Masterman Ready

Фредерик Марриет
Masterman Ready

Chapter One.

It was in the month of October, 18—, that the Pacific, a large ship, was running before a heavy gale of wind in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean. She had but little sail, for the wind was so strong, that the canvas would have been split into pieces by the furious blasts before which she was driven through the waves, which were very high, and following her almost as fast as she darted through their boiling waters; sometimes heaving up her stern and sinking her bows down so deep into the hollow of the sea, that it appeared as if she would have dived down underneath the waves; but she was a fine vessel, and the captain was a good seaman, who did what he considered best for the safety of his vessel, and then put his trust in that Providence who is ever watchful over us.

The captain stood before the wheel, watching the men who were steering the ship; for when you are running before a heavy gale, it requires great attention to the helm: and as he looked around him and up at the heavens, he sang in a low voice the words of a sea song:

“One wide water all around us,

All above us one black sky.”

And so it was with them;—they were in the middle of the Atlantic, not another vessel to be seen, and the heavens were covered with black clouds, which were borne along furiously by the gale; the sea ran mountains high, and broke into large white foaming crests, while the fierce wind howled through the rigging of the vessel.

Besides the captain of the ship and the two men at the wheel, there were two other personages on deck: one was a young lad about twelve years old, and the other a weather-beaten old seaman, whose grisly locks were streaming in the wind, as he paced aft and looked over the taffrail of the vessel.

The young lad, observing a heavy sea coming up to the stern of the vessel, caught hold of the old man’s arm, crying out—“Won’t that great wave come into us, Ready?”

“No, Master William, it will not: don’t you see how the ship lifts her quarters to it?—and now it has passed underneath us. But it might happen, and then what would become of you, if I did not hold on, and hold you on also? You would be washed overboard.”

“I don’t like the sea much, Ready; I wish we were safe on shore again,” replied the lad. “Don’t the waves look as if they wished to beat the ship all to pieces?”

“Yes, they do; and they roar as if angry because they cannot bury the vessel beneath them: but I am used to them, and with a good ship like this, and a good captain and crew, I don’t care for them.”

“But sometimes ships do sink, and then everybody is drowned.”

“Yes; and very often the very ships sink which those on board think are most safe. We can only do our best, and after that we must submit to the will of Heaven.”

“What little birds are those flying about so close to the water?”

“Those are Mother Carey’s chickens. You seldom see them except in a storm, or when a storm is coming on.”

The birds which William referred to were the stormy petrels.

“Were you ever shipwrecked on a desolate island like Robinson Crusoe?”

“Yes, Master William, I have been shipwrecked; but I never heard of Robinson Crusoe. So many have been wrecked and undergone great hardships, and so many more have never lived to tell what they have suffered, that it’s not very likely that I should have known that one man you speak of, out of so many.”

“Oh! but it’s all in a book which I have read. I could tell you all about it—and so I will when the ship is quiet again; but now I wish you would help me down below, for I promised mamma not to stay up long.”

“Then always keep your promise like a good lad,” replied the old man; “now give me your hand, and I’ll answer for it that we will fetch the hatchway without a tumble; and when the weather is fine again, I’ll tell you how I was wrecked, and you shall tell me all about Robinson Crusoe.”

Having seen William safe to the cabin door, the old seaman returned to the deck, for it was his watch.

Masterman Ready, for such was his name, had been more than fifty years at sea, having been bound apprentice to a collier which sailed from South Shields, when he was only ten years old. His face was browned from long exposure, and there were deep furrows on his cheeks, but he was still a hale and active man. He had served many years on board of a man-of-war, and had been in every climate: he had many strange stories to tell, and he might be believed even when his stories were strange, for he would not tell an untruth. He could navigate a vessel, and, of course, he could read and write. The name of Ready was very well suited to him, for he was seldom at a loss; and in cases of difficulty and danger, the captain would not hesitate to ask his opinion, and frequently take his advice. He was second mate of the vessel.

The Pacific was, as we have observed, a very fine ship, and well able to contend with the most violent storm. She was of more than four hundred tons burthen, and was then making a passage out to New South Wales, with a valuable cargo of English hardware, cutlery, and other manufactures. The captain was a good navigator and seaman, and moreover a good man, of a cheerful, happy disposition, always making the best of everything, and when accidents did happen, always more inclined to laugh than to look grave. His name was Osborn. The first mate, whose name was Mackintosh, was a Scotsman, rough and ill-tempered, but paying strict attention to his duty—a man that Captain Osborn could trust, but whom he did not like.

Ready we have already spoken of, and it will not be necessary to say anything about the seamen on board, except that there were thirteen of them, hardly a sufficient number to man so large a vessel; but just as they were about to sail, five of the seamen, who did not like the treatment they had received from Mackintosh, the first mate, had left the ship, and Captain Osborn did not choose to wait until he could obtain others in their stead. This proved unfortunate, as the events which we shall hereafter relate will show.

Chapter Two.

Master William, whom we have introduced to the reader, was the eldest boy of a family who were passengers on board, consisting of the father, mother, and four children: his father was a Mr Seagrave, a very well-informed, clever man, who having for many years held an office under government at Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, was now returning from a leave of absence of three years. He had purchased from the government several thousand acres of land; it had since risen very much in value, and the sheep and cattle which he had put on it were proving a source of great profit. His property had been well managed by the person who had charge of it during his absence in England, and he was now taking out with him a variety of articles of every description for its improvement, and for his own use, such as furniture for his house, implements of agriculture, seeds, plants, cattle, and many other things too numerous to mention.

Mrs Seagrave was an amiable woman, but not in very strong health. The family consisted of William, who was the eldest, a clever, steady boy, but, at the same time, full of mirth and humour; Thomas, who was six years old, a very thoughtless but good-tempered boy, full of mischief, and always in a scrape; Caroline, a little girl of seven years; and Albert, a fine strong little fellow, who was not one year old: he was under the charge of a black girl, who had come from the Cape of Good Hope to Sydney, and had followed Mrs Seagrave to England. We have now mentioned all the people on board of the Pacific: perhaps we ought not to forget two shepherd’s dogs, belonging to Mr Seagrave, and a little terrier, which was a great favourite of Captain Osborn, to whom she belonged.

It was not until the fourth day from its commencement that the gale abated, and then it gradually subsided until it was nearly a calm. The men who had been watching night after night during the gale now brought all their clothes which had been drenched by the rain and spray, and hung them up in the rigging to dry: the sails, also, which had been furled, and had been saturated by the wet, were now loosened and spread out that they might not be mildewed. The wind blew mild and soft, the sea had gone down, and the ship was running through the water at the speed of about four miles an hour. Mrs Seagrave, wrapped up in a cloak, was seated upon one of the arm-chests near the stern of the ship, her husband and children were all with her enjoying the fine weather, when Captain Osborn, who had been taking an observation of the sun with his sextant, came up to them.

“Well, Master Tommy, you are very glad that the gale is over?”

“I didn’t care,” replied Tommy, “only I spilt all my soup. But Juno tumbled off her chair, and rolled away with the baby, till papa picked them both up.”

“It was a mercy that poor Albert was not killed,” observed Mrs Seagrave.

“And so he might have been, if Juno had not thought only of him and nothing at all about herself,” replied Mr Seagrave.

“That’s very true, sir,” replied Captain Osborn. “She saved the child, and, I fear, hurt herself.”

“I thump my head very hard,” said Juno, smiling.

“Yes, and it’s lucky that you have a good thick woolly coat over it,” replied Captain Osborn, laughing.

“It is 12 o’clock by the sun, sir,” said Mackintosh, the first mate, to the captain.

“Then bring me up the latitude, Mr Mackintosh, while I work out the longitude from the sights which I took this morning. In five minutes, Mr Seagrave, I shall be ready to prick off over our place on the chart.”

 

“Here are the dogs come up on deck,” said William; “I dare say they are as glad of the fine weather as we are. Come here, Romulus! Here, Remus!—Remus!”

“Well, sir,” said Ready, who was standing by them with his quadrant in his hand, “I should like to ask you a question. Those dogs of yours have two very odd names which I never heard before. Who were Romulus and Remus?”

“Romulus and Remus,” replied Mr Seagrave, “were the names of two shepherds, brothers, who in ancient days founded the city of Rome, which eventually became the largest and most celebrated empire in the world. They were the first kings of Rome, and reigned together. History says that Remus affronted Romulus by leaping over a wall he had raised, and Romulus, in his anger, took away his life; but the history of early days is not to be depended upon.”

“No, nor the brothers either, it appears,” replied Ready; “however, it is the old story—two of a trade can never agree. One sometimes hears of Rome now—is that the same place?”

“Yes,” replied William, “it is the remains of the old city.”

“Well, one lives and learns,” said Ready. “I have learnt something to-day, which everyone will to the last day of his life, if he will only ask questions. I’m an old man, and perhaps don’t know much, except in the seafaring way; but I should have known much less if I did not ask for information, and was not ashamed to acknowledge my ignorance; that’s the way to learn, Master William.”

“Very good advice, Ready,—and, William, I hope you will profit by it,” said Mr Seagrave; “never be ashamed to ask the meaning of what you do not understand.”

“I always do, papa. Do I not ask you questions, Ready?”

“Yes, you do, and very clever questions for a boy of your age; and I only wish that I could answer them better than I can sometimes.”

“I should like to go down now, my dear,” said Mrs Seagrave; “perhaps Ready will see the baby down safe.”

“That I will, ma’am,” said Ready, putting his quadrant on the capstan: “now, Juno, give me the child, and go down first;—backwards, you stupid girl! how often do I tell you that? Some day or another you will come down with a run.”

“And break my head,” said Juno.

“Yes, or break your arm; and then who is to hold the child?”

As soon as they were all down in the cabin, the captain and Mr Seagrave marked the position of the vessel on the chart, and found that they were one hundred and thirty miles from the Cape of Good Hope.

“If the wind holds, we shall be in to-morrow,” said Mr Seagrave to his wife. “Juno, perhaps you may see your father and mother.”

Poor Juno shook her head, and a tear or two stole down her dark cheek. With a mournful face she told them, that her father and mother belonged to a Dutch boer, who had gone with them many miles into the interior: she had been parted from them when quite a little child, and had been left at Cape Town.

Chapter Three.

The next morning the Pacific arrived at the Cape and anchored in Table Bay.

“Why do they call this Table Bay, Ready?” said William.

“I suppose it’s because they call that great mountain the Table Mountain, Master William; you see how flat the mountain is on the top.”

“Yes, it is quite as flat as a table.”

“Yes, and sometimes you will see the white clouds rolling down over the top of it in a very curious manner, and that the sailors call spreading the tablecloth: it is a sign of bad weather.”

“Then I hope they will not spread the tablecloth while we are here, Ready,” said William, “for I shall certainly have no appetite. We have had bad weather enough already, and mamma suffers so much from it. What a pretty place it is!”

“We shall remain here two days, sir,” said Captain Osborn to Mr Seagrave, “if you and Mrs Seagrave would like to go on shore.”

“I will go down and ask Mrs Seagrave,” said her husband, who went down the ladder, followed by William.

Upon the question being put to Mrs Seagrave, she replied that she was quite satisfied with the ship having no motion, and did not feel herself equal to going on shore; it was therefore decided that she should remain on board with the two younger children, and that, on the following day, Mr Seagrave should take William and Tommy to see Cape Town, and return on board before night.

The next morning, Captain Osborn lowered down one of the large boats, and Mr Seagrave, accompanied by Captain Osborn, went on shore with William and Tommy. Tommy had promised his mamma to be very good; but that he always did, and almost always forgot his promise directly he was out of sight. As soon as they landed, they went up to a gentleman’s house, with whom Captain Osborn was acquainted. They stayed for a few minutes to drink a glass of lemonade, for it was very warm; and then it was proposed that they should go to the Company’s Gardens and see the wild beasts which were confined there, at which William was much delighted, and Tommy clapped his hands with joy.

“What are the Company’s Gardens, papa?” inquired William.

“They were made by the Dutch East India Company, at the time that the Cape of Good Hope was in their possession. They are, properly speaking, Botanical Gardens; but, at the same time, the wild animals are kept there. Formerly there were a great many, but they have not been paid attention to lately, for we have plenty of these animals in England now.”

“What shall we see?” said Tommy.

“You will see lions, Tommy, a great many in a large den together,” said Captain Osborn.

“Oh! I want to see a lion.”

“You must not go too near them, recollect.”

“No, I won’t,” said Tommy.

As soon as they entered the gates, Tommy escaped from Captain Osborn, and ran away in his hurry to see the lions; but Captain Osborn caught him again, and held him fast by the hand.

“Here is a pair of very strange birds,” said the gentleman who accompanied them; “they are called Secretaries, on account of the feathers which hang behind their heads, as the feather of a pen does when a clerk puts it behind his ear: but they are very useful, for they are snake-killers; indeed, they would, if they could, live altogether upon snakes, which they are very great enemies to, never letting one escape. They strike them with their feet, and with such force as to kill them immediately.”

“Are there many snakes in this country?” inquired William.

“Yes, and very venomous snakes,” replied Mr Seagrave; “so that these birds are very useful in destroying them. You observe, William, that the Almighty, in his wisdom, has so arranged it that no animal (especially of a noxious kind) shall be multiplied to excess, but kept under by being preyed upon by some other; indeed, wherever in any country an animal exists in any quantity, there is generally found another animal which destroys it. The Secretary inhabits this country where snakes exist in numbers, that it may destroy them: in England the bird would be of little value.”

“But some animals are too large or too fierce to be destroyed by others, papa; for instance, the elephant and the lion.”

“Very true; but these larger animals do not breed so fast, and therefore their numbers do not increase so rapidly. For instance, a pair of elephants will not have more than one young one in the space of two years or more; while the rabbits, which are preyed upon and the food of so many other beasts as well as birds, would increase enormously, if they were not destroyed. Examine through the whole of creation, and you will find that there is an unerring hand, which invariably preserves the balance exact; and that there are no more mouths than for which food is provided, although accidental circumstances may for a time occasion a slight alteration.”

They continued their walk until they came to the den of the lions. It was a large place, in closed with a strong and high wall of stone, with only one window to it for the visitors to look at them, as it was open above. This window was wide, and with strong iron bars running from the top to the bottom; but the width between the bars was such that a lion could put his paw out with ease; and they were therefore cautioned not to go too near. It was a fine sight to see eight or ten of these noble-looking animals lying down in various attitudes, quite indifferent apparently to the people outside—basking in the sun, and slowly moving their tufted tails to and fro. William examined them at a respectful distance from the bars; and so did Tommy, who had his mouth open with astonishment, in which there was at first not a little fear mixed, but he soon got bolder. The gentleman who had accompanied them, and who had been long at the Cape, was relating to Mr Seagrave and Captain Osborn some very curious anecdotes about the lion. William and they were so interested, that they did not perceive that Tommy had slipped back to the grated window of the den. Tommy looked at the lions, and then he wanted to make them move about: there was one fine full-grown young lion, about three years old, who was lying down nearest to the window; and Tommy took up a stone and threw it at him: the lion appeared not to notice it, for he did not move, although he fixed his eyes upon Tommy; so Tommy became more brave, and threw another, and then another, approaching each time nearer to the bars of the window.

All of a sudden the lion gave a tremendous roar, and sprang at Tommy, bounding against the iron bars of the cage with such force that, had they not been very strong, it must have broken them. As it was, they shook and rattled so that pieces of mortar fell from the stones. Tommy shrieked; and, fortunately for himself, fell back and tumbled head over heels, or the lion’s paws would have reached him. Captain Osborn and Mr Seagrave ran up to Tommy, and picked him up: he roared with fright as soon as he could fetch his breath, while the lion stood at the bars, lashing his tail, snarling, and showing his enormous fangs.

“Take me away—take me on board the ship!” cried Tommy, who was terribly frightened.

“What did you do, Tommy?” said Captain Osborn.

“I won’t throw any more stones, Mr Lion; I won’t indeed!” cried Tommy, looking terrified towards the animal.

Mr Seagrave scolded Tommy well for his foolish conduct, and by degrees he became more composed; but he did not recover himself until they had walked some distance away from the lion’s den.

They then looked at the other animals which were to be seen, Tommy keeping a most respectful distance from every one of them. He wouldn’t even go near to a Cape sheep with a broad tail.

When they had seen everything, they went back to the gentleman’s house to dinner; and, after dinner, they returned on board.

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