Part 5 out of 10
Gibraltar is the key of the Mediterranean, as your uncle has told me
fifty times; and I have been there, and can understand why it should
be,--but I do not know of what lock this West is the key."
"It is not that sort of key which is meant, aunty, at all--but quite
a different thing. The key meant is an island."
"And why should any one be so silly as to call an island a key?"
"The place where vessels unload is sometimes called a key," answered
Mulford;--"the French calling it a quai, and the Dutch kaye. I
suppose our English word is derived from these. Now, a low, sandy
island, looking somewhat like keys, or wharves, seamen have given
them this name. Key West is merely a low island."
"Then there is no lock to it, or anything to be unfastened," said
the widow, in her most simple manner.
"It may turn out to be the key to the Gulf of Mexico, one of these
days, ma'am. Uncle Sam is surveying the reef, and intends to do
something here, I believe. When Uncle Sam is really in earnest, he
is capable of performing great things."
Mrs. Budd was satisfied with this explanation, though she told Biddy
that evening, that "locks and keys go together, and that the person
who christened the island to which they were going, must have been
very weak in his upper story." But these reflections on the
intellects of her fellow-creatures were by no means uncommon with
the worthy relict; and we cannot say that her remarks made any
particular impression on her Irish maid.
In the mean time, the Mexican schooner behaved quite to Mulford's
satisfaction. He thought her a little tender in the squalls, of
which they had several that afternoon; but he remarked to Rose, who
expressed her uneasiness at the manner in which the vessel lay over
in one of them, that "she comes down quite easy to her bearings, but
it is hard forcing her beyond them. The vessel needs more cargo to
ballast her, though, on the whole, I find her as stiff as one could
expect. I am now glad that I reefed, and reduced the head sails,
though I was sorry at having done so when we first came out. At this
rate of sailing, we ought to be up with Key West by morning."
But that rate of sailing did not continue. Toward evening, the
breeze lessened almost to a calm again, the late tornado appearing
to have quite deranged the ordinary stability of the trades. When
the sun set, and it went down into the broad waters of the Gulf a
flood of flame, there was barely a two-knot breeze, and Mulford had
no longer any anxiety on the subject of keeping his vessel on her
legs. His solicitude, now, was confined to the probability of
falling in with the Swash. As yet, nothing was visible, either in
the shape of land or in that of a sail. Between the islets of the
Dry Tortugas and the next nearest visible keys, there is a space of
open water, of some forty miles in width. The reef extends across
it, of course; but nowhere does the rock protrude itself above the
surface of the sea. The depth of water on this reef varies
essentially. In some places, a ship of size might pass on to it, if
not across it; while in others a man could wade for miles. There is
one deep and safe channel--safe to those who are acquainted with
it--through the centre of this open space, and which is sometimes
used by vessels that wish to pass from one side to the other; but it
is ever better for those whose business does not call them in that
direction, to give the rocks a good berth, more especially in the
Mulford had gleaned many of the leading facts connected with the
channels, and the navigation of those waters, from Spike and the
older seamen of the brig, during the time they had been lying at the
Tortugas. Such questions and answers are common enough on board
ships, and, as they are usually put and given with intelligence, one
of our mate's general knowledge of his profession, was likely to
carry away much useful information. By conversations of this nature,
and by consulting the charts, which Spike did not affect to conceal
after the name of his port became known, the young man, in fact, had
so far made himself master of the subject, as to have tolerably
accurate notions of the courses, distances, and general
peculiarities of the reef. When the sun went down, he supposed
himself to be about half-way across the space of open water, and
some five-and-twenty miles dead to windward of his port of
departure. This was doing very well for the circumstances, and
Mulford believed himself and his companions clear of spike, when, as
night drew its veil over the tranquil sea, nothing was in sight.
A very judicious arrangement was made for the watches on board the
Mexican schooner, on this important night. Mrs. Budd had a great
fancy to keep a watch, for once in her life, and, after the party
had supped, and the subject came up in the natural course of things,
a dialogue like this occurred:
"Harry must be fatigued," said Rose, kindly, "and must want sleep.
The wind is so light, and the weather appears to be so settled, that
I think it would be better for him to `turn in,' as he calls
it;"--here Rose laughed so prettily that the handsome mate wished
she would repeat the words,--"better that he should `turn in' now,
and we can call him, should there be need of his advice or
assistance. I dare say Jack Tier and I can take very good care of
the schooner until daylight."
Mrs. Budd thought it would be no more than proper for one of her
experience and years to rebuke this levity, as well as to enlighten
the ignorance her niece had betrayed.
"You should be cautious, my child, how you propose anything to be
done on a ship's board," observed the aunt. "It requires great
experience and a suitable knowledge of rigging to give maritime
advice. Now, as might have been expected, considering your years,
and the short time you have been at sea, you have made several
serious mistakes in what you have proposed. In the first place,
there should always be a mate on the deck, as I have heard your dear
departed uncle say, again and again; and how can there be a mate on
the deck if Mr. Mulford `turns in,' as you propose, seeing that he's
the only mate we have. Then you should never laugh at any maritime
expression, for each and all are, as a body might say, solemnized by
storms and dangers. That Harry is fatigued I think is very probable;
and he must set our watches, as they call it, when he can make his
arrangements for the night, and take his rest as is usual. Here is
my watch to begin with; and I'll engage he does not find it two
minutes out of the way, though yours, Rosy dear, like most girl's
time-pieces, is, I'll venture to say, dreadfully wrong. Where is
your chronometer, Mr. Mulford? let us see how this excellent watch
of mine, which was once my poor departed Mr. Budd's, will agree with
that piece of your's, which I have heard you say is excellent."
Here was a flight in science and nautical language that poor Mulford
could not have anticipated, even in the captain's relict! That Mrs.
Budd should mistake "setting the watch" for "setting our watches,"
was not so very violent a blunder that one ought to be much
astonished at it in her; but that she should expect to find a
chronometer that was intended to keep the time of Greenwich,
agreeing with a watch that was set for the time of New York,
betrayed a degree of ignorance that the handsome mate was afraid
Rose would resent on him, when the mistake was made to appear. As
the widow held out her own watch for the comparison, however, he
could not refuse to produce his own. By Mrs. Budd's watch it was
past seven o'clock, while by his own, or the Greenwich-set
chronometer, it was a little past twelve.
"How very wrong your watch is, Mr. Mulford," cried the good lady,
"notwithstanding all you have said in its favour. It's quite five
hours too fast, I do declare; and now, Rosy dear, you see the
importance of setting watches on a ship's board, as is done every
evening, my departed husband has often told me."
"Harry's must be what he calls a dog-watch, aunty," said Rose,
laughing, though she scarce knew at what.
"The watch goes, too," added the widow, raising the chronometer to
her ear, "though it is so very wrong. Well, set it, Mr. Mulford;
then we will set Rose's, which I'll engage is half an hour out of
the way, though it can never be as wrong as yours."
Mulford was a good deal embarrassed, but he gained courage by
looking at Rose, who appeared to him to be quite as much mystified
as her aunt. For once he hoped Rose was ignorant; for nothing would
be so likely to diminish the feeling produced by the exposure of the
aunt's mistake, as to include the niece in the same category.
"My watch is a chronometer, you will recollect, Mrs. Budd," said the
"I know it; and they ought to keep the very best time--that I've
always heard. My poor Mr. Budd had two, and they were as large as
compasses, and sold for hundreds after his lamented decease."
"They were ship's chronometers, but mine was made for the pocket. It
is true, chronometers are intended to keep the most accurate time,
and usually they do; this of mine, in particular, would not lose ten
seconds in a twelvemonth, did I not carry it on my person."
"No, no, it does not seem to lose any, Harry; it only gains," cried
Mulford was now satisfied, notwithstanding all that had passed on a
previous occasion, that the laughing, bright-eyed, and quick-witted
girl at his elbow, knew no more of the uses of a chronometer than
her unusually dull and ignorant aunt; and he felt himself relieved
from all embarrassment at once. Though he dared not even seem to
distrust Mrs. Budd's intellect or knowledge before Rose, he did not
scruple to laugh at Rose herself, to Rose. With her there was no
jealousy on the score of capacity, her quickness being almost as
obvious to all who approached her as her beauty.
"Rose Budd, you do not understand the uses of a chronometer, I see,"
said the mate, firmly, "notwithstanding all I have told you
"It is to keep time, Harry Mulford, is it not?"
"True, to keep time--but to keep the time of a particular meridian;
you know what meridian means, I hope?"
Rose looked intently at her lover, and she looked singularly lovely,
for she blushed slightly, though her smile was as open and amicable
as ingenuousness and affection could make it.
"A meridian means a point over our heads--the spot where the sun is
at noon," said Rose, doubtingly.
"Quite right; but it also means longitude, in one sense. If you draw
a line from one pole to the other, all the places it crosses are on
the same meridian. As the sun first appears in the east, it follows
that he rises sooner in places that are east, than in places that
are further west. Thus it is, that at Greenwich, in England, where
there is an observatory made for nautical purposes, the sun rises
about five hours sooner than it does here. All this difference is
subject to rules, and we know exactly how to measure it."
"How can that be, Harry? You told me this but the other day, yet
have I forgotten it."
"Quite easily. As the earth turns round in just twenty-four hours,
and its circumference is divided into three hundred and sixty equal
parts, called degrees, we have only to divide 360 by 24, to know how
many of these degrees are included in the difference produced by one
hour of time. There are just fifteen of them, as you will find by
multiplying 24 by 15. It follows that the sun rises just one hour
later, each fifteen degrees of longitude, as you go west, or one
hour earlier each fifteen degrees of longitude as you go east.
Having ascertained the difference by the hour, it is easy enough to
calculate for the minutes and seconds."
"Yes, yes," said Rose, eagerly, "I see all that--go on."
"Now a chronometer is nothing but a watch, made with great care, so
as not to lose or gain more than a few seconds in a twelvemonth. Its
whole merit is in keeping time accurately."
"Still I do not see how that can be anything more than a very good
"You will see in a minute, Rose. For purposes that you will
presently understand, books are calculated for certain meridians, or
longitudes, as at Greenwich and Paris, and those who use the books
calculated for Greenwich, get their chronometers set at Greenwich,
and those who use the Paris, get their chronometers set to Paris
time. When I was last in England, I took this watch to Greenwich,
and had it set at the Observatory by the true solar time. Ever since
it has been running by that time, and what you see here is the true
Greenwich time, after allowing for a second or two that it may have
lost or gained."
"All that is plain enough," said the much interested Rose--"but of
what use is it all?"
"To help mariners to find their longitude at sea, and thus know
where they are. As the sun passes so far north, and so far south of
the equator each year, it is easy enough to find the latitude, by
observing his position at noon-day; but for a long time seamen had
great difficulty in ascertaining their longitudes. That, too, is
done by observing the different heavenly bodies, and with greater
accuracy than by any other process; but this thought of measuring
the time is very simple, and so easily put in practice, that we all
run by it now."
"Still I cannot understand it," said Rose, looking so intently, so
eagerly, and so intelligently into the handsome mate's eyes, that he
found it was pleasant to teach her other things besides how to love.
"I will explain it. Having the Greenwich time in the watch, we
observe the sun, in order to ascertain the true time, wherever we
may happen to be. It is a simple thing to ascertain the true time of
day by an observation of the sun, which marks the hours in his
track; and when we get our observation, we have some one to note the
time at a particular instant on the chronometer. By noting the hour,
minutes, and seconds, at Greenwich, at the very instant we observe
here, when we have calculated from that observation the time here,
we have only to add, or subtract, the time here from that of
Greenwich, to know precisely how far east or west we are from
Greenwich, which gives us our longitude."
"I begin to comprehend it again," exclaimed Rose, delighted at the
acquisition in knowledge she had just made. "How beautiful it is,
yet how simple--but why do I forget it?"
"Perfectly simple, and perfectly sure, too, when the chronometer is
accurate, and the observations are nicely made. It is seldom we are
more than eight or ten miles out of the way, and for them we keep a
look-out. It is only to ascertain the time where you are, by means
that are easily used, then look at your watch to learn the time of
day at Greenwich, or any other meridian you may have selected, and
to calculate your distance, east or west, from that meridian, by the
difference in the two times."
Rose could have listened all night, for her quick mind readily
comprehended the principle which lies at the bottom of this useful
process, though still ignorant of some of the details. This time she
was determined to secure her acquisition, though it is quite
probable that, woman-like, they were once more lost, almost as
easily as made. Mulford, however, was obliged to leave her, to look
at the vessel, before he stretched himself on the deck, in an old
sail; it having been previously determined that he should sleep
first, while the wind was light, and that Jack Tier, assisted by the
females, should keep the first watch. Rose would not detain the
mate, therefore, but let him go his way, in order to see that all
was right before he took his rest.
Mrs. Budd had listened to Mulford's second explanation of the common
mode of ascertaining the longitude, with all the attention of which
she was capable; but it far exceeded the powers of her mind to
comprehend it. There are persons who accustom themselves to think so
superficially, that it becomes a painful process to attempt to dive
into any of the arcana of nature, and who ever turn from such
investigations wearied and disgusted. Many of these persons, perhaps
most of them, need only a little patience and perseverance to
comprehend all the more familiar phenomena, but they cannot command
even that much of the two qualities named to obtain the knowledge
they would fain wish to possess. Mrs. Budd did not belong to a
division as high in the intellectual scale as even this vapid class.
Her intellect was unequal to embracing anything of an abstracted
character, and only received the most obvious impressions, and those
quite half the time it received wrong. The mate's reasoning,
therefore, was not only inexplicable to her, but it sounded absurd
"Rosy, dear," said the worthy relict, as soon as she saw Mulford
stretch his fine frame on his bed of canvas, speaking at the same
time in a low, confidential tone to her niece, "what was it that
Harry was telling you a little while ago? It sounded to me like rank
nonsense; and men will talk nonsense to young girls, as I have so
often warned you, child. You must never listen to their nonsense,
Rosy; but remember your catechism and confirmation vow, and be a
To how many of the feeble-minded and erring do those offices of the
church prove a stay and support, when their own ordinary powers of
resistance would fail them! Rose, however, viewed the matter just as
it was, and answered accordingly.
"But this was nothing of that nature, aunty," she said, "and only an
account of the mode of finding out where a ship is, when out of
sight of land, in the middle of the ocean. We had the same subject
up the other day."
"And how did Harry tell you, this time, that was done, my dear?"
"By finding the difference in the time of day between two
places--just as he did before."
"But there is no difference in the time of day, child, when the
clocks go well."
"Yes, there is, aunty dear, as the sun rises in one place before it
does in another."
"Rose you've been listening to nonsense now! Remember what I have so
often told you about young men, and their way of talking. I admit
Harry Mulford is a respectable youth, and has respectable
connections, and since you like one another, you may have him, with
all my heart, as soon as he gets a full-jiggered ship, for I am
resolved no niece of my poor dear husband's shall ever marry a mate,
or a captain even, unless he has a full-jiggered ship under his
feet. But do not talk nonsense with him. Nonsense is nonsense,
though a sensible man talks it. As for all this stuff about the time
of day, you can see it is nonsense, as the sun rises but once in
twenty-four hours, and of course there cannot be two times, as you
"But, aunty dear, it is not always noon at London when it is noon at
"Fiddle-faddle, child; noon is noon, and there are no more two noons
than two suns, or two times. Distrust what young men tell you, Rosy,
if you would be safe, though they should tell you you are handsome."
Poor Rose sighed, and gave up the explanation in despair. Then a
smile played around her pretty mouth. It was not at her aunt that
she smiled; this she never permitted herself to do, weak as was that
person, and weak as she saw her to be; she smiled at the
recollection how often Mulford had hinted at her good looks--for
Rose was a female, and had her own weaknesses, as well as another.
But the necessity of acting soon drove these thoughts from her mind,
and Rose sought Jack Tier, to confer with him on the subject of
their new duties.
As for Harry Mulford, his head was no sooner laid on its bunch of
sail than he fell into a profound sleep. There he lay, slumbering as
the seaman slumbers, with no sense of surrounding things. The
immense fatigues of that and of the two preceding days,--for he had
toiled at the pumps even long after night had come, until the vessel
was clear,--weighed him down, and nature was now claiming her
influence, and taking a respite from exertion. Had he been left to
himself, it is probable the mate would not have arisen until the sun
had reappeared some hours.
It is now necessary to explain more minutely the precise condition,
as well as the situation of the schooner. On quitting his port,
Mulford had made a stretch of some two leagues in length, toward the
northward and eastward, when he tacked and stood to the southward.
There was enough of southing in the wind, to make his last course
nearly due south. As he neared the reef, he found that he fell in
some miles to the eastward of the islets,--proof that he was doing
very well, and that there was no current to do him any material
harm, if, indeed, there were not actually a current in his favour.
He next tacked to the northward again, and stood in that direction
until near night, when he once more went about. The wind was now so
light that he saw little prospect of getting in with the reef again,
until the return of day; but as he had left orders with Jack Tier to
be called at twelve o'clock, at all events, this gave him no
uneasiness. At the time when the mate lay down to take his rest,
therefore, the schooner was quite five-and-twenty miles to windward
of the Dry Tortugas, and some twenty miles to the northward of the
Florida Reef, with the wind quite light at east-south-east. Such,
then, was the position or situation of the schooner.
As respects her condition, it is easily described. She had but the
three sails bent,--mainsail, foresail, and jib. Her topmasts had
been struck, and all the hamper that belonged to them was below. The
mainsail was single reefed, and the foresail and jib were without
their bonnets, as has already been mentioned. This was somewhat
short canvas, but Mulford knew that it would render his craft more
manageable in the event of a blow. Usually, at that season and in
that region, the east trades prevailed with great steadiness,
sometimes diverging a little south of east, as at present, and
generally blowing fresh. But, for a short time previously to, and
ever since the tornado, the wind had been unsettled, the old
currents appearing to regain their ascendancy by fits, and then
losing it, in squalls, contrary currents, and even by short calms.
The conference between Jack Tier and Rose was frank and
"We must depend mainly on you," said the latter, turning to look
toward the spot where Mulford lay, buried in the deepest sleep that
had ever gained power over him. "Harry is so fatigued! It would be
shameful to awaken him a moment sooner than is necessary."
"Ay, ay; so it is always with young women, when they lets a young
man gain their ears," answered Jack, without the least
circumlocution; "so it is, and so it always will be, I'm afeard.
Nevertheless, men is willians."
Rose was not affronted at this plain allusion to the power that
Mulford had obtained over her feelings. It would seem that Jack had
got to be so intimate in the cabins, that his sex was, in a measure,
forgotten; and it is certain that his recent services were not.
Without a question, but for his interference, the pretty Rose Budd
would, at that moment, have been the prisoner of Spike, and most
probably the victim of his design to compel her to marry him.
"All men are not Stephen Spikes," said Rose, earnestly, "and least
of all is Harry Mulford to be reckoned as one of his sort. But, we
must manage to take care of the schooner the whole night, and let
Harry get his rest. He wished to be called at twelve, but we can
easily let the hour go by, and not awaken him."
"The commanding officer ought not to be sarved so, Miss Rose. What
he says is to be done."
"I know it, Jack, as to ordinary matters; but Harry left these
orders that we might have our share of rest, and for no other reason
at all. And what is to prevent our having it? We are four, and can
divide ourselves into two watches; one watch can sleep while the
other keeps a look-out."
"Ay, ay, and pretty watches they would be! There's Madam Budd, now;
why, she's quite a navigator, and knows all about weerin' and
haulin', and I dares to say could put the schooner about, to keep
her off the reef, on a pinch; though which way the craft would come
round, could best be told a'ter it has been done. It's as much as
I'd undertake myself, Miss Rose, to take care of the schooner,
should it come on to blow; and as for you, Madam Budd, and that
squalling Irishwoman, you'd be no better than so many housewives
"We have strength, and we have courage, and we can pull, as you have
seen. I know very well which way to put the helm now, and Biddy is
as strong as you are yourself, and could help me all I wished. Then
we could always call you, at need, and have your assistance. Nay,
Harry himself can be called, if there should be a real necessity for
it, and I do wish he may not be disturbed until there is that
It was with a good deal of reluctance that Jack allowed himself to
be persuaded into this scheme. He insisted, for a long time, that an
officer should be called at the hour mentioned by himself, and
declared he had never known such an order neglected, "marchant-man,
privateer, or man-of-war." Rose prevailed over his scruples,
however, and there was a meeting of the three females to make the
final arrangements. Mrs. Budd, a kind-hearted woman, at the worst,
gave her assent most cheerfully, though Rose was a little startled
with the nature of the reasoning, with which it was accompanied.
"You are quite right, Rosy dear," said the aunt, "and the thing is
very easily done. I've long wanted to keep one watch, at sea; just
one watch; to complete my maritime education. Your poor uncle used
to say, `Give my wife but one night-watch, and you'd have as good a
seaman in her as heart could wish.' I'm sure I've had night-watches
enough with him and his ailings; but it seems that they were not the
sort of watches he meant. Indeed, I did n't know till this evening
there were so many watches in the world, at all. But this is just
what I want, and just what I'm resolved to have. Tier shall command
one watch and I'll command the other. Jack's shall be the
`dog-watch,' as they call it, and mine shall be the `middle-watch,'
and last till morning. You shall be in Jack's watch, Rose, and Biddy
shall be in mine. You know a good deal that Jack do n't know, and
Biddy can do a good deal I'm rather too stout to do. I do n't like
pulling ropes, but as for ordering, I'll turn my back on no
captain's widow out of York."
Rose had her own misgivings on the subject of her aunt's issuing
orders on such a subject to any one, but she made the best of
necessity, and completed the arrangements without further
discussion. Her great anxiety was to secure a good night's rest for
Harry, already feeling a woman's care in the comfort and ease of the
man she loved. And Rose did love Harry Mulford warmly and sincerely.
If the very decided preference with which she regarded him before
they sailed, had not absolutely amounted to passion, it had come so
very near it as to render that access of feeling certain, under the
influence of the association and events which succeeded. We have not
thought it necessary to relate a tithe of the interviews and
intercourse that had taken place between the handsome mate and the
pretty Rose Budd, during the month they had now been shipmates,
having left the reader to imagine the natural course of things,
under such circumstances. Nevertheless, the plighted troth had not
been actually given until Harry joined her on the islet, at a moment
when she fancied herself abandoned to a fate almost as serious as
death. Rose had seen Mulford quit the brig, had watched the mode and
manner of his escape, and in almost breathless amazement, and felt
how dear to her he had become, by the glow of delight which warmed
her heart, when assured that he could not, would not, forsake her,
even though he remained at the risk of life. She was now, true to
the instinct of her sex, mostly occupied in making such a return for
an attachment so devoted as became her tenderness and the habits of
As Mrs. Budd chose what she was pleased to term the `middle-watch,'
giving to Jack Tier and Rose her `dog-watch,' the two last were
first on duty. It is scarcely necessary to say, the captain's widow
got the names of the watches all wrong, as she got the names of
everything else about a vessel; but the plan was to divide the night
equally between these quasi mariners, giving the first half to those
who were first on the look-out, and the remainder to their
successors. It soon became so calm, that Jack left the helm, and
came and sat by Rose, on the trunk, where they conversed
confidentially for a long time. Although the reader will, hereafter,
be enabled to form some plausible conjectures on the subject of this
dialogue, we shall give him no part of it here. All that need now be
said, is to add, that Jack did most of the talking, that his past
life was the principal theme, and that the terrible Stephen Spike,
he from whom they were now so desirous of escaping, was largely
mixed up with the adventures recounted. Jack found in his companion
a deeply interested listener, although this was by no means the
first time they had gone over together the same story and discussed
the same events. The conversation lasted until Tier, who watched the
glass, seeing that its sands had run out for the last time,
announced the hour of midnight. This was the moment when Mulford
should have been called, but when Mrs. Budd and Biddy Noon were
actually awakened in his stead.
"Now, dear aunty," said Rose, as she parted from the new watch to go
and catch a little sleep herself, "remember you are not to awaken
Harry first, but to call Tier and myself. It would have done your
heart good to have seen how sweetly he has been sleeping all this
time. I do not think he has stirred once since his head was laid on
that bunch of sails, and there he is, at this moment, sleeping like
"Yes," returned the relict, "it is always so with your true maritime
people. I have been sleeping a great deal more soundly, the whole of
the dog-watch, than I ever slept at home, in my own excellent bed.
But it's your watch below, Rosy, and contrary to rule for you to
stay on the deck, after you've been relieved. I've heard this a
Rose was not sorry to lie down; and her head was scarcely on its
pillow, in the cabin, before she was fast asleep. As for Jack, he
found a place among Mulford's sails, and was quickly in the same
To own the truth, Mrs. Budd was not quite as much at ease, in her
new station, for the first half hour, as she had fancied to herself
might prove to be the case. It was a flat calm, it is true; but the
widow felt oppressed with responsibility and the novelty of her
situation. Time and again had she said, and even imagined, she
should be delighted to fill the very station she then occupied, or
to be in charge of a deck, in a "middle watch." In this instance,
however, as in so many others, reality did not equal anticipation.
She wished to be doing everything, but did not know how to do
anything. As for Biddy, she was even worse off than her mistress. A
month's experience, or for that matter a twelvemonth's, could not
unravel to her the mysteries of even a schooner's rigging. Mrs. Budd
had placed her "at the wheel," as she called it, though the vessel
had no wheel, being steered by a tiller on deck, in the 'long-shore
fashion. In stationing Biddy, the widow told her that she was to
play "tricks at the wheel," leaving it to the astounded Irish
woman's imagination to discover what those tricks were. Failing in
ascertaining what might be the nature of her "tricks at the wheel,"
Biddy was content to do nothing, and nothing, under the
circumstances, was perhaps the very best thing she could have done.
Little was required to be done for the first four hours of Mrs.
Budd's watch. All that time, Rose slept in her berth, and Mulford
and Jack Tier on their sail, while Biddy had played the wheel a
"trick," indeed, by lying down on deck, and sleeping, too, as
soundly as if she were in the county Down itself. But there was to
be an end of this tranquillity. Suddenly the wind began to blow. At
first, the breeze came in fitful puffs, which were neither very
strong nor very lasting. This induced Mrs. Budd to awaken Biddy.
Luckily, a schooner without a topsail could not very well be taken
aback, especially as the head-sheets worked on travellers, and Mrs.
Budd and her assistant contrived to manage the tiller very well for
the first hour that these varying puffs of wind lasted. It is true,
the tiller was lashed, and it is also true, the schooner ran in all
directions, having actually headed to all the cardinal points of the
compass, under her present management. At length, Mrs. Budd became
alarmed. A puff of wind came so strong, as to cause the vessel to
lie over so far as to bring the water into the lee scuppers. She
called Jack Tier herself, therefore, and sent Biddy down to awaken
Rose. In a minute, both these auxiliaries appeared on deck. The wind
just then lulled, and Rose, supposing her aunt was frightened at
trifles, insisted on it that Harry should be permitted to sleep on.
He had turned over once, in the course of the night, but not once
had he raised his head from his pillow.
As soon as reinforced, Mrs. Budd began to bustle about, and to give
commands, such as they were, in order to prove that she was
unterrified. Jack Tier gaped at her elbow, and by way of something
to do, he laid his hand on the painter of the Swash's boat, which
boat was towing astern, and remarked that "some know-nothing had
belayed it with three half-hitches." This was enough for the relict.
She had often heard the saying that "three half-hitches lost the
king's long-boat," and she busied herself, at once, in repairing so
imminent an evil. It was far easier for the good woman to talk than
to act; she became what is called "all fingers and thumbs," and in
loosening the third half-hitch, she cast off the two others. At that
instant, a puff of wind struck the schooner again, and the end of
the painter got away from the widow, who had a last glimpse at the
boat, as the vessel darted ahead, leaving its little tender to
vanish in the gloom of the night.
Jack was excessively provoked at this accident, for he had foreseen
the possibility of having recourse to that boat yet, in order to
escape from Spike. By abandoning the schooner, and pulling on to the
reef, it might have been possible to get out of their pursuer's
hands, when all other means should fail them. As he was at the
tiller, he put his helm up, and ran off, until far enough to leeward
to be to the westward of the boat, when he might tack, fetch and
recover it. Nevertheless, it now blew much harder than he liked, for
the schooner seemed to be unusually tender. Had he had the force to
do it, he would have brailed the foresail. He desired Rose to call
Mulford, but she hesitated about complying.
"Call him--call the mate, I say," cried out Jack, in a voice that
proved how much he was in earnest. "These puffs come heavy, I can
tell you, and they come often, too. Call him--call him, at once,
Miss Rose, for it is time to tack if we wish to recover the boat.
Tell him, too, to brail the foresail, while we are in stays--that's
right; another call will start him up."
The other call was given, aided by a gentle shake from Rose's hand.
Harry was on his feet in a moment. A passing instant was necessary
to clear his faculties, and to recover the tenor of his thoughts.
During that instant, the mate heard Jack Tier's shrill cry of "Hard
a-lee--get in that foresail--bear a-hand--in with it, I say!"
The wind came rushing and roaring, and the flaps of the canvas were
violent and heavy.
"In with the foresail, I say," shouted Jack Tier. "She files round
like a top, and will be off the wind on the other tack presently.
Bear a-hand!--bear a-hand! It looks black as night to windward."
Mulford then regained all his powers. He sprang to the fore-sheet,
calling on the others for aid. The violent surges produced by the
wind prevented his grasping the sheet as soon as he could wish, and
the vessel whirled round on her heel, like a steed that is
frightened. At that critical and dangerous instant, when the
schooner was nearly without motion through the water, a squall
struck the flattened sails, and bowed her down as the willow bends
to the gale. Mrs. Budd and Biddy screamed as usual, and Jack shouted
until his voice seemed cracked, to "let go the head-sheets." Mulford
did make one leap forward, to execute this necessary office, when
the inclining plane of the deck told him it was too late. The wind
fairly howled for a minute, and over went the schooner, the remains
of her cargo shifting as she capsized, in a way to bring her very
nearly bottom upward.
1. We suppress the names used by Mrs. Budd, out of delicacy to the
individuals mentioned, who are still living.
Ay, fare you well, fair gentleman.
As You Like it.
While the tyro believes the vessel is about to capsize at every puff
of wind, the practised seaman alone knows when danger truly besets
him in this particular form. Thus it was with Harry Mulford, when
the Mexican schooner went over, as related in the close of the
preceding chapter. He felt no alarm until the danger actually came.
Then, indeed, no one there was so quickly, or so thoroughly apprized
of what the result would be, and he directed all his exertions to
meet the exigency. While there was the smallest hope of success, he
did not lessen, in the least, his endeavours to save the vessel;
making almost superhuman efforts to cast off the fore-sheet, so as
to relieve the schooner from the pressure of one of her sails. But,
no sooner did he hear the barrels in the hold surging to leeward,
and feel by the inclination of the deck beneath his feet, that
nothing could save the craft, than he abandoned the sheet, and
sprang to the assistance of Rose. It was time he did; for, having
followed him into the vessel's lee-waist, she was the first to be
submerged in the sea, and would have been hopelessly drowned, but
for Mulford's timely succour. Women might swim more readily than
men, and do so swim, in those portions of the world where the laws
of nature are not counteracted by human conventions. Rose Budd,
however, had received the vicious education which civilized society
inflicts on her sex, and, as a matter of course, was totally
helpless in an element in which it was the design of Divine
Providence she should possess the common means of sustaining
herself, like every other being endued with animal life. Not so with
Mulford: he swam with ease and force, and had no difficulty in
sustaining Rose until the schooner had settled into her new berth,
or in hauling her on the vessel's bottom immediately after.
Luckily, there was no swell, or so little as not to endanger those
who were on the schooner's bilge; and Mulford had no sooner placed
her in momentary safety at least, whom he prized far higher than his
own life, than he bethought him of his other companions. Jack Tier
had hauled himself up to windward by the rope that steadied the
tiller, and he had called on Mrs. Budd to imitate his example. It
was so natural for even a woman to grasp anything like a rope at
such a moment, that the widow instinctively obeyed, while Biddy
seized, at random, the first thing of the sort that offered. Owing
to these fortunate chances, Jack and Mrs. Budd succeeded in reaching
the quarter of the schooner, the former actually getting up on the
bottom of the wreck, on to which he was enabled to float the widow,
who was almost as buoyant as cork, as indeed was the case with Jack
himself. All the stern and bows of the vessel were under water, in
consequence of her leanness forward and aft; but though submerged,
she offered a precarious footing, even in these extremities, to such
as could reach them. On the other hand, the place where Rose stood,
or the bilge of the vessel, was two or three feet above the surface
of the sea, though slippery and inclining in shape.
It was not half a minute from the time that Mulford sprang to Rose's
succour, ere he had her on the vessel's bottom. In another half
minute, he had waded down on the schooner's counter, where Jack Tier
was lustily calling to him for "help!" and assisted the widow to her
feet, and supported her until she stood at Rose's side. Leaving the
last in her aunt's arms, half distracted between dread and joy, he
turned to the assistance of Biddy. The rope at which the Irish woman
had caught, was a straggling end that had been made fast to the main
channels of the schooner, for the support of a fender, and had been
hauled partly in-board to keep it out of the water. Biddy had found
no difficulty in dragging herself up to the chains, therefore; and
had she been content to sustain herself by the rope, leaving as much
of her body submerged as comported with breathing, her task would
have been easy. But, like most persons who do not know how to swim,
the good woman was fast exhausting her strength, by vain efforts to
walk on the surface of an element that was never made to sustain
her. Unpractised persons, in such situations, cannot be taught to
believe that their greatest safety is in leaving as much of their
bodies as possible beneath the water, keeping the mouth and nose
alone free for breath. But we have seen even instances in which men,
who were in danger of drowning, seemed to believe it might be
possible for them to craw! over the waves on their hands and knees.
The philosophy of the contrary course is so very simple, that one
would fancy a very child might be made to comprehend it; yet, it is
rare to find one unaccustomed to the water, and who is suddenly
exposed to its dangers, that does not resort, under the pressure of
present alarm, to the very reverse of the true means to save his or
Mulford had no difficulty in finding Bridget, whose exclamations of
"murther!" "help!" "he-l-lup!" "Jasus!" and other similar cries, led
him directly to the spot, where she was fast drowning herself by her
own senseless struggles. Seizing her by the arm, the active young
mate soon placed her on her feet, though her cries did not cease
until she was ordered by her mistress to keep silence.
Having thus rescued the whole of his companions from immediate
danger, Mulford began to think of the future. He was seized with
sudden surprise that the vessel did not sink, and for a minute he
was unable to account for the unusual fact. On the former occasion,
the schooner had gone down almost as soon as she fell over; but now
she floated with so much buoyancy as to leave most of her keel and
all of her bilge on one side quite clear of the water. As one of the
main hatches was off, and the cabin-doors, and booby-hatch doors
forward were open, and all were under water, it required a little
reflection on the part of Mulford to understand on what circumstance
all their lives now depended. The mate soon ascertained the truth,
however, and we may as well explain it to the reader in our own
fashion, in order to put him on a level with the young seaman.
The puff of wind, or little squall, had struck the schooner at the
most unfavourable moment for her safety. She had just lost her way
in tacking, and the hull not moving ahead, as happens when a craft
is thus assailed with the motion on her, all the power of the wind
was expended in the direction necessary to capsize her. Another
disadvantage arose from the want of motion. The rudder, which acts
solely by pressing against the water as the vessel meets it, was
useless, and it was not possible to luff, and throw the wind from
the sails, as is usually practised by fore-and-aft rigged craft, in
moments of such peril. In consequence of these united difficulties,
the shifting of the cargo in the hold, the tenderness of the craft
itself, and the force of the squall, the schooner had gone so far
over as to carry all three of the openings to her interior suddenly
under water, where they remained, held by the pressure of the cargo
that had rolled to leeward. Had not the water completely covered
these openings, or hatches, the schooner must have sunk in a minute
or two, or by the time Mulford had got all his companions safe on
her bilge. But they were completely submerged, and so continued to
be, which circumstance alone prevented the vessel from sinking, as
the following simple explanation will show.
Any person who will put an empty tumbler, bottom upwards, into a
bucket of water, will find that the water will not rise within the
tumbler more than an inch at most. At that point it is arrested by
the resistance of the air, which, unable to escape, and compressed
into a narrow compass, forms a body that the other fluid cannot
penetrate. It is on this simple and familiar principle, that the
chemist keeps his gases, in inverted glasses, placing them on
shelves, slightly submerged in water. Thus it was, then, that the
schooner continued to float, though nearly bottom upward, and with
three inlets open, by which the water could and did penetrate. A
considerable quantity of the element had rushed in at the instant of
capsizing, but meeting with resistance from the compressed and pent
air, its progress had been arrested, and the wreck continued to
float, sustained by the buoyancy that was imparted to it, in
containing so large a body of a substance no heavier than
atmospheric air. After displacing its weight of water, enough of
buoyancy remained to raise the keel a few feet above the level of
As soon as Mulford had ascertained the facts of their situation, he
communicated them to his companions, encouraging them to hope for
eventual safety. It was true, their situation was nearly desperate,
admitting that the wreck should continue to float for ever, since
they were almost without food, or anything to drink, and had no
means of urging the hull through the water. They must float, too, at
the mercy of the winds and waves, and should a sea get up, it might
soon be impossible for Mulford himself to maintain his footing on
the bottom of the wreck. All this the young man had dimly shadowed
forth to him, through his professional experience; but the certainty
of the vessel's not sinking immediately had so far revived his
spirits, as to cause him to look on the bright side of the future,
pale as that glimmering of hope was made to appear whenever reason
cast one of its severe glances athwart it.
Harry had no difficulty in making Rose comprehend their precise
situation. Her active and clear mind understood at once the causes
of their present preservation, and most of the hazards of the
future. It was not so with Jack Tier. He was composed, even
resigned; but he could not see the reason why the schooner still
"I know that the cabin-doors were open," he said, "and if they
wasn't, of no great matter would it be, since the joints ar'n't
caulked, and the water would run through them as through a sieve.
I'm afeard, Mr. Mulford, we shall find the wreck going from under
our feet afore long, and when we least wish it, perhaps."
"I tell you the wreck will float so long as the air remains in its
hold," returned the mate, cheerfully. "Do you not see how buoyant it
is?--the certain proof that there is plenty of air within. So long
as that remains, the hull must float."
"I've always understood," said Jack, sticking to his opinion, "that
wessels floats by vartue of water, and not by vartue of air; and,
that when the water gets on the wrong side on 'em, there's little
hope left of keepin' 'em up."
"What has become of the boat?" suddenly cried the mate. "I have been
so much occupied as to have forgotten the boat. In that boat we
might all of us still reach Key West. I see nothing of the boat!"
A profound silence succeeded this sudden and unexpected question.
All knew that the boat was gone, and all knew that it had been lost
by the widow's pertinacity and clumsiness; but no one felt disposed
to betray her at that grave moment. Mulford left the bilge, and
waded as far aft as it was at all prudent for him to proceed, in the
vain hope that the boat might be there, fastened by its painter to
the schooner's tafferel, as he had left it, but concealed from view
by the darkness of the night. Not finding what he was after, he
returned to his companions, still uttering exclamations of surprise
at the unaccountable loss of the boat. Rose now told him that the
boat had got adrift some ten or fifteen minutes before the accident
befell them, and that they were actually endeavouring to recover it
when the squall which capsized the schooner struck them.
"And why did you not call me, Rose?" asked Harry, with a little of
gentle reproach in his manner. "It must have soon been my watch on
deck, and it would have been better that I should lose half an hour
of my watch below, than that we should lose the boat."
Rose was now obliged to confess that the time for calling him had
long been past, and that the faint streak of light, which was just
appearing in the east, was the near approach of day. This
explanation was made gently, but frankly; and Mulford experienced a
glow of pleasure at his heart, even in that moment of jeopardy, when
he understood Rose's motive for not having him disturbed. As the
boat was gone, with little or no prospect of its being recovered
again, no more was said about it; and the window, who had stood on
thorns the while, had the relief of believing that her awkwardness
It was such a relief from an imminent danger to have escaped from
drowning when the schooner capsized, that those on her bottom did
not, for some little time, realize all the terrors of their actual
situation. The inconvenience of being wet was a trifle not to be
thought of, and, in fact, the light summer dresses worn by all,
linen or cotton as they were entirely, were soon effectually dried
in the wind. The keel made a tolerably convenient seat, and the
whole party placed themselves on it to await the return of day, in
order to obtain a view of all that their situation offered in the
way of a prospect. While thus awaiting, a broken and short dialogue
"Had you stood to the northward the whole night?" asked Mulford,
gloomily, of Jack Tier; for gloomily he began to feel, as all the
facts of their case began to press more closely on his mind. "If so,
we must be well off the reef, and out of the track of wreckers and
turtlers. How had you the wind, and how did you head before the
"The wind was light the whole time, and for some hours it was nearly
calm," answered Jack, in the same vein; "I kept the schooner's head
to the nor'ard, until I thought we were getting too far off our
course, and then I put her about. I do not think we could have been
any great distance from the reef, when the boat got away from us,
and I suppose we are in its neighbourhood now, for I was tacking to
fall in with the boat when the craft went over."
"To fall in with the boat! Did you keep off to leeward of it, then,
that you expected to fetch it by tacking?"
"Ay, a good bit; and I think the boat is now away here to windward
of us, drifting athwart our bows."
This was important news to Mulford. Could he only get that boat, the
chances of being saved would be increased a hundred fold, nay, would
almost amount to a certainty; whereas, so long as the wind held to
the southward and eastward, the drift of the wreck must be toward
the open water, and consequently so much the further removed from
the means of succor. The general direction of the trades, in that
quarter of the world, is east, and should they get round into their
old and proper quarter, it would not benefit them much; for the reef
running south-west, they could scarcely hope to hit the Dry Tortugas
again, in their drift, were life even spared them sufficiently long
to float the distance. Then there might be currents, about which
Mulford knew nothing with certainty; they might set them in any
direction; and did they exist, as was almost sure to be the case,
were much more powerful than the wind in controlling the movements
of a wreck.
The mate strained his eyes in the direction pointed out by Jack
Tier, in the hope of discovering the boat through the haze of the
morning, and he actually did discern something that, it appeared to
him, might be the much desired little craft. If he were right, there
was every reason to think the boat would drift down so near them as
to enable him to recover it by swimming. This cheering intelligence
was communicated to his companions, who received it with gratitude
and delight. But the approach of day gradually dispelled that hope,
the object which Mulford had mistaken for the boat, within two
hundred yards of the wreck, turning out to be a small, low, but bare
hummock of the reef, at a distance of more than two miles.
"That is a proof that we are not far from the reef, at least," cried
Mulford, willing to encourage those around him all he could, and
really much relieved at finding himself so near even this isolated
fragment of terra firma. "This fact is the next encouraging thing to
finding ourselves near the boat, or to falling in with a sail."
"Ay, ay," said Jack, gloomily; "boat or no boat, 't will make no
great matter of difference now. There's customers that'll be sartain
to take all the grists you can send to their mill."
"What things are those glancing about the vessel?" cried Rose,
almost in the same breath; "those dark, sharp-looking sticks--see,
there are five or six of them! and they move as if fastened to
something under the water that pulls them about."
"Them's the customers I mean, Miss Rose," answered Jack, in the same
strain as that in which he had first spoken; "they're the same thing
at sea as lawyers be ashore, and seem made to live on other folks.
"And yonder is truly the boat!" added Mulford, with a sigh that
almost amounted to a groan. The light had, by this time, so far
returned as to enable the party not only to see the fins of half a
dozen sharks, which were already prowling about the wreck, the
almost necessary consequence of their proximity to a reef in that
latitude, but actually to discern the boat drifting down toward
them, at a distance that promised to carry it past, within the reach
of Mulford's powers of swimming, though not as near as he could have
wished, even under more favourable circumstances. Had their
extremity been greater, or had Rose begun to suffer from hunger or
thirst, Mulford might have attempted the experiment of endeavoring
to regain the boat, though the chances of death by means of the
sharks would be more than equal to those of escape; but still fresh,
and not yet feeling even the heat of the sun of that low latitude,
he was not quite goaded into such an act of desperation. All that
remained for the party, therefore, was to sit on the keel of the
wreck, and gaze with longing eyes at a little object floating past,
which, once at their command, might so readily be made to save them
from a fate that already began to appear terrible in the
perspective. Near an hour was thus consumed, ere the boat was about
half a mile to leeward; during which scarcely an eye was turned from
it for one instant, or a word was spoken.
"It is beyond my reach now," Mulford at length exclaimed, sighing
heavily, like one who became conscious of some great and
irretrievable loss. "Were there no sharks, I could hardly venture to
attempt swimming so far, with the boat drifting from me at the same
"I should never consent to let you make the trial, Harry," murmured
Rose, "though it were only half as far."
Another pause succeeded.
"We have now the light of day," resumed the mate, a minute or two
later, "and may see our true situation. No sail is in sight, and the
wind stands steadily in its old quarter. Still I do not think we
leave the reef. There, you may see breakers off here at the
southward, and it seems as if more rocks rise above the sea, in that
direction. I do not know that our situation would be any the better,
however, were we actually on them, instead of being on this floating
"The rocks will never sink," said Jack Tier, with so much emphasis
as to startle the listeners.
"I do not think this hull will sink until we are taken off it, or
are beyond caring whether it sink or swim," returned Mulford.
"I do not know that, Mr. Mulford. Nothing keeps us up but the air in
the hold, you say."
"Certainly not; but that air will suffice as long as it remains
"And what do you call these things?" rejoined the assistant steward,
pointing at the water near him, in or on which no one else saw
anything worthy of attention.
Mulford, however, was not satisfied with a cursory glance, but went
nearer to the spot where Tier was standing. Then, indeed, he saw to
what the steward alluded, and was impressed by it, though he said
nothing. Hundreds of little bubbles rose to the surface of the
water, much as one sees them rising in springs. These bubbles are
often met with in lakes and other comparatively shallow waters, but
they are rarely seen in those of the ocean. The mate understood, at
a glance, that those he now beheld were produced by the air which
escaped from the hold of the wreck; in small quantities at a time,
it was true, but by a constant and increasing process. The great
pressure of the water forced this air through crevices so minute
that, under ordinary circumstances, they would have proved
impenetrable to this, as they were still to the other fluid, though
they now permitted the passage of the former. It might take a long
time to force the air from the interior of the vessel by such means,
but the result was as certain as it might be slow. As constant
dropping will wear a stone, so might the power that kept the wreck
afloat be exhausted by the ceaseless rising of these minute
Although Mulford was entirely sensible of the nature of this new
source of danger, we cannot say he was much affected by it at the
moment. It seemed to him far more probable that they must die of
exhaustion, long before the wreck would lose all of its buoyancy by
this slow process, than that even the strongest of their number
could survive for such a period. The new danger, therefore, lost
most of its terrors under this view of the subject, though it
certainly did not add to the small sense of security that remained,
to know that inevitably their fate must be sealed through its
agency, should they be able to hold out for a sufficient time
against hunger and thirst. It caused Mulford to muse in silence for
many more minutes.
"I hope we are not altogether without food," the mate at length
said. "It sometimes happens that persons at sea carry pieces of
biscuit in their pockets, especially those who keep watch at night.
The smallest morsel is now of the last importance."
At this suggestion, every one set about an examination. The result
was, that neither Mrs. Budd nor Rose had a particle of food, of any
sort, about their persons. Biddy produced from her pockets, however,
a whole biscuit, a large bunch of excellent raisins that she had
filched from the steward's stores, and two apples,--the last being
the remains of some fruit that Spike had procured a month earlier in
New York. Mulford had half a biscuit, at which he had been
accustomed to nibble in his watches; and Jack lugged out, along with
a small plug of tobacco, a couple of sweet oranges. Here, then, was
everything in the shape of victuals or drink, that could be found
for the use of five persons, in all probability for many days. The
importance of securing it for equal distribution, was so obvious,
that Mulford's proposal to do so met with a common assent. The whole
was put in Mrs. Budd's bag, and she was intrusted with the keeping
of this precious store.
"It may be harder to abstain from food at first, when we have not
suffered from its want, than it will become after a little
endurance," said the mate. "We are now strong, and it will be wiser
to fast as long as we conveniently can, to-day, and relieve our
hunger by a moderate allowance toward evening, than to waste our
means by too much indulgence at a time when we are strong. Weakness
will be sure to come if we remain long on the wreck."
"Have you ever suffered in this way, Harry?" demanded Rose, with
"I have, and that dreadfully. But a merciful Providence came to my
rescue then, and it may not fail me now. The seaman is accustomed to
carry his life in his hand, and to live on the edge of eternity."
The truth of this was so apparent as to produce a thoughtful
silence. Anxious glances were cast around the horizon from time to
time, in quest of any sail that might come in sight, but uselessly.
None appeared, and the day advanced without bringing the slightest
prospect of relief. Mulford could see, by the now almost sunken
hummocks, that they were slowly drifting along the reef, toward the
southward and eastward, a current no doubt acting slightly from the
north-west. Their proximity to the reef, however, was of no
advantage, as the distance was still so great as to render any
attempt to reach it, even on the part of the mate, unavailable. Nor
would he have been any better off could he have gained a spot on the
rocks that was shallow enough to admit of his walking, since wading
about in such a place would have been less desirable than to be
floating where he was.
The want of water to drink threatened to be the great evil. Of this,
the party on the wreck had not a single drop! As the warmth of the
day was added to the feverish feeling produced by excitement, they
all experienced thirst, though no one murmured. So utterly without
means of relieving this necessity did each person know them all to
be, that no one spoke on the subject at all. In fact, shipwreck
never produced a more complete destitution of all the ordinary
agents of helping themselves, in any form or manner, than was the
case here. So sudden and complete had been the disaster, that not a
single article, beyond those on the persons of the sufferers, came
even in view. The masts, sails, rigging, spare spars, in a word,
everything belonging to the vessel was submerged and hidden from
their sight, with the exception of a portion of the vessel's bottom,
which might be forty feet in length, and some ten or fifteen in
width, including that which was above water on both sides of the
keel, though one only of these sides was available to the females,
as a place to move about on. Had Mulford only a boat-hook, he would
have felt it a relief; for not only did the sharks increase in
number, but they grew more audacious, swimming so near the wreck
that, more than once, Mulford apprehended that some one of the
boldest of them might make an effort literally to board them. It is
true, he had never known of one of these fishes attempting to quit
his own element in pursuit of his prey; but such things were
reported, and those around the wreck swam so close, and seemed so
eager to get at those who were on it, that there really might be
some excuse for fancying they might resort to unusual means of
effecting their object. It is probable that, like all other animals,
they were emboldened by their own numbers, and were acting in a sort
of concert, that was governed by some of the many mysterious laws of
nature that have still escaped human observation.
Thus passed the earlier hours of that appalling day. Toward noon,
Mulford had insisted on the females dividing one of the oranges
between them, and extracting its juice by way of assuaging their
thirst. The effect was most grateful, as all admitted, and even Mrs.
Budd urged Harry and Tier to take a portion of the remaining orange;
but this both steadily refused. Mulford did consent to receive a
small portion of one of the apples, more with a view of moistening
his throat than to appease his hunger, though it had, in a slight
degree, the latter effect also. As for Jack Tier, he declined even
the morsel of apple, saying that tobacco answered his purpose, as
indeed it temporarily might.
It was near sunset, when the steward's assistant called Mulford
aside, and whispered to him that he had something private to
communicate. The mate bade him say on, as they were out of ear-shot
of their companions.
"I've been in sitiations like this afore," said Jack, "and one
l'arns exper'ence by exper'ence. I know how cruel it is on the
feelin's to have the hopes disapp'inted in these cases, and
therefore shall proceed with caution. But, Mr. Mulford, there's a
sail in sight, if there is a drop of water in the Gulf!"
"A sail, Jack! I trust in Heaven you are not deceived!"
"Old eyes are true eyes in such matters, sir. Be careful not to
start the women. They go off like gunpowder, and, Lord help 'em!
have no more command over themselves, when you loosen 'em once, than
so many flying-fish with a dozen dolphins a'ter them. Look hereaway,
sir, just clear of the Irishwoman's bonnet, a little broad off the
spot where the reef was last seen--if that an't a sail, my flame is
not Jack Tier."
A sail there was, sure enough! It was so very distant, however, as
to render its character still uncertain, though Mulford fancied it
was a square-rigged vessel heading to the northward. By its
position, it must be in one of the channels of the reef, and by its
course, if he were not deceived, it was standing through, from the
main passage along the southern side of the rocks, to come out on
the northern. All this was favourable, and at first the young mate
felt such a throbbing of the heart as we all experience when great
and unexpected good intelligence is received. A moment's reflection,
however, made him aware how little was to be hoped for from this
vessel. In the first place, her distance was so great as to render
it uncertain even which way she was steering. Then, there was the
probability that she would pass at so great a distance as to render
it impossible to perceive an object as low as the wreck, and the
additional chance of her passing in the night. Under all the
circumstances, therefore, Mulford felt convinced that there was very
little probability of their receiving any succour from the strange
sail; and he fully appreciated Jack Tier's motive in forbearing to
give the usual call of "Sail, ho!" when he made this discovery.
Still, he could not deny himself the pleasure of communicating to
Rose the cheering fact that a vessel was actually in sight. She
could not reason on the circumstances as he had done, and might at
least pass several hours of comparative happiness by believing that
there was some visible chance of delivery.
The females received the intelligence with very different degrees of
hope. Rose was delighted. To her their rescue appeared an event so
very probable now, that Harry Mulford almost regretted he had given
rise to an expectation which he himself feared was to be
disappointed. The feelings of Mrs. Budd were more suppressed. The
wreck and her present situation were so completely at variance with
all her former notions of the sea and its incidents, that she was
almost dumb-founded, and feared either to speak or to think. Biddy
differed from either of her mistresses--the young or the old; she
appeared to have lost all hope, and her physical energy was fast
giving way under her profound moral debility.
From the return of light that day, Mulford had thought, if it were
to prove that Providence had withdrawn its protecting hand from
them, Biddy, who to all appearance ought to be the longest liver
among the females at least, would be the first to sink under her
sufferings. Such is the influence of moral causes on the mere
Rose saw the night shut in around them, amid the solemn solitude of
the ocean, with a mingled sensation of awe and hope. She had prayed
devoutly, and often, in the course of the preceding day, and her
devotions had contributed to calm her spirits. Once or twice, while
kneeling with her head bowed to the keel, she had raised her eyes
toward Harry with a look of entreaty, as if she would implore him to
humble his proud spirit and place himself at her side, and ask that
succour from God which was so much needed, and which indeed it began
most seriously to appear that God alone could yield. The young mate
did not comply, for his pride of profession and of manhood offered
themselves as stumbling-blocks to prevent submission to his secret
wishes. Though he rarely prayed, Harry Mulford was far from being an
unbeliever, or one altogether regardless of his duties and
obligations to his Divine Creator. On the contrary, his heart was
more disposed to resort to such means of self-abasement and
submission, than he put in practice, and this because he had been
taught to believe that the Anglo-Saxon mariner did not call on
Hercules, on every occasion of difficulty and distress that
occurred, as was the fashion with the Italian and Romish seamen, but
he put his own shoulder to the wheel, confident that Hercules would
not forget to help him who knew how to help himself. But Harry had
great difficulty in withstanding Rose's silent appeal that evening,
as she knelt at the keel for the last time, and turned her gentle
eyes upward at him, as if to ask him once more to take his place at
her side. Withstand the appeal he did, however, though in his inward
spirit he prayed fervently to God to put away this dreadful
affliction from the young and innocent creature before him. When
these evening devotions were ended, the whole party became
thoughtful and silent.
It was necessary to sleep, and arrangements were made to do so, if
possible, with a proper regard for their security. Mulford and Tier
were to have the look-out, watch and watch. This was done that no
vessel might pass near them unseen, and that any change in the
weather might be noted and looked to. As it was, the wind had
fallen, and seemed about to vary, though it yet stood in its old
quarter, or a little more easterly, perhaps. As a consequence, the
drift of the wreck, insomuch as it depended on the currents of the
air, was more nearly in a line with the direction of the reef, and
there was little ground for apprehending that they might be driven
further from it in the night. Although that reef offered in reality
no place of safety, that was available to his party, Mulford felt it
as a sort of relief, to be certain that it was not distant, possibly
influenced by a vague hope that some passing wrecker or turtler
might yet pick them up.
The bottom of the schooner and the destitute condition of the party
admitted of only very simple arrangements for the night. The females
placed themselves against the keel in the best manner they could,
and thus endeavoured to get a little of the rest they so much
needed. The day had been warm, as a matter of course, and the
contrast produced by the setting of the sun was at first rather
agreeable than otherwise. Luckily Rose had thrown a shawl over her
shoulders, not long before the vessel capsized, and in this shawl
she had been saved. It had been dried, and it now served for a light
covering to herself and her aunt, and added essentially to their
comfort. As for Biddy, she was too hardy to need a shawl, and she
protested that she should not think of using one, had she been
better provided. The patient, meek manner in which that humble, but
generous-hearted creature submitted to her fate, and the earnestness
with which she had begged that "Miss Rosy" might have her morsel of
the portion of biscuit each received for a supper, had sensibly
impressed Mulford in her favour; and knowing how much more necessary
food was to sustain one of her robust frame and sturdy habits, than
to Rose, he had contrived to give the woman, unknown to herself, a
double allowance. Nor was it surprising that Biddy did not detect
this little act of fraud in her favour, for this double allowance
was merely a single mouthful. The want of water had made itself much
more keenly felt than the want of food, for as yet anxiety,
excitement and apprehension prevented the appetite from being much
awakened, while the claims of thirst were increased rather than the
reverse, by these very causes. Still, no one had complained, on this
or any other account, throughout the whole of the long and weary day
which had passed.
Mulford took the first look-out, with the intention of catching a
little sleep, if possible, during the middle hours of the night, and
of returning to his duty as morning approached. For the first hour
nothing occurred to divert his attention from brooding on the
melancholy circumstances of their situation. It seemed as if all
around him had actually lost the sense of their cares in sleep, and
no sound was audible amid that ocean waste, but the light washing of
the water, as the gentle waves rolled at intervals against the
weather side of the wreck. It was now that Mulford found a moment
for prayer, and seated on the keel, that he called on the Divine
aid, in a fervent but silent petition to God, to put away this trial
from the youthful and beautiful Rose, at least, though he himself
perished. It was the first prayer that Mulford had made in many
months, or since he had joined the Swash--a craft in which that duty
was very seldom thought of.
A few minutes succeeded this petition, when Biddy spoke.
"Missus--Madam Budd--dear Missus"--half whispered the Irish woman,
anxious not to disturb Rose, who lay furthest from her--"Missus,
bees ye asleep at sich a time as this?"
"No, Biddy; sleep and I are strangers to each other, and are likely
to be till morning. What do you wish to say?"
"Anything is better than my own t'oughts, missus dear, and I wants
to talk to ye. Is it no wather at all they'll give us so long as we
stay in this place?"
"There is no one to give it to us but God, poor Biddy, and he alone
can say what, in his gracious mercy, it may please him to do. Ah!
Biddy, I fear me that I did an unwise and thoughtless thing, to
bring my poor Rose to such a place as this. Were it to be done over
again, the riches of Wall Street would not tempt me to be guilty of
so wrong a thing!"
The arm of Rose was thrown around her aunt's neck, and its gentle
pressure announced how completely the offender was forgiven.
"I's very sorry for Miss Rose," rejoined Biddy "and I suffers so
much the more meself in thinking how hard it must be for the like of
her to be wantin' in a swallow of fresh wather."
"It is no harder for me to bear it, poor Biddy," answered the gentle
voice of our heroine, "than it is for yourself."
"Is it meself then? Sure am I, that if I had a quar-r-t of good,
swate wather from our own pump, and that's far betther is it than
the Crothon the best day the Crothon ever seed--but had I a quar-r-t
of it, every dhrap would I give to you, Miss Rose, to app'ase your
thirst, I would."
"Water would be a great relief to us all, just now, my excellent
Biddy," answered Rose, "and I wish we had but a tumbler full of that
you name, to divide equally among the whole five of us."
"Is it divide? Then it would be ag'in dividin' that my voice would
be raised, for that same ra'son that the tumbler would never hold as
much as you could dhrink yourself, Miss Rose."
"Yet the tumbler full would be a great blessing for us all, just
now," murmured Mrs. Budd.
"And is n't mutthon good 'atin', ladies! Och! if I had but a good
swate pratie, now, from my own native Ireland, and a dhrap of milk
to help wash it down! It's mighty little that a body thinks of sich
thrifles when there's abundance of them; but when there's none at
all, they get to be stronger in the mind than riches and honours."
"You say the truth, Biddy," rejoined the mistress, "and there is a
pleasure in talking of them, if one can't enjoy them. I've been
thinking all the afternoon, Rose, what a delicious food is a good
roast turkey, with cranberry sauce; and I wonder, now, that I have
not been more grateful for the very many that Providence has
bestowed on me in my time. My poor Mr. Budd was passionately fond of
mutton, and I used wickedly to laugh at his fondness for it,
sometimes, when he always had his answer ready, and that was that
there are no sheep at sea. How true that is, Rosy dear! there are
indeed no sheep at sea!"
"No, aunty," answered Rose's gentle voice from beneath the
shawl;--"there are no such animals on the ocean, but God is with us
here as much as he would be in New York."
A long silence succeeded this simple remark of his well beloved, and
the young mate hoped that there would be no more of a dialogue,
every syllable of which was a dagger to his feelings. But nature was
stronger than reflection in Mrs. Budd and Biddy, and the latter
spoke again, after a pause of near a quarter of an hour.
"Pray for me, Missus," she said, moaningly, "that I may sleep. A bit
of sleep would do a body almost as much good as a bit of bread--I
won't say as much as a dhrap of wather."
"Be quiet, Biddy, and we will pray for you," answered Rose, who
fancied by her breathing that her aunt was about to forget her
sufferings for a brief space, in broken slumbers.
"Is it for you I'll do that--and sure will I, Miss Rose. Niver would
I have quitted Ireland, could I have thought there was sich a spot
on this earth as a place where no wather was to be had."
This was the last of Biddy's audible complaints, for the remainder
of this long and anxious watch of Mulford. He then set himself about
an arrangement which shall be mentioned in its proper place. At
twelve o'clock, or when he thought it was twelve, he called Jack
Tier, who in turn called the mate again at four.
"It looks dark and threatening," said Mulford, as he rose to his
feet and began to look about him once more, "though there does not
appear to be any wind."
"It's a flat calm, Mr. Mate, and the darkness comes from yonder
cloud, which seems likely to bring a little rain."
"Rain! Then God is indeed with us here. You are right, Jack; rain
must fall from that cloud. We must catch some of it, if it be only a
drop to cool Rose's parched tongue."
"In what?" answered Tier, gloomily. "She may wring her clothes when
the shower is over, and in that way get a drop. I see no other
"I have bethought me of all that, and passed most of my watch in
making the preparations."
Mulford then showed Tier what he had been about, in the long and
solitary hours of the first watch. It would seem that the young man
had dug a little trench with his knife, along the schooner's bottom,
commencing two or three feet from the keel, and near the spot where
Rose was lying, and carrying it as far as was convenient toward the
run, until he reached a point where he had dug out a sort of
reservoir to contain the precious fluid, should any be sent them by
Providence. While doing this, there were no signs of rain; but the
young man knew that a shower alone could save them from insanity, if
not from death; and in speculating on the means of profiting by one,
should it come, he had bethought him of this expedient. The large
knife of a seaman had served him a good turn, in carrying on his
work, to complete which there remained now very little to do, and
that was in enlarging the receptacle for the water. The hole was
already big enough to contain a pint, and it might easily be
sufficiently enlarged to hold double that quantity.
Jack was no sooner made acquainted with what had been done, than he
out knife and commenced tearing splinter after splinter from the
planks, to help enlarge the reservoir. This could only be done by
cutting on the surface, for the wood was not three inches in
thickness, and the smallest hole through the plank, would have led
to the rapid escape of the air and to the certain sinking of the
wreck. It required a good deal of judgment to preserve the necessary
level also, and Mulford was obliged to interfere more than once to
prevent his companion from doing more harm than good. He succeeded,
however, and had actually made a cavity that might contain more than
a quart of water, when the first large drop fell from the heavens.
This cavity was not a hole, but a long, deep trench--deep for the
circumstances--so nicely cut on the proper level, as to admit of its
holding a fluid in the quantity mentioned.
"Rose--dearest--rise, and be ready to drink," said Mulford, tenderly
disturbing the uneasy slumbers of his beloved. "It is about to rain,
and God is with us here, as he might be on the land."
"Wather!" exclaimed Biddy, who was awoke with the same call. "What a
blessed thing is good swate wather, and sure am I we ought all to be
thankful that there is such a precious gift in the wor-r-ld."
"Come, then," said Mulford, hurriedly, "it will soon rain--I hear it
pattering on the sea. Come hither, all of you, and drink, as a
merciful God furnishes the means."
This summons was not likely to be neglected. All arose in haste, and
the word "water" was murmured from every lip. Biddy had less
self-command than the others, and she was heard saying aloud,--"Och!
and did n't I dhrame of the blessed springs and wells of Ireland the
night, and haven't I dhrunk at 'em all? but now it's over, and I am
awake, no good has't done me, and I'm ready to die for one dhrap of
That drop soon came, however, and with it the blessed relief which
such a boon bestows. Mulford had barely time to explain his
arrangements, and to place the party on their knees, along his
little reservoir and the gutter which led to it, when the pattering
of the rain advanced along the sea, with a deep rushing sound.
Presently, the uplifted faces and open mouths caught a few heavy
straggling drops, to cool the parched tongues, when the water came
tumbling down upon them in a thousand little streams. There was
scarcely any wind, and merely the skirt of a large black cloud
floated over the wreck, on which the rain fell barely one minute.
But it fell as rain comes down within the tropics, and in sufficient
quantities for all present purposes. Everybody drank, and found
relief, and, when all was over, Mulford ascertained by examination
that his receptacle for the fluid was still full to overflowing. The
abstinence had not been of sufficient length, nor the quantity taken
of large enough amount, to produce injury, though the thirst was
generally and temporarily appeased. It is probable that the coolness
of the hour, day dawning as the cloud moved past, and the
circumstance that the sufferers were wetted to their skins,
contributed to the change.
"Oh, blessed, blessed wather!" exclaimed Biddy, as she rose from her
knees; "America, afther all, isn't as dhry a country as some say.
I've niver tasted swater wather in Ireland itself!"
Rose murmured her thanksgiving in more appropriate language. A few
exclamations also escaped Mrs. Budd, and Jack Tier had his
sententious eulogy on the precious qualities of sweet water.
The wind rose as the day advanced, and a swell began to heave the
wreck with a power that had hitherto been dormant. Mulford
understood this to be a sign that there had been a blow at some
distance from them, that had thrown the sea into a state of
agitation, which extended itself beyond the influence of the wind.
Eagerly did the young mate examine the horizon, as the curtain of
night arose, inch by inch, as it might be, on the watery panorama,
in the hope that a vessel of some sort or other might be brought
within the view. Nor was he wholly disappointed. The strange sail
seen the previous evening was actually there; and what was more, so
near as to allow her hull to be distinctly visible. It was a ship,
under her square canvas, standing from between divided portions of
the reef, as if getting to the northward, in order to avoid the
opposing current of the Gulf Stream. Vessels bound to Mobile, New
Orleans, and other ports along the coast of the Republic, in that
quarter of the ocean, often did this; and when the young mate first
caught glimpses of the shadowy outline of this ship, he supposed it
to be some packet, or cotton-droger, standing for her port on the
northern shore. But a few minutes removed the veil, and with it the
error of this notion. A seaman could no longer mistake the craft.
Her length, her square and massive hamper, with the symmetry of her
spars, and the long, straight outline of the hull, left no doubt
that it was a cruiser, with her hammocks unstowed. Mulford now
cheerfully announced to his companions, that the ship they so
plainly saw, scarcely a gun-shot distant from them, was the
sloop-of-war which had already become a sort of an acquaintance.
"If we can succeed in making them see our signal," cried Mulford,
"all will yet be well. Come, Jack, and help me to put abroad this
shawl, the only ensign we can show."
The shawl of Rose was the signal spread. Tier and Mulford stood on
the keel, and holding opposite corners, let the rest of the cloth
blow out with the wind. For near an hour did these two extend their
arms, and try all possible expedients to make their signal
conspicuous. But, unfortunately, the wind blew directly toward the
cruiser, and instead of exposing a surface of any breadth to the
vision of those on board her, it must, at most, have offered little
more than a flitting, waving line.
As the day advanced, sail was made on the cruiser. She had stood
through the passage, in which she had been becalmed most of the
night, under short canvas; but now she threw out fold after fold of
her studding-sails, and moved away to the westward, with the stately
motion of a ship before the wind. No sooner had she got far enough
to the northward of the reef, than she made a deviation from her
course as first seen, turning her stern entirely to the wreck, and
rapidly becoming less and less distinct to the eyes of those who
floated on it.
Mulford saw the hopelessness of their case, as it respected relief
from this vessel; still, he persevered in maintaining his position
on the keel, tossing and waving the shawl, in all the variations
that his ingenuity could devise. He well knew, however, that their
chances of being seen would have been trebled could they have been
ahead instead of astern of the ship. Mariners have few occasions to
look behind them, while a hundred watchful eyes are usually turned
ahead, more especially when running near rocks and shoals. Mrs. Budd
wept like an infant when she saw the sloop-of-war gliding away,
reaching a distance that rendered sight useless, in detecting an
object that floated as low on the water as the wreck. As for Biddy,
unable to control her feelings, the poor creature actually called to
the crew of the departing vessel, as if her voice had the power to
make itself heard, at a distance which already exceeded two leagues.
It was only by means of the earnest remonstrances of Rose, that the
faithful creature could be quieted.
"Why will ye not come to our relaif?" she cried at the top of her
voice. "Here are we, helpless as new-born babies, and ye sailing
away from us in a conthrary way! D'ye not bethink you of the missus,
who is much of a sailor, but not sich a one as to sail on a wrack;
and poor Miss Rose, who is the char-rm and delight of all eyes. Only
come and take off Miss Rose, and lave the rest of us, if ye so
likes; for it's a sin and a shame to lave the likes of her to die in
the midst of the ocean, as if she was no betther nor a fish. Then it
will be soon that we shall ag'in feel the want of wather, and that,
too, with nothing but wather to be seen on all sides of us."
"It is of no use," said Harry, mournfully, stepping down from the
keel, and laying aside the shawl. "They cannot see us, and the
distance is now so great as to render it certain they never will.
There is only one hope left. We are evidently set to and fro by the
tides, and it is possible that by keeping in or near this passage,
some other craft may appear, and we be more fortunate. The relief of
the rain is a sign that we are not forgotten by Divine Providence,
and with such a protector we ought not to despair."
A gloomy and scanty breaking of the fast succeeded. Each person had
one large mouthful of bread, which was all that prudence would
authorize Mulford to distribute. He attempted a pious fraud,
however, by placing his own allowance along with that of Rose's,
under the impression that her strength might not endure privation as
well as his own. But the tender solicitude of Rose was not to be
thus deceived. Judging of his wishes and motives by her own, she at
once detected the deception, and insisted on retaining no more than
her proper share. When this distribution was completed, and the
meagre allowance taken, only sufficient bread remained to make one
more similar scanty meal, if meal a single mouthful could be termed.
As for the water, a want of which would be certain to be felt as
soon as the sun obtained its noon-day power, the shawl was extended
over it, in a way to prevent evaporation as much as possible, and at
the same time to offer some resistance to the fluid's being washed
from its shallow receptacle by the motion of the wreck, which was
sensibly increasing with the increase of the wind and waves.
Mulford had next an anxious duty to perform. Throughout the whole of
the preceding day he had seen the air escaping from the hull, in an
incessant succession of small bubbles, which were formidable through
their numbers, if not through their size. The mate was aware that
this unceasing loss of the buoyant property of the wreck, must
eventually lead to their destruction, should no assistance come, and
he had marked the floating line, on the bottom of the vessel with
his knife, ere darkness set in, on the previous evening. No sooner
did his thoughts recur to this fact, after the excitement of the
first hour of daylight was over, than he stepped to the different
places thus marked, and saw, with an alarm that it would be
difficult to describe, that the wreck had actually sunk into the
water several inches within the last few hours. This was, indeed,
menacing their security in a most serious manner, setting a limit to
their existence, which rendered all precaution on the subject of
food and water useless. By the calculations of the mate, the wreck
could not float more than eight-and-forty hours, should it continue
to lose the air at the rate at which it had been hitherto lost. Bad
as all this appeared, things were fated to become much more serious.
The motion of the water quite sensibly increased, lifting the wreck
at times in a way greatly to increase the danger of their situation.
The reader will understand this movement did not proceed from the
waves of the existing wind, but from what is technically called a
ground-swell, or the long, heavy undulations that are left by the
tempest that is past, or by some distant gale. The waves of the
present breeze were not very formidable, the reef making a lee;
though they might possibly become inconvenient from breaking on the
weather side of the wreck, as soon as the drift carried the latter
fairly abreast of the passage already mentioned. But the dangers
that proceeded from the heavy ground-swell, which now began to give
a considerable motion to the wreck, will best explain itself by
narrating the incidents as they occurred.
Harry had left his marks, and had taken his seat on the keel at
Rose's side, impatiently waiting for any turn that Providence might
next give to their situation, when a heavy roll of the wreck first
attracted his attention to this new circumstance.
"If any one is thirsty," he observed quietly, "he or she had better
drink now, while it may be done. Two or three more such rolls as
this last will wash all the water from our gutters."
"Wather is a blessed thing," said Biddy, with a longing expression
of the eyes, "and it would be betther to swallow it than to let it
"Then drink, for Heaven's sake, good woman--it may be the last
occasion that will offer."
"Sure am I that I would not touch a dhrap, while the missus and Miss
Rosy was a sufferin'."
"I have no thirst at all," answered Rose, sweetly, "and have already
taken more water than was good for me, with so little food on my
"Eat another morsel of the bread, beloved," whispered Harry, in a
manner so urgent that Rose gratefully complied. "Drink, Biddy, and
we will come and share with you before the water is wasted by this
Biddy did as desired, and each knelt in turn and took a little of
the grateful fluid, leaving about a gill in the gutters for the use
of those whose lips might again become parched.
"Wather is a blessed thing," repeated Biddy, for the twentieth
time--"a blessed, blessed thing is wather!"
A little scream from Mrs. Budd, which was dutifully taken up by the
maid, interrupted the speech of the latter, and every eye was turned
on Mulford, as if to ask an explanation of the groaning sound that
had been heard within the wreck. The young mate comprehended only
too well. The rolling of the wreck had lifted a portion of the open
hatchway above the undulating surface of the sea, and a large
quantity of the pent air within the hold had escaped in a body. The
entrance of water to supply the vacuum had produced the groan.
Mulford had made new marks on the vessel's bottom with his knife,
and he stepped down to them, anxious and nearly heart-broken, to
note the effect. That one surging of the wreck had permitted air
enough to escape to lower it in the water several inches. As yet,
however, the visible limits of their floating foundation had not
been sufficiently reduced to attract the attention of the females;
and the young man said nothing on the subject. He thought that Jack
Tier was sensible of the existence of this new source of danger, but
if he were, that experienced mariner imitated his own reserve, and
made no allusion to it. Thus passed the day. Occasionally the wreck
rolled heavily, when more air escaped, the hull settling lower and
lower in the water as a necessary consequence. The little bubbles
continued incessantly to rise, and Mulford became satisfied that
another day must decide their fate. Taking this view of their
situation, he saw no use in reserving their food, but encouraged his
companions to share the whole of what remained at sunset. Little
persuasion was necessary, and when night once more came to envelope
them in darkness, not a mouthful of food or a drop of water remained
to meet the necessities of the coming morn. It had rained again for
a short time, in the course of the afternoon, when enough water had
been caught to allay their thirst, and what was almost of as much
importance to the females now, a sufficiency of sun had succeeded to
dry their clothes, thus enabling them to sleep without enduring the
chilling damps that might otherwise have prevented it. The wind had
sensibly fallen, and the ground-swell was altogether gone, but
Mulford was certain that the relief had come too late. So much air
had escaped while it lasted as scarce to leave him the hope that the
wreck could float until morning. The rising of the bubbles was now
incessant, the crevices by which they escaped having most probably
opened a little, in consequence of the pressure and the unceasing
action of the currents, small as the latter were.
Just as darkness was shutting in around them for the second time,
Rose remarked to Mulford that it seemed to her that they had not as
large a space for their little world as when they were first placed
on it. The mate, however, successfully avoided an explanation; and
when the watch was again set for the night, the females lay down to
seek their repose, more troubled with apprehensions for a morrow of
hunger and thirst, than by any just fears that might so well have
arisen from the physical certainty that the body which alone kept
them from being engulfed in the sea, could float but a few hours
longer. This night Tier kept the look-out until Jupiter reached the
zenith, when Mulford was called to hold the watch until light
It may seem singular that any could sleep at all in such a
situation. But we get accustomed, in an incredibly short time, to
the most violent changes; and calamities that seem insupportable,
when looked at from a distance, lose half their power if met and
resisted with fortitude. The last may, indeed, be too insignificant
a word to be applied to all of the party on the wreck, on the
occasion of which we are writing, though no one of them all betrayed
fears that were troublesome. Of Mulford it is unnecessary to speak.
His deportment had been quiet, thoughtful, and full of a manly
interest in the comfort of others, from the first moment of the
calamity. That Rose should share the largest in his attentions was
natural enough, but he neglected no essential duty to her
companions. Rose, herself, had little hope of being rescued. Her
naturally courageous character, however, prevented any undue
exhibitions of despair, and now it was that the niece became the
principal support of the aunt, completely changing the relations
that had formerly existed between them. Mrs. Budd had lost all the
little buoyancy of her mind. Not a syllable did she now utter
concerning ships and their manoeuvres. She had been, at first, a
little disposed to be querulous and despairing, but the soothing and
pious conversation of Rose awakened a certain degree of resolution
in her, and habit soon exercised its influence over even her
inactive mind. Biddy was a strange mixture of courage, despair,
humility, and consideration for others. Not once had she taken her
small allowance of food without first offering it, and that, too, in
perfect good faith, to her "Missus and Miss Rosy;" yet her moanings
for this sort of support, and her complaints of bodily suffering
much exceeded that of all the rest of the party put together. As for
Jack Tier, his conduct singularly belied his appearance. No one
would have expected any great show of manly resolution from the
little rotund, lymphatic figure of Tier; but he had manifested a
calmness that denoted either great natural courage, or a resolution
derived from familiarity with danger. In this particular, even
Mulford regarded his deportment with surprise, not unmingled with
"You have had a tranquil watch, Jack," said Harry, when he was
called by the person named, and had fairly aroused himself from his
slumbers. "Has the wind stood as it is since sunset?"
"No change whatever, sir. It has blown a good working breeze the
whole watch, and what is surprising not as much lipper has got up as
would frighten a colt on a sea-beach."
"We must be near the reef, by that. I think the only currents we
feel come from the tide, and they seem to be setting us back and
forth, instead of carrying us in any one settled direction."
"Quite likely, sir; and this makes my opinion of what I saw an hour
since all the more probable."
"What you saw! In the name of a merciful Providence, Tier, do not
trifle with me! Has any thing been seen near by?"
"Don't talk to me of your liquors and other dhrinks," murmured Biddy
in her sleep. "It's wather that is a blessed thing; and I wish I
lived, the night and the day, by the swate pump that's in our own
yard, I do."
"The woman has been talking in her sleep, in this fashion, most of
the watch," observed Jack, coolly, and perhaps a little
contemptuously. "But, Mr. Mulford, unless my eyes have cheated me,
we are near that boat again. The passage through the reef is close
aboard us, here, on our larboard bow, as it might be, and the
current has sucked us in it in a fashion to bring it in a sort of
athwart-hawse direction to us."
"If that boat, after all, should be sent by Providence to our
relief! How long is it since you saw it, Jack."
"But a bit since, sir; or, for that matter, I think I see it now.
Look hereaway, sir, just where the dead-eyes of the fore-rigging
would bear from us, if the craft stood upon her legs, as she ought
to do. If that isn't a boat, it's a rock out of water."
Mulford gazed through the gloom of midnight, and saw, or fancied he
saw, an object that might really be the boat. It could not be very
distant either; and his mind was instantly made up as to the course
he would pursue. Should it actually turn out to be that which he now
so much hoped for, and its distance in the morning did not prove too
great for human powers, he was resolved to swim for it at the hazard
of his life. In the meantime, or until light should return, there
remained nothing to do but to exercise as much patience as could be
summoned, and to confide in God, soliciting his powerful succour by
Mulford was no sooner left alone, as it might be, by Tier's seeking
a place in which to take his rest, than he again examined the state
of the wreck. Little as he had hoped from its long-continued
buoyancy, he found matters even worse than he apprehended they would
be. The hull had lost much air, and had consequently sunk in the
water in an exact proportion to this loss. The space that was
actually above the water, was reduced to an area not more than six
or seven feet in one direction, by some ten or twelve in the other.
This was reducing its extent, since the evening previous, by fully
one-half; and there could be no doubt that the air was escaping, in
consequence of the additional pressure, in a ratio that increased by
a sort of arithmetical progression. The young man knew that the
whole wreck, under its peculiar circumstances, might sink entirely
beneath the surface, and yet possess sufficient buoyancy to sustain
those that were on it for a time longer, but this involved the
terrible necessity of leaving the females partly submerged
Our mate heard his own heart beat, as he became satisfied of the
actual condition of the wreck, and of the physical certainty that
existed of its sinking, at least to the point last mentioned, ere
the sun came to throw his glories over the last view that the
sufferers would be permitted to take of the face of day. It appeared
to him that no time was to be lost. There lay the dim and shapeless
object that seemed to be the boat, distant, as he thought, about a
mile. It would not have been visible at all but for the perfect
smoothness of the sea, and the low position occupied by the
observer. At times it did disappear altogether, when it would rise
again, as if undulating in the ground-swell. This last circumstance,
more than any other, persuaded Harry that it was not a rock, but
some floating object that he beheld. Thus encouraged, he delayed no
longer. Every moment was precious, and all might be lost by
indecision. He did not like the appearance of deserting his
companions, but, should he fail, the motive would appear in the act.
Should he fail, every one would alike soon be beyond the reach of
censure, and in a state of being that would do full justice to all.
Harry threw off most of his clothes, reserving only his shirt and a
pair of light summer trowsers. He could not quit the wreck, however,
without taking a sort of leave of Rose. On no account would he awake
her, for he appreciated the agony she would feel during the period
of his struggles. Kneeling at her side, he made a short prayer, then
pressed his lips to her warm cheek, and left her. Rose murmured his
name at that instant, but it was as the innocent and young betray
their secrets in their slumbers. Neither of the party awoke.
It was a moment to prove the heart of man, that in which Harry
Mulford, in the darkness of midnight, alone, unsustained by any
encouraging eye, or approving voice, with no other aid than his own
stout arm, and the unknown designs of a mysterious Providence,
committed his form to the sea. For an instant he paused, after he
had waded down on the wreck to a spot where the water already
mounted to his breast, but it was not in misgivings. He calculated
the chances, and made an intelligent use of such assistance as could
be had. There had been no sharks near the wreck that day, but a
splash in the water might bring them back again in a crowd. They
were probably prowling over the reef, near at hand. The mate used
great care, therefore, to make no noise. There was the distant
object, and he set it by a bright star, that wanted about an hour
before it would sink beneath the horizon. That star was his beacon,
and muttering a few words in earnest prayer, the young man threw his
body forward, and left the wreck, swimming lightly but with vigour.
The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down: and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i' the air; strange screams of death;
And prophesying, with accents terrible,
Of dire combustion, and confused events,
New hatched to the woful time.
It is seldom that man is required to make an exertion as desperate
and appalling, in all its circumstances, as that on which Harry
Mulford was now bent. The night was starlight, it was true, and it
was possible to see objects near by with tolerable distinctness;
still, it was midnight, and the gloom of that hour rested on the
face of the sea, lending its solemn mystery and obscurity to the
other trying features of the undertaking. Then there was the
uncertainty whether it was the boat at all, of which he was in
pursuit; and, if the boat, it might drift away from him as fast as
he could follow it. Nevertheless, the perfect conviction that,
without some early succour, the party on the wreck, including Rose
Budd, must inevitably perish, stimulated him to proceed, and a
passing feeling of doubt, touching the prudence of his course, that
came over the young mate, when he was a few yards from the wreck,
vanished under a vivid renewal of this last conviction. On he swam,
therefore, riveting his eye on the "thoughtful star" that guided his
course, and keeping his mind as tranquil as possible, in order that
the exertions of his body might be the easier.
Mulford was an excellent swimmer. The want of food was a serious
obstacle to his making one of his best efforts, but, as yet, he was
not very sensible of any great loss of strength. Understanding fully
the necessity of swimming easily, if he would swim long, he did not
throw out all his energy at first, but made the movements of his
limbs as regular, continued, and skilful as possible. No strength
was thrown away, and his progress was in proportion to the prudence
of this manner of proceeding. For some twenty minutes he held on his
course, in this way, when he began to experience a little of that
weariness which is apt to accompany an unremitted use of the same
set of muscles, in a monotonous and undeviating mode. Accustomed to
all the resources of his art, he turned on his back, for the double
purpose of relieving his arms for a minute, and of getting a glimpse
of the wreck, if possible, in order to ascertain the distance he had
overcome. Swim long in this new manner, however, he could not with
prudence, as the star was necessary in order to keep the direct line
of his course. It may be well to explain to some of our readers,
that, though the surface of the ocean may be like glass, as
sometimes really happens, it is never absolutely free from the long,
undulating motion that is known by the name of a "ground swell."
This swell, on the present occasion, was not very heavy, but it was
sufficient to place our young mate, at moments, between two dark
mounds of water, that limited his view in either direction to some
eighty or a hundred yards; then it raised him on the summit of a
rounded wave, that enabled him to see, far as his eye could reach
under that obscure light. Profiting by this advantage, Mulford now
looked behind him, in quest of the wreck, but uselessly. It might
have been in the trough, while he was thus on the summit of the
waves, or it might be that it floated so low as to be totally lost
to the view of one whose head was scarcely above the surface of the
water. For a single instant, the young man felt a chill at his
heart, as he fancied that the wreck had already sunk; but it passed
away when he recalled the slow progress by which the air escaped,
and he saw the certainty that the catastrophe, however inevitable,
could not yet have really arrived. He waited for another swell to
lift him on its summit, when, by "treading water," he raised his
head and shoulders fairly above the surface of the sea, and strained
his eyes in another vain effort to catch a glimpse of the wreck. He
could not see it. In point of fact, the mate had swum much further
than he had supposed, and was already so distant as to render any
such attempt hopeless. He was fully a third of a mile distant from
the point of his departure.
Disappointed, and in a slight degree disheartened, Mulford turned,
and swam in the direction of the sinking star. He now looked
anxiously for the boat. It was time that it came more plainly into
view, and a new source of anxiety beset him, as he could discover no
signs of its vicinity. Certain that he was on the course, after
making a due allowance for the direction of the wind, the
stout-hearted young man swam on. He next determined not to annoy
himself by fruitless searches, or vain regrets, but to swim steadily
for a certain time, a period long enough to carry him a material
distance, ere he again looked for the object of his search.
For twenty minutes longer did that courageous and active youth
struggle with the waste of waters, amid the obscurity and solitude
of midnight. He now believed himself near a mile from the wreck, and
the star which had so long served him for a beacon was getting near
to the horizon. He took a new observation of another of the heavenly
bodies nigh it, to serve him in its stead when it should disappear
altogether, and then he raised himself in the water, and looked
about again for the boat. The search was in vain. No boat was very
near him, of a certainty, and the dreadful apprehension began to
possess his mind, of perishing uselessly in that waste of gloomy
waters. While thus gazing about him, turning his eyes in every
quarter, hoping intently to catch some glimpse of the much-desired
object in the gloom, he saw two dark, pointed objects, that
resembled small stakes, in the water within twenty feet of him.
Mulford knew them at a glance, and a cold shudder passed through his
frame, as he recognised them. They were, out of all question, the
fins of an enormous shark; an animal that could not measure less
than eighteen or twenty feet in length.
It is scarcely necessary to say, that when our young mate discovered
the proximity of this dangerous animal, situated as he was, he gave
himself up for lost. He possessed his knife, however, and had heard
of the manner in which even sharks were overcome, and that too in
their own element, by the skilful and resolute. At first, he was
resolved to make one desperate effort for life, before he submitted
to a fate as horrible as that which now menaced him; but the
movements of his dangerous neighbour induced him to wait. It did not
approach any nearer, but continued swimming back and fro, on the