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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 13. Night On The Reef--Our Salt Tute's Sermon
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Captain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 13. Night On The Reef--Our Salt Tute's Sermon Post by :healthyways2101 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3564

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Captain Mugford: Our Salt And Fresh Water Tutors - Chapter 13. Night On The Reef--Our Salt Tute's Sermon


Our "salt tute" had gone through many a storm at sea; had once escaped, the only soul saved out of fifty-three, from a foundered bark, and endured five days' suffering, without bread or water, on a raft. But, as I heard him tell Mr Clare afterwards, he had never undergone an experience more painful than those two or three hours of gale in our little cutter. It was his affection for us boys; the reflection that he had proposed the pleasure sail, and the terrible sense of responsibility: those together had tried the old man's heart, head, and nerves, as they had never been tried before.

Among the exciting events of that night, one circumstance impressed me with astonishment, though it was but small matter perhaps for a boy to have noticed at such a time. It was that the Captain several times expressed himself in terms of piety, and even ejaculated that prayer when our safety was secured. We had sometimes heard him swear before that, and had always noticed, in contrast to Mr Clare, his indifference to any religious service or subject; indeed, the only emotion we had ever seen him display with regard to such matters was on the occasion of Mr Clare's address after the combat between Drake and Alfred.

It was eight o'clock when we landed on our little rocky island of deliverance. Boatswain's Reef was, as its name described, only half an acre in extent--a jagged, stony reef, raised but a few yards at its highest point above high-tide mark.

Very cold, somewhat anxious, and much exhausted, we found in a few moments the only shelter it afforded--a level place of sand and sea grass, about six yards square, defended on the south-west by a miniature cliff. There a lot of seaweed had accumulated, and the driftings of many gales collected. Several barrel staves, a large worm-eaten ship's knee, part of a vessel's stern, with all but the letters "Conq" obliterated, (the name had probably been _Conqueror_, conquered now, as Alfred observed, by old ocean); and many pieces and splinters of spar. The Captain made the discovery with us, and immediately suggested that we should shelter ourselves there and light a fire.

"Thanks, boys, to the necessities of my pipe, I always have a tinder-box in my pockets. Perhaps there are some not wet. Here, hunt for them; I'll throw off my pea-jacket, for I must go to work and try to save something from the poor _Youth_--our grub at least. I want you to stay where you are, out of the storm, and to get a good fire going. It may possibly show them on the cape that we are safe."

"O Captain!" exclaimed Walter, "do let me help you. I don't want to sit here and do nothing but build a fire whilst you are at work and perhaps in danger."

"Come along, then, as you are the biggest and strongest--come along," replied the Captain, and away they hurried to where our good old boat was groaning on the beach and pounding against rocks with every beat of the sea.

She had been driven up too far to get off easily, but with a big hole in her bows it seemed probable that she would go to pieces before morning.

The sky was black everywhere. The roar of wind and waves was tremendous. The spray dashed in sheets, at every blow of the sea, over our spot of defence, so that it was difficult to start a fire. We were successful, though, and its light showed the figures of the Captain and Walter, by the stranded boat, climbing on board through the froth of the surf; pitched up and down as she tossed and bumped; getting down the tattered sail and hauling it ashore; jumping on the beach again with coils of rope; saving all that could be saved. And then, the tide having risen high, both together left her for the last time, bearing, at much risk, the anchor with them, which they fastened in a cleft of the rocks, that when our dear old boat--the home of many and many a fine time--did break up, something might be left of her.

We could not hear their voices, but saw the gestures for us to come and help, and in a few minutes we were all engaged carrying the rescued remnants up to our safe place.

Ugly helped. First he dragged a coil of rope and laid it beside the cliff; then he got hold of a loaf of bread which had dropped from among the other provisions, and carried that with some trouble but much pride.

In the storm and darkness, only fitfully broken by the firelight, we ate our supper under what shelter the low cliff afforded. Our boyish spirits were much subdued and awed by the peril we had passed through and the sombre scene about us.

The meal being finished, we made some preparations for the night, fastening the sail, by the weight of large stones laid on one edge of it, to the top of the rock, and then bringing its other edge, the boom side, to the ground and steadying it there with pegs. In that way we constructed a kind of tent, in which we piled a bedding and covering of dry seaweed.

The Captain stood by the fire, smoking his pipe and watching our arrangements. When they were completed, and we boys, gratified with our success, began to declare our situation "rather jolly," he interrupted us somewhat abruptly in this way:--

"You chaps always say your prayers before you sleep, I dare say. If so, you'll not forget them to-night--will you?"

"No, sir," we answered.

"Young shipmates, you remember how Mr Clare talked to you one day in the _Clear the Track_--eh? Well, then, for the first time in nigh forty years--think of that, nigh _forty years--I said my prayers, the only ones I ever said, that my--mo--ther taught me; and somehow they came so clear to me that I felt like as if my--mo--ther was kneeling beside me. I ran away to sea, like the young fool that I was, when I was eleven years old. It was going on four years before I came back to my old home. I had forgotten my prayers. I tried hard to remember them, too, _then_, and some of the Scripture stories and lessons my--mo--ther used to teach me; for she was--gone."

His voice did not tremble, but he spoke very slowly, as if he wanted to speak out to us, and yet wished to do it without betraying the deep feeling that the events of the evening had intensified. Each time before he spoke the words "my mother," he took the pipe from his mouth and hesitated a moment, as if to steady himself. Somehow the old Captain's voice was softer, I thought, than I had ever heard it before-- it may have been fatigue and the noises of the storm that made it sound so. His face, too, looked to me as if it had lost its hard lines and roughness--perhaps the firelight caused that to seem so. And those bold, sharp eyes of his were as gentle as my little sister Aggie's. He continued:--

"Hard times a youngster often has at sea, not in all ships, but in many, I tell you, and bad companions on every side. No gentle looks or kind words, but knocks and oaths. No time to read, and all that; hardly a chance to think. Well, I was a bad one, and worse when I went back again, and had my--mo--ther no longer to love me, and no one anywhere in the world to care a button for Rowly," (his Christian name was Roland). "I was a pretty reckless, hearty, devil-me-care fellow, I tell you. I could rough it and fight my way with the strongest, and never thought further ahead than the moment I was living in. So, for thirty years and more I knocked about the world, coming scot-free through a thousand dangers. Yes, and I got ahead all the time and prospered, thinking mighty well of myself, my _good luck_, clear head, and tough arm. I never thought of God. I don't know but that I had almost forgotten that there was a God; at any rate, if I thought of Him, it was with doubt and indifference. Yet, boys, in all that time, 'He cared for me, upheld me, _blessed me_.'"

His words grew hurried and thick, his head was turned so I could not see his face, and the old black pipe had fallen from his fingers to the ground. Ugly walked around and snuffed at it in amazement. But the Captain went on:--

"Now I feel it all--_how I _feel it--since I heard Mr Clare that day. Nearly forty years deaf, but I hear God's voice within me _now_, louder and louder every day; and what has He done for us to-day? How He has spoken! Ah! boys, you'll never be the old sinner I have been. 'Remember _thy Creator in the days of thy youth.' Part of the only hymn I can remember, of my mother's, has come again and again to my ear to-night--that--

"'God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.'

"I forget the rest, except--

"'Trust Him for His grace:
Behind a frowning Providence
He hides a smiling face.'

"Boys! turn in now. I am on watch, and shall keep the fire going. Turn in, I tell you."

With those last words to finish his talk and order us to bed, his voice regained its sailor-like strength and roughness, but it melted again as he added--

"My dear old boys, we shall all pray to-night, eh? and from wiser and better hearts. _Thank God_!"

The last things I was conscious of that night were the whistling of the wind and the roaring of the waves, and the snapping and fizzing of the red embers, thus telling their stories to the storm of the brave ships of which they once formed parts.

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