peak, in which the two poor negroes lay, but there was no room in it for more people, so that the rest of the crew were obliged to live in the after-cabin. Adair certainly did not know the discomforts to which he was subjecting himself when he undertook to accompany Murray. Not a particle of furniture was there in the cabin, the beams and sides were begrimed with dirt and cockroaches, and a considerable variety of other entomological specimens crawled in and out of every crevice in the planks, and found their way among all the provisions, as well as into every mess of food cooked on board.

The schooner was laden with tobacco and monkey-skins, which latter she had taken on board at one of the ports, in exchange for some of her tobacco, the remainder of which she was about to barter for slaves.

"Negro-head for negroes," as Paddy remarked, when Murray gave him the account.

Several days of the voyage had passed with light winds and smooth sea, and not unpleasantly, though but little progress had been made, when as Adair, who had the first watch at night, was walking the deck, thinking that all was right, he heard a roaring noise on the port quarter. He looked astern. A long white line of curling foam came rolling up at a rapid rate towards them.

"Lower the peak, slack away the main halyards, in with the mainsail, brail up the foresail! Murray, Murray! on deck here; all hands on deck! In with the jib and down with the fore-staysail!"

The sudden quick jerking of the little vessel would soon have awakened all the watch below had his voice not done so. The sails were not lowered a moment too soon. On flew the schooner under bare poles, the seas roaring up on either side, and often breaking over her. Every man had to hold on for his life; away, away she flew; every instant plunging more and more, while the foaming seas seemed still more eager to make her their prey. Murray, attended by Wasser, disappeared below. He soon returned.

"Paddy," he said, touching Adair on the shoulder, "I've bad news. We've sprung a leak, and I fear that the vessel is sinking."

Both Murray and Adair had gone through so many dangers, that neither of them were inclined to despair, even when they found themselves on board a little rotten vessel, plunging along through terrific seas with a leak in her bottom, which was letting in the water at a rate which must speedily send her far down to the depths of old ocean. Away flew the little craft under bare poles, the dark seas, with thick crests of white, rolling up on either side of them, with loud roars, and threatening to come right down upon the deck and swamp them. Tumbling about as the vessel was, it was no easy matter even to get the pump rigged in the dark. That task, however, was at length accomplished, and all hands set to with a will in the hopes of clearing the vessel of water. At first it seemed to be rushing in as fast as it gushed out.

"I believe after all it was only the water which got down the hatches when the first sea broke aboard of us," said Murray, and with this idea both he and Terence were much comforted. Drearily and wearily drew on the dark hours of that tempestuous night. Daylight came at last, and only exhibited the scene of wild commotion around; the leaden sky, the dark grey waves broken into strange shapes, leaping and rolling over each other, and covered with masses of white foam. Off that strange African coast, storms and calms succeed each other with but scant warning. By seven o'clock the wind suddenly dropped, and in another hour the sea went down, and the lately wave-tossed bark lay perfectly becalmed.

"Terence," said Murray, "look over the side of the vessel; doesn't she strike you as being much lower in the water than she was?" Terence feared so. The well was sounded, and three feet of water was found in the hold.

"Man the pump!" cried Murray. This was done, but before many minutes had passed the pump broke. The damage was considerable; but Needham was a handy fellow, and could manage nearly any work. The two young officers lent him a hand. All sorts of devices were thought of, all sorts of things were substituted for those which were wanting; but with the quantity of water in the hold, and in the way the craft was tumbled about by the swell, the operation took much longer time than might be supposed. It is very exciting to read of a ship sinking with the pumps out of order, and half a dozen leaks in her bottom; but the reality, though it may also be exciting, is very far from pleasant. People under such circumstances are inclined to labour away rather in a hurry, and not to stand on much ceremony as to what they do. Night was coming on rapidly. They laboured and laboured away. It was difficult enough to do it with daylight: it was a question whether they could make any progress at all in the dark.

"There, sir!" exclaimed Needham, giving a hearty blow with his hammer, and relieving his pent-up feelings by a loud outletting of his breath between a groan and a sigh; "I hope that will do." Without stopping a moment, he and Wasser, with White, the other seaman, seized the break, and began labouring away with all their might. To the great joy of all hands a clear full stream came gushing upon deck, and ran out through the scuppers. The blacks, and all not immediately engaged in mending the pump, had been baling away all the time with buckets. They pumped and pumped away, and after half an hour's toil they found on sounding that they had much lessened the water in the hold.

"Huzza!" shouted Needham; "we'll do now, never fear, lads!" Nearly three hours, however, passed before the vessel was completely cleared of water. It was Adair's watch.

"I shall sleep more soundly than I have done for many a day," said Murray, as he prepared to turn into his horrible little berth. "We have been so mercifully preserved that I trust the same Almighty hand will protect us to the end of our voyage. Paddy, my dear fellow, do you ever pray? I never see you on your knees."

"Pray!" answered Adair, with some hesitation, "of course I do; that is to say, sometimes--when I recollect it. I dare say I ought more than I do."

Murray took his shipmate's arm as they stood together near the taffrail of their little craft, looking out over that heaving ocean whose smooth, glass-like undulations reflected ever and anon the bright stars which glittered in the dark sky above their heads. "Tell me who but One whose hand is powerful to save could have preserved us from the numberless dangers into which our duty, but how often our thoughtlessness, has led us. Were it not by His mercy, we should even now be sinking beneath those glassy but treacherous swells on which our vessel floats securely; then should we not, my dear Adair, pray to Him, not only now and then, when we may think of it, but at morning and evening, when we rise and when we sleep, and oftentimes during the course of the day? Remember what the Bible says, it tells us to pray always."

"You are right, Murray, you are always right," answered Adair, with a sigh. "I know, too, that you practise what you preach, or I would not listen to you. I'll try to follow your advice. I'll pray when I turn in by and by. I'll thank God that we have not gone to the bottom, and I'll pray that we may be saved as we have been all along in the dangers we may have to encounter."

"Why not pray at once?" exclaimed Murray. "All on board here have been equally preserved. The same God made us all, the same God will hear our prayers."

"Yes, yes, all right--I'll do what you like," said Adair.

The young midshipmen called the crew around them, after Needham took the helm. They and Wasser and the other seamen knelt on the deck, and though in no set phrases, offered up their hearty thanks for their preservation from the dangers which had threatened them; and earnestly did they pray that they might be carried in safety through those they might yet have to encounter. Murray was one of those people who could think well, and when he wrote had no difficulty in expressing himself, yet when he came to speak aloud, and more particularly to pray aloud, found that the exact words he might have wished to use were not forthcoming. The two poor blacks who, perhaps, had never in their lives seen white men praying before, stood by astonished at what was taking place. They asked Wasser what it was all about. He was rather more enlightened than they were. He told them to the best of his knowledge. They listened attentively. They said that they should like to know more about the matter, and he promised them that he would ask Mr Murray to speak to them on the subject. Thus was a way opened into the hearts of these two benighted sons of Africa to receive the good seed of the truth by this unpremeditated act of the young midshipmen. How many other midshipmen might do the same, with the most blessed results, if they themselves did but feel the importance of performing boldly and fearlessly their duty as Christians.

With the return of daylight the weather promised to be fair, and, making sail, they again shaped their course for Sierra Leone. As may be supposed, even in calm weather they had no very great amount of enjoyment. When the sun shone they were almost roasted by its burning rays, and when it was obscured they were pretty well parboiled. Do all they could, also, they could not keep the cabin clear of cockroaches and numberless other creeping things. A meal was anything but an easy or pleasant operation. The only chance of not having half a dozen live creatures sticking to each mouthful was to keep not only the dishes but the plates covered up. Disagreeable as it was, Murray and Adair could not help laughing at each other as at every mouthful they had to pop in their forks under the covers, which were instantly clapped down again, and what was brought out thoroughly examined before it was committed to the mouth, while, as Adair remarked, the soup was more properly "beetle broth" than anything else. The schooner rejoiced in the name of the _Venus_, though, as the midshipmen agreed, she was the very ugliest Venus they had ever seen. She had, besides tobacco, a quantity of monkey-skins on board.

They were sitting at dinner one day, for the sun was too hot to keep on deck, and they had no awning.

"I say, Murray, is there not a somewhat disagreeable odour coming out from forward?" observed Adair, sniffing about. "Tobaccoish, I find it."

"Rather," answered Murray, laughing. "I have perceived it for some days. It is enough to cure the most determined smoker of his love for the precious weed. It is from the tobacco we have on board. After being thoroughly wetted it has now taken to heating. However, we may hope for the best, at present it is bearable."

A bright idea struck them soon after this. They might turn the monkey-skins to advantage. They had needles and a good supply of twine, so they set to work and neatly sewed them together till they had manufactured an awning sufficiently large to cover a good part of the deck. They could now take their meals and sleep occasionally, when the weather was fair, in fresh air, which was a great luxury. At length Wasser, who had the lookout one morning, shouted, "Land! land!--land on the starboard bow!" Everybody in a moment jumped up. After examination, Wasser declared his conviction that it was somewhere off the Gold Coast, not far from Cape Coast Castle. Still Murray and Adair agreed that it would be far better to stand on, because if they could manage to weather Cape Palmas they might have a quick run to Sierra Leone. The schooner was soon afterwards put about. No one complained, though they might have cast a wistful eye at the harbour they were leaving astern.

"We are doing what is right, depend upon it," observed Murray. "If so, all will turn up right in the end."

The provisions had, they knew, been running short. They now carefully examined into their stock, when, to their dismay, they found that they had only a supply remaining for three or four days.

"Never mind," was Murray's remark. "We will go on half allowance. In three or four days at most we shall weather the cape, and then we shall have sufficient provision to keep us alive till we get in."

No one even thought of complaining of this arrangement, but took with thankfulness their half allowance of food. Murray was much pleased with the way the men bore their privations. He never thought about himself, and took less than any one.

"I remember hearing an account given by some friends of ours of the behaviour of their servants during a famine in England many years ago," observed Murray. "Corn was very scarce, and bread being consequently at an enormous price, they determined to put their household on an allowance, and to allow so many slices to each servant in the day, giving them rice and other things instead, not stinting them, therefore, in their food. This excessively enraged the pampered menials, and their old butler, who was the most indignant, ate so much meat and puddings of various sorts, and drank so much beer, that he actually brought on a surfeit, and died from it. How angry most of the fellows at school would have been if told that they could not have butter, or sugar in their tea. Never mind if the butter was not to be procured, and the sugar had by chance not come from the grocer's. How differently do these poor seamen and the ignorant blacks behave. Not a grumble is heard, not a look even of annoyance is seen."

Day after day they stood on, thinking that they must sight Cape Palmas before many hours had passed, and then, after making the land, they found that they could not be many miles farther to the west than they were before.

"Still we might do it, if we could but get a stiffish breeze," observed Murray. "I think the wind is drawing out more from the north-west and east. What say you, Paddy?"

"Let's keep at it to the last moment. I'm ready for what you are?" answered Adair.

The schooner was once more put about with her head to the westward.

Everybody whistled as they walked the deck--even the blacks did so-- though they did not know the reason why.

The breeze did not come a bit the faster on that account. However, at night it blew pretty strong off the land, and their hopes again revived. But as the sun rose, it backed once more into its old quarter, and once more they had to tack. On making the land, there were the identical hillocks and clumps of trees they had before seen. Murray and Adair agreed that there must be all the time a strong current setting them to the eastward, and this, on running in closer, heaving-to, and trying the bottom with the lead, they found to be the case. Provisions for two days, and less than half allowance, was all they had now got. Murray and Adair consulted together.

"We shall have to make for the nearest port, I fear, after all, or run the chance of starving," said Adair.

"There is no alternative," answered Murray, with a sigh. "We have done our best."

"That we have," replied Adair quickly. "There is no doubt about that. You have, that is to say--I should have given up long ago. The sooner we shape a course for Cape Coast Castle the better."

The schooner was kept away to retrace her steps to the eastward. But now the wind fell altogether, and they began to fear that after all they should get nowhere. The little food they had left was very bad. Gradually it disappeared, and at length they literally had nothing eatable on board.

"We must take a reef in our waistbands, and suck our thumbs," said Paddy. "I see no other remedy for it."

He said this in the hearing of the men, to encourage them as much as he could.

"We cannot be far off Cape Coast Castle, that is one comfort," added Murray. "We will keep a sharp look out for it at all events."

The day passed, and so did the next, and still the calm continued. They searched about in every part of the vessel, in the hopes of discovering a store of farina or rice, but nothing could they find but the rotting tobacco and the monkey-skins, and, starving as they were, they could not manage to eat them. Even when reduced to this extremity the young officers themselves did not despond, nor did their men, who looked to them for example, do so either. Murray calculated that if they could but get a breeze, they might reach the port for which they were steering in less than twenty-four hours. It was very tantalising to be so near it, and yet not to be able to get there. Had they had any fish-hooks, they would, they thought, be able to catch some fish, but none were to be found, nor had they a file with which to manufacture any out of old nails, as they had often heard of being done.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," exclaimed Adair suddenly. "Here's a piece of tin. I have some scissors in my dressing-case, and I think I could manage to cut out a hook or two before they are quite blunted. Let's try, at all events."

The scissors were produced, when, to their great delight, a file for finger-nails was discovered at the back of the blades. Not only were two tin hooks cut out, but three more were manufactured out of some nails before the files were rendered completely useless. Bait was the next thing to be procured. As there was nothing eatable on board, how was it to be got? That was the question. Adair solved it by trying one of his hooks without any. "Hurrah!" he exclaimed in less than five minutes, "I have a bite. Hurrah!" Up came a curious-looking monster in the shape of a fish. It was a question whether or not it was poisonous. A fire was made and a pot put on to boil, into which the creature, part of it being cut off for bait, was immediately popped. They would rather have caught a young shark, with whose character they were acquainted; but starving men are not particular. Before the pot had begun to boil, a fresh breeze came in from the offing, and away flew the little schooner with more liveliness than she had displayed for many a day. The lines were hauled in. Murray and Adair agreed not to touch the strange fish. They also advised the men not to eat of it. The sun went down, and all night they ran on at a fair rate. The next morning land was in sight. They hoped that it might be near their destination. Adair had just relieved Murray, who had turned in to go to sleep. He observed the black man looking very miserable, and presently the black boy complained of being very ill.

"What have you been about, Sambo?" asked Adair, looking into the caboose.

"Oh! massa, massa, me eat fish," groaned the poor lad.

"It ought to have been thrown overboard, to have removed temptation out of your way," observed Adair, taking the pot with the intention of suiting the action to the word, but on lifting the lid he found it empty. The negroes had eaten up every particle of the fish. They groaned and rolled about for some time evidently in some pain and in considerable alarm. It was no wonder they were ill, but it was evident also that the fish could not have been of a very poisonous character, or they would have been much worse. Indeed they speedily forgot all their sickness on hearing Wasser exclaim, "Dere, dere! dose hills above Cape Coast Castle!"

The words indeed had a great effect on all on board. Murray, who had been there before, the instant he came on deck pronounced Wasser to be right, and in a short time the schooner was running in towards a collection of conical and wooded heights, with the strong and formidable-looking fortress of Cape Coast, built on a mass of rock, in front of them, with the sea washing round a considerable part of it. It looked a very large fortification; indeed it covers several acres of ground, mounts upwards of a hundred guns, and is kept in the most efficient condition. The old castle stands in about the centre of the fortress, and is four storeys in height. The Governor and his suite, as do most of the public officers, find ample accommodation within its walls. It is garrisoned by black soldiers, chiefly from the West Indies, but their officers are all Englishmen. As soon as the schooner's anchor was let go, Murray and Adair hurried on shore to report themselves to the Governor, and to obtain his assistance. The moment he heard of the state of the schooner's crew he sent off provisions, insisting on the midshipmen remaining to dine with him, that they might relate their adventures.

"But you young gentlemen are probably hungry, and would rather not wait for dinner," observed the Governor.

"Slightly so," answered Adair, "seeing that nothing has passed our lips for the last two days. We were in a hurry to get food for our people, so had no time to eat before calling on your Excellency."

The remark in a very few minutes procured the midshipmen an ample luncheon, to which they did full justice, and would very likely have done more than justice, had not the good-natured Governor stopped them, and hinted that they would spoil their appetites for dinner.

"No fear of that, sir," answered Adair, laughing, "midshipmen make it a rule always to be ready to eat two dinners if called upon to do so in the way of duty. However, I dare say we can hold on now till dinner-time."

Murray and Adair had no intention of spending the interval in idleness. Though they would have gladly gone to sleep, or taken a bath, they again hurried on board their craft, to ascertain that the provisions had arrived, and that their men were made comfortable. Needham had done all that they could wish, and was very proud of being left in charge of the schooner while they were on shore. The first thing to be done was to refit their vessel before she would be in a fit state again to put to sea, and to effect this they without delay took the necessary steps to procure rope and other stores. On returning to the port the Governor received them with the greatest kindness and hospitality, and as they sat in the cool dining-room in the castle, they agreed that it was a perfect paradise compared with their stuffy little cabin when the noonday sun was striking down on the deck.

"All things are by comparison," observed Adair sententiously. "Some people now at home would not think this old fort on the African coast much of a paradise." Several guests, merchants, and others were present, and they had to recount their adventures to all the party. On returning on board, having moored the vessel in a safe position, they turned in and slept as midshipmen thoroughly worn out with anxiety and fatigue, with good consciences and a comfortable dinner inside them, can sleep. The next morning all hands set to work with a will to refit the schooner. By heaving her down they got at what they believed to be the chief leak, and caulked it, and in four days they considered their craft once more ready for sea. The Governor supplied them with provisions for forty days, and very kindly sent them some extra luxuries for themselves. By the Governor's advice, they took one entire day's rest for themselves and their crew. Then, in high spirits, anticipating no further difficulties, they once more put to sea. They had arms and powder, and a six-pounder gun which had belonged to the schooner, and, as compared to their previous condition, they felt themselves in a condition to encounter any gale of wind or any enemies they were likely to meet with. When they went to pay their farewell respects to the Governor, he said that the state of their little vessel had been reported to him, and that he would really advise them to give up the attempt to take her to Sierra Leone, and to wait till a man-of-war should call off the castle to receive them on board. Murray's answer may be supposed, though he thanked the Governor for his advice. The day was remarkably sultry and close. There was a haze, but not sufficient to obscure altogether the sun's beams, while the only wind which blew came off the hot sands in the interior. They agreed that they would be better off at sea than roasting on shore, and so, getting on board, they hove up the anchor and made all sail to the westward.

"Paddy," said Murray, as they were walking the deck after dinner, almost gasping for breath, "I don't quite like the look of the weather; what do you think of it?"

"That we should stand by to shorten sail at a moment's notice," answered Adair. "See that white line of foam curling away over the glassy surface of the water out there. Here it comes."

"I see it. All hands shorten sail!" shouted Murray, as he and Adair ran to help execute the order. They were but just in time when the tornado came thundering down upon them. The main and peak-halyards were let go, and the mainsail was handed while the topsail and jib-sheets were let fly, and round spun the vessel, almost capsizing as she did so, for the foresail was not yet brailed up. It was hard work to brail it up, fluttering as it was in the gale, but at length away she flew before the gale. Some people have an idea that the climate on the coast of Africa is all sunshine and heat. Hot enough it is, but at the same time the sky is often dark, lowering and gloomy in the extreme. Nothing can have a more depressing effect than the atmosphere at such times on all not thoroughly acclimated to it. Everything was made snug on board, but for three entire days they could scarcely show a stitch of sail, while the little vessel tumbled about so much that it was with difficulty they could light a fire for a short time in the caboose. They got some salt beef boiled, and then a sea came in and put the fire out, and though they tried hard, they could not light it again. However, the beef was pretty well done, and lasted them some days. Murray and Adair passed the time as they best could. They had but a small supply of books. The cabin was so close and hot, and on the deck the wind blew so hard, that it was a somewhat difficult undertaking to attempt to read. They did not manage therefore to add much to their stock of knowledge during the period of the gale. The vessel, however, happily held together, and at the end of three days the weather gave signs of moderating.

"That's a comfort," exclaimed Adair, as once more they were able to make sail, and the schooner, with everything she could carry, was put on her proper course; "it will be hard if we do not reach Sierra Leone before long now." They, however, on taking an observation, found that they were much farther from their destination than they were when at Cape Coast Castle. At it again they went, however, but the wind fell, and for several days they made but very little progress. Still they were going in the way they wanted, and that was something. For about a week they stood on thus, with the wind not only light but very scant. One afternoon Wasser's sharp eye discovered a sail to windward. Murray went aloft with his glass to have a look at her.

"What do you make her out?" asked Adair.

"A brig or brigantine; a two-masted vessel of some sort," answered Murray. "She is standing this way. I do not altogether like her looks. She has a widespread of white canvas, and so, if she is not a man-of-war, she is a slaver, of that I have little doubt." The crew heard what was said. Murray remained some time longer aloft. When he came down he looked grave and determined. "My lads," he exclaimed, after exchanging a few words with Adair, "I have very little doubt that the craft in sight is a slaver or pirate, and that at all events she will treat us with scant ceremony. We must beat her off. I know that you all will do your best to do so."

"That we will, sir, never fear," answered Needham, in the name of the rest.

"I know that, my men; there's no time to be lost in getting ready though," said Murray. "Hand up the arms, and we'll try to give the fellows, whoever they may be, a warm reception if they attempt to molest us." All hands were instantly employed in getting ready for the enemy. The gun was loaded, and several shot placed in a rack near it; the muskets and pistols were also loaded, and cutlasses were buckled on. They had no boarding-nettings, and their only hope of victory was by showing so bold a front at first, that the enemy might be driven off without coming to close quarters. As the stranger drew near she was seen to be a most wicked, rakish-looking brigantine, and neither Murray nor Adair had any longer the slightest doubt in their minds that she was a slaver. They hoisted the English ensign, but she showed no colours in return.

"We shall have to fight for it," observed Murray to Adair; "but though the odds are fearfully against us, I have a strange feeling of satisfaction in contemplating such a contest. I cannot help trusting that we shall come off victorious, in spite of the apparent strength of our enemy."

"I am sure I hope so," said Adair, who did not quite understand the thoughts which were pressing through his messmate's head. "We will fight away as long as we have hands to fight with and an ounce of gunpowder for our muskets. It was a craft like that brigantine out there captured poor Hanbury, and murdered him and his boat's crew. I only wish that we had a few more guns and men, and if that is the very pirate, we might avenge his death."

"No, no, do not talk of vengeance, Adair," said Murray gravely; "vengeance does not belong to man. It would be our duty, if we had the power, to take the miscreants and to bring them to justice; as it is, I trust that, though with infinitely inferior force, we may beat them off. But we must not, as Christians, allow ourselves for a moment to indulge in the idea that we are avenging the death or the wrongs of even the dearest of our relations or friends."

"I had not seen the matter in that light," answered Adair.

"Then, my dear fellow, try and do so. It is the true light depend on that."

Who would have supposed, when looking at the two vessels, that those on board the little half-crippled schooner could for a moment have contemplated with confidence a conflict with the well-found, powerful brigantine? But there was just this difference. The midshipmen felt that they were, to the very best of their means, performing their duty, and they felt a perfect confidence in Heaven's protecting power, while they knew that the slaver was engaged in the most nefarious of callings, and that the most abandoned miscreants composed her crew. On she came, as though triumphing in her strength. Hitherto the little wind blowing had been to the northward and east. As Adair was looking out to the northward, he observed a dark blue line coming rapidly along over the water. He pointed it out to Murray. "Trim sails," was the order promptly given. In another minute the little schooner, close hauled with her sails like boards, was standing away to the westward, while the brigantine lay dead to leeward at the distance of at least two miles and a half. Some minutes passed even before she felt the breeze, and when she did it was pretty evident that it would take her many a weary hour to catch up the schooner. The midshipmen agreed that with the opportunity thus afforded them of getting away from the slaver, it would be the height of rashness to wait and encounter her. They felt grateful for having been thus preserved, and when the brigantine was seen to fill and keep away on her course, they could not help joining their men in giving vent to their feelings in a shout of joy. They stood on all night. Eagerly the next morning they looked out--not a sign of the brigantine was to be seen. For several days after this they were knocking about, making often very little way, and sometimes drifting back again during a calm double the distance they had made good during the last breeze.

"I do hope, sir, as how this voyage won't last much longer," observed Needham to Adair, pointing to numberless rents and torn places in the sails. "I don't think this here canvas would stand another stiffish gale without flying into ribbons. I've been hunting about, and I've found a spare boat's sail and some other stuff to mend them. To my mind, it's the best thing we could do before another squall catches us."

Needham's advice was immediately taken, and the wind being very light, the sails were lowered, and all hands set to work to mend them in the best fashion they could. Needham having once belonged to the sailmaker's crew, was a very fair hand at the work, but the rest were anything but expert. However, all used their needles to the best of their abilities. Adair pricked his fingers very often, and, as he observed, he left indisputable traces of his industry. So important was it to get their sails set again before night, that they scarcely allowed themselves time for their meals. Having done little else than drift about all day, it was with no little relief to their minds, that, just as the sun went down, they once more got the sails bent and hoisted. Murray's sextant had been broken, and as he was leaving the _Archer_, a shipmate offered him his quadrant. It was a very indifferent one at best, and in one of the gales to which the _Venus had been subject, it had received yet further damage, so that it was often ten or even twenty miles out of adjustment. Murray and Adair never lost an opportunity of taking an observation, while they kept their reckoning with the greatest care; but, after all, they often could only guess at their position. The weather, too, was very uncertain. Day after day down came torrents of rain--not merely English spring showers--but, as Adair observed, regular bucketsful, which compelled them to open the ports to let the water run off the decks, for fear of swamping the vessel. No people could behave better than did their little crew. Murray allowed no one to be idle. They were employed either in cleaning their arms, mending their clothes, repairing the rigging, and, when the sea was sufficiently calm, in fishing. Needham kept up his own spirits, and did his best to keep up that of his messmates. However, they were to be again severely tried. One evening, early in October, scud was seen flying rapidly across the sky, while thick masses of cloud banked up densely in the horizon. It was Adair's first watch; Murray had been about to turn in. He cast his eyes around.

"Depend on it, Adair, we are going to have a heavy blow, a regular tornado will be down on us before long, and the sooner we make everything snug the better."

Adair doubted whether there would be anything more than a squall. Just then the sails flapped ominously, and there was a perfect calm. The flame of a candle brought on deck would have ascended straight upwards.

"Adair, I tell you it will be down on us in a few minutes, and with terrific force too," exclaimed Murray. "All hands shorten sail!" Not a moment was to be lost; Needham and the rest saw that. With the exception of the fore-staysail every sail was lowered and carefully stowed; the topmasts were struck, and everything on deck was lashed and secured. All the time a dead calm continued, the atmosphere was dreadfully close, so that even on deck at times it seemed difficult to breathe, while all around became darker and darker. Suddenly a sound, like heavy thunder, was heard in the distance.

"It is the beginning of the strife--the first gun fired in action. Look there, what do you say to that?" He pointed to a bank of foam which was seen rolling up through the dense gloom towards the devoted little vessel.

"Why, I suspect that we shall find ourselves in the midst of a sea which will pretty nearly swamp us," answered Adair.

On it came, rolling and leaping, as if eager to destroy the little craft. No sooner did her head feel the force of the gale than off, like a sea-bird on the wing, she flew before it. The fore-staysail was now stowed, for, from the fury of the tornado, it would either have been torn out of the bolt-rope or run the vessel under water. On flew the little craft, the sea every instant getting up and the wind freshening.

"Hold on, all of you; hold on for your lives!" sang out Murray with startling energy.

The caution was not ill-timed. On came a monster sea, roaring astern. High above her quarters it rose, and down it rushed on her decks, wellnigh swamping her. All the hatches had before been secured; but, had not the ports been open, so as to allow the water immediately to run out, it would have swamped her. The half-drowned crew shook themselves as they once more emerged from the weight of water above them. Happily, none were washed away.

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 19. In Perilous Condition The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 19. In Perilous Condition

The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 19. In Perilous Condition
CHAPTER NINETEEN. IN PERILOUS CONDITION The little half-sinking schooner dashed on amid the raging seas, now lifted up to the summit of one surrounded by hissing foam, now sinking down into the gloomy hollow between others which seemed as if they were about instantly to engulf her. Again another sea struck her; and had not every one held on tight to the rigging or bulwarks, her deck would have been cleared, as it made a clean wash fore and aft. "We must not run this risk again!" exclaimed Murray. "All hands go below; one on deck is enough.

The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 17. Aboard The Prize The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 17. Aboard The Prize

The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 17. Aboard The Prize
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN. ABOARD THE PRIZE Don Diogo and his companions did not know what Englishmen were made of if they thought that they were going to win the day without a hard fight for it. Adair, wounded as he was, threw himself before Jack, and, aided by Needham and some of his best men, pistoled some of the Spaniards and cut down others, hurrahing so loudly, and charging so fiercely, that the rest, in spite of the little Don's exhortations, gave way before them. They pushed on till they reached the mainmast a resolute stand was made by the