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I saw the poor thing's arms go tight round his neck, and though I couldn't hear a word she said, I knew it meant: "Don't leave me;" but he just pointed upwards a moment, kissed her tenderly; and then, I helping, we made her fast, and the next minute were alongside the hatches, just over where I knew the great pillars to be.
I knew it was a desperate thing to do, but it was our only chance; and after swinging round the fore-yard, and rigging up some tackle, the men saw what was meant, and gave a bit of a cheer. Then they cl.u.s.tered together, pa.s.sengers and men, while I shouted to Mr Vallance, offering him his choice--to go below with another, to make fast the rope to the pillars, or to stay on deck.
He chose going below; and warning him that we should clap on the hatches from time to time, to keep out the water, I got hold of a marlinespike, loosened the tarpaulin a little, had one hatch off, and then stationed two on each side, to try and keep the opening covered every time a wave came on board.
It seemed little better than making a way in for the sea to send us to the bottom at once; but I knew that it was our only hope, and persevered. Mr Vallance and one of the men went below, the tackle was lowered, and in less time than I expected, they gave the signal to haul up. We hauled--the head of the pillar came above the coamings, went high up, then lowered down till one end rested on the bulwarks; the rope was cast off; and then, with a cheer, in spite of the rolling of the ship, it was sent over the side to disappear in the boiling sea.
Another, and another, and another, weighing full six hundredweight apiece, we had over the side, the men working now fiercely, and with something like hope in their b.r.e.a.s.t.s; and then I roared to them to hold fast the tarpaulin was pulled over, and I for one threw myself upon it, just as a wave came rolling along, leaped the bows, and dashed us here and there.
But we found to our great joy that hardly a drop had gone below, the weight of the water having flattened down the tarpaulin; so seizing the tackle once more, we soon had another pillar over the side, and another, and another--not easily, for it was a hard fight each time; and more than once men were nearly crushed to death. It was terrible work, too, casting them loose amidst the hurry and strife of the tempest; but we kept on, till, utterly worn out and panting, we called on Mr Vallance to come up, when we once more securely battened down the hatch and waited for the morning.
We agreed amongst ourselves that the ship did not roll so much; and perhaps she was a little easier, for we had sent some tons overboard; but the difference was very little; and morning found us all numbed with the cold, and helpless to a degree. I caught Mr Vallance's eye, and signalled to him that we should go on again; but it required all we could do to get the men to work, one and all saying that it was useless, and only fighting against our fate.
Seeing that fair words wouldn't do, I got the tackle ready myself, and then with the marlinespike in one hand, I went up to the first poor shivering fellow I came to, and half-led, half-dragged him to his place; Mr Vallance followed suit with another; and one way and another we got them to work again; and though not so quickly as we did the day before, we sent over the side tons and tons of that solid iron--each pillar on being cut loose darting over the bulwark with a crash, and tearing no end of the planking away, but easing the vessel, so that now we could feel the difference; and towards night, though the weather was bad as ever, I began to feel that we might have a chance; for the ship seemed to ride over the waves more, instead of dipping under them, and shuddering from stem to stern. We'd been fortunate, too, in keeping the water from getting into the hold; and one way and another, what with the feeling of duty done, and the excitement, things did not look so black as before; when all at once a great wave like a green mountain of water leaped aboard over the p.o.o.p, flooded the deck, tore up the tarpaulin and another hatch, and poured down into the hold, followed by another and another; and as I clung to one of the masts, blinded and shaking with the water, I could feel that in those two minutes all our two days' work had been undone.
"G.o.d help us!" I groaned, for I felt that I had done wrong in opening the hatches; but there was no time for repining. Directly the waves had pa.s.sed on, rushing out at the sides, where they had torn away the bulwarks, I ran to the mouth of the hold, for I felt that Mr Vallance and the poor fellow with him must have been drowned.
I shouted--once, twice, and then there was a groan; when, seizing hold of the tackle that we had used to hoist the pillars, I was lowered down, and began to swim in the rushing water that was surging from side to side, when I felt myself clutched by a drowning man, and holding on to him, we were dragged up together.
But I did not want the despairing look Mrs Vallance gave me to make me go down again, and this time I was washed up against something, which I seized; but there seemed no life in it when we were hauled up, for the poor fellow did not move, and it was pitiful to see the way in which his poor wife clung to him.
Another sea coming on board, it was all we could do to keep from being swept off; and as the water seemed to leap and plunge down the hatch with a hollow roar, a chill came over me again, colder than that brought on by the bitter weather. I was so worn out that I could hardly stir; but it seemed that if I did not move, no one else would; so shouting to one or two to help me, I crawled forward, and got the hatches on again, just as another wave washed over us; but before the next came, with my marlinespike I had contrived to nail down the tarpaulin once more, in the hope that, though waterlogged, we might float a little longer.
It seemed strange, but after a little provision had been served round, I began to be hopeful once more, telling myself that, after all, water was not worse than iron, and that if we lived to the next day, we might get clear of our new enemy without taking off the hatches.
We had hard work, though, with Mr Vallance, who lay for hours without seeming to show a sign of life; but towards morning, from the low sobbing murmur I heard close by me, and the gentle tones of a man's voice, I knew that they must have brought him round. You see, I was at the wheel then, for it had come round to my turn, and as soon as I could get relieved, I went and spoke to them, and found him able to sit up.
As day began to break, the wind seemed to lull a little, and soon after a little more, and again a little more, till, with joyful heart, I told all about me that the worst was over; and it was so, for the wind shifted round to the south and west, and the sea went down fast. Soon, too, the sun came out; and getting a little sail on the ship, I began to steer, as near as I could tell, homewards, hoping before long to be able to make out our bearings, which I did soon after, and then got the pa.s.sengers and crew once more in regular spells at the pumps.
We were terribly full of water; and as the ship rolled the night before, it was something awful to hear it rush from side to side of the hold, threatening every minute to force up the decks; but now keeping on a regular drain, the scuppers ran well, and hour by hour we rose higher and higher, and the ship, from sailing like a tub, began to answer her helm easily, and to move through the water.
It was towards afternoon that, for the first time, I remembered the captain, just, too, as he made his appearance on deck, white-looking, and ill, but now very angry and important.
I had just sent some of the men aloft, and we were making more sail, when in a way that there was no need for, he ordered them down, at the same time saying something very unpleasant to me. Just then I saw Mr Vallance step forward to where the other pa.s.sengers were collected, many of them being his own men; and then, after few words, they all came aft together to where the captain stood, and Mr Vallance acted as spokesman.
"Captain Johnson," he said, "I am speaking the wishes of the pa.s.sengers of this ship when I request you to go below to your cabin, and to stay there until we reach port."
"Are you mad, sir?" exclaimed the captain.
"Not more so than the rest of the pa.s.sengers," said Mr Vallance, "who, one and all, agree with me that they have no confidence in you as captain; and that, moreover, they consider that by your conduct you have virtually resigned the command of the ship into Mr Robinson's hands."
"Are you aware, Mr Pa.s.senger, that _Mister_ Robinson is one of the apprentices?"
"I am aware, sir, that he has carried this vessel through a fearful storm, when her appointed commander left those men and women in his charge to their fate, while he, like a coward, went below to drown out all knowledge of the present with drink."
He raved and stormed, and then called upon the crew to help him; but Mr Vallance told them that he would be answerable to the owners for their conduct, and not a man stirred. I spoke to him till he turned angry, and insisted upon my keeping to the command, and backed up at last by both pa.s.sengers and crew, who laughed, and seemed to enjoy it; but I must say that, until we cast anchor in Yarmouth Roads, they obeyed me to a man.
So they made the captain keep for all the world like a prisoner to his cabin till we entered the Tyne, after being detained a few days only in the Roads, where it had been necessary to refit, both of the topmasts being snapped, and the jib-boom being sprung, besides our being leaky, though not so bad but that a couple of hours a day after the first clearance kept the water under.
Before we had pa.s.sed Harwich very far, we had the beach yawls out, one after another, full of men wanting to board us and take us into harbour, so as to claim salvage. One and all had the same tale to tell us--that we could never get into port ourselves; and more than once it almost took force to keep them from taking possession, for, not content with rendering help when it is wanted, they are only too ready to make their help necessary, and have frightened many a captain before now into giving up his charge into other hands. But with Mr Vallance at my back, I stood firm; and somehow or another I did feel something very much like pride when I took the brig safely into port, and listened to the owners remarks.