The Last Cruise of the Spitfire/Chapter 23

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I lay several hours under the canvas, wondering how the adventure would end. At present things looked rather blue, and perhaps neither Phil nor I would live to tell the tale. At length, when I was about to give up in despair, a low rumble brought me to my feet instantly.

It was thunder!

"A storm! a storm!" I cried. "Pray God it brings us rain!"

My cries awoke Phil, and he pushed the canvas aside.

"What did you say?" he asked, feebly.

"There is a storm coming up," was my reply. "Hear the thunder?"

"What of it?"

"What of it? A storm means water, and water means something to drink!"

"Hooray! so it does!"

And the cabin boy jumped to his feet at once.

It is wonderful what life the prospect of rain put into us. Eagerly we watched the approach of the dark clouds that were fast bearing down upon us.

"We must fix the cask to hold water," I said, "and also the canvas."

"And we can fix the sail, too," added Phil. "We must catch as much as possible."

I put the bung back into the cask, hammering it in well. Then by the aid of the mast, rudder and boom, we hung the canvas so that every drop that might fall upon it would be caught and poured into the cask.

Hardly had we finished our preparations when the storm bore down upon us. The lightning was terrific, the thunder deafening, and the rain came down in a deluge.

We heeded not the storm. We drank our fill of the first water that entered the cask, and oh, how good it seemed! Many a time since I have drunk spring water of the purest and coolest, but nothing that could compare with that which Phil Jones and I caught on the canvas in the middle of the Atlantic.

Our thirst satisfied, we turned our attention to filling the cask. It was not long before we had it more than half full, and as the cask was a twenty-gallon one, this was not bad, and would last us quite some time.

Of course we had to pay considerable attention to the raft, which at times tossed and pitched in a fashion that made me sick all over, and rendered it necessary to hold on tightly to prevent being swept overboard.

For two hours the storm continued without showing any signs of abating. By this time we were wet to the skin and shivering with the cold.

"Now we've got water, I wish it would clear off," remarked Phil, as he stood holding fast to the mast.

"So do I. It's no fun thinking that any moment we may be swept overboard."

"Hope the jolly-boat is out in it," he continued. "Captain Hannock deserves all the ducking a-going."

"He can't be to land yet. Wonder if all the sailors are with him?"

"I suppose so. I'm sure there wasn't a soul left on the ship."

Instead of letting up, the sky grew darker and the wind increased in fury. The Hasty bounded up and down over the mighty swells, and many were the times that I thought our last moment had come. Yet each time the clumsy raft righted herself, ready to battle with the next wave.

Not without considerable danger I managed to tie the planks more tightly together. That rude structure now seemed to be our only hope for safety.

And thus the night of awful peril wore on.


"This is the very worst storm I ever saw."

It was Phil who uttered the words. He was lying flat on the top of the cask, holding on tightly to the ropes that held the mast. He had been in that position for fully two hours, and it was plain to see that he was nearly exhausted.

"Keep up your courage," I replied. "The worst is over, I'm certain. This storm wouldn't appear so bad if we were on shipboard."

The box of provisions had become thoroughly water-soaked, and it was now resting on the flooring of the raft, and I was using it to lie upon, so that the waves might not wash over me so freely.

Far over in the east I could see a faint break in the clouds, and to this I laid my hope of a change for the better. But the cabin boy shook his head.

"Storms don't clear that way."

"Yet this one may."

"Hope you're right, but I don't think so."

An instant after these words there was a terrible clap of thunder, and following it a deluge of rain that almost swept us from the raft.

"I'll venture to say that's the end of it," said I.

After the downpour was over it began to brighten, and in the course of half an hour there were several rifts in the clouds. We watched them eagerly.

"Don't know but that you were right," said Phil at last. "See! see! the storm is drifting southward!"

"Thank fortune for it," was my reply. "I never want to pass through another like it!"

In another hour the rain had ceased. I judged it was now about four o'clock, and I was not far out of the way, for about an hour or so later the sun rose and peered dimly through the haze.

It was not long before it was as bright and clear as ever. But the water was still in a turbulent state, and every minute or two a wave would break over us with a swash and a crack decidedly unpleasant.

As soon as I was able to do so I overhauled the provision box with a view to saving what might still be fit to eat.

It was in a sad mess, and the salt water had made most of the things worthless. The crackers and bread I threw away at once, and this left us with nothing but some potted beef, a jar of pickles and some canned corn and asparagus—rather an odd collection, but decidedly better than nothing.

"We will have to live on closer mess than ever," I said, as I viewed the stuff.

"I won't mind that so long as we have enough to drink," returned Phil. "I can stand hunger, but I can't stand being dry."

"You're not very dry now," said I, with a faint attempt at humor.

The cabin boy gave a laugh.

"I don't mean that way. Guess our clothes will dry fast enough when the sun gets up."

The morning proved a long and warm one. We did all we could to pass the time pleasantly, but it was a failure. There was no concealing the fact that we were both anxious about our situation.

It must not be supposed that because I write so calmly of this involuntary cruise that we were not frightened, for such is not a fact. Both of us were greatly alarmed, and would have given about all we owned to be once more on dry land.

About every hour one or the other of us would climb up to the top of the mast and look in all directions for a sail or land. This we did until we were almost ready to give it up, as nothing appeared.

Our dinner was a curious one, some potted beef and cold green corn, washed down with a cup of cold water.

"Funny we didn't think of this corn when we were so thirsty," said Phil. "It would have done pretty well for a time."

"I didn't know it was there," I returned. "Never mind; it's over now, and I hope we don't have any such experience again."