Charley by Unknown

I MADE the acquaintance of my little friend Charley under very unusual and startling circumstances. I saw a lad about fifteen years of age clinging desperately for very life to the topmast of a sunken ship. I will tell you how it happened.

I must go back nearly twenty years. Indeed, I ought to explain that Charley was a little friend of mine a long time ago; now he’s a grown-up man. Well, twenty years ago I was not very old myself, but my sister, who is some years older than I am, was already married, and her husband was very fond of yachting. They lived during a great part of the year in the Isle of Wight, and there I often used to go to stay with them.

The “Swallow”—that was the name of my brother-in-law’s yacht—was a beautiful boat, and many happy hours have I passed on board her as she skimmed merrily over the sparkling water. I delighted to sit on deck, watching the fishing-boats as they rode bravely from wave to wave, or sometimes wondering at some large ship as it passed by, on which men live for weeks and months without ever touching land. We used to sail long distances, and occasionally be out for several days and nights together. My brother-in-law’s skipper could tell me what country almost every vessel that we saw was bound for. Some were sailing to climates where the heat is so great that our most sultry summer in England is comparatively cold; others were off northward, perhaps whale-fishing, where they would see huge icebergs and hear the growling of the polar bears.

We were taking our last cruise of the season. It was already near the end of October, and the weather was becoming stormy. Passing out of the Solent into the Channel, we found the sea much rougher than we expected, and as night came on it blew a regular gale. The wind and sea roared, the rain poured down in torrents, and the night seemed to me to be the darkest I had ever known. But on board the “Swallow” we had no fear. We trusted to the seamanship of our skipper and the goodness of our vessel, and went to bed with minds as free from fear as if the sea were smooth and the sky clear.

I awoke just as dawn was breaking, dressed quickly, and throwing a water-proof cloak over me popped my head up the companion-ladder to see how things looked. The old skipper was on deck; he had not turned in during the night. I wished him good-morning, and he remarked, in return, that the wind was going down, he thought. Looking at the sea, I observed two or three large fragments of wood floating near, and they attracted his notice at the same moment.

“Has there been a wreck, captain?” I asked, with a feeling of awe.

“That’s about what it is, miss,” answered the old seaman.

“Do you think the people are drowned?” I inquired, anxiously.

“Well,” replied Captain Bounce, casting, as I thought, rather a contemptuous glance at me, “people don’t in general live under water, miss.”

Charley is reunited with his mother and siblings


 “Perhaps they may have had boats,” I said, meekly. “Do you think boats could have reached the shore in such a storm?”

“Well,” answered the old captain, “they might have had boats, and they mightn’t; and the boats, supposing they had ’em, might have lived through the storm, and at the same time they mightn’t.”

This was not giving me much information, and I thought to myself that my friend the skipper did not seem so much inclined for a chat as usual. I turned to look at the sea in search of more pieces of wreck, when I discovered in the distance a dark speck rising out of the water. I pointed it out to the skipper at once, who took his glass out of his pocket, and after looking through it for a moment exclaimed,

“There’s something floating there, and a man clinging to it, as I’m alive!”

As he spoke my brother-in-law came on deck, and also took a look through the telescope. Then he, the captain and every sailor on board became eager and excited. You would have thought it some dear friend of each whose life was to be saved. The yacht was headed in the direction of the object, the boat was quickly lowered, the captain himself, with four sailors, jumping into it, and in another minute they caught in their arms a poor little exhausted and fainting boy as he dropped from the mast of a large sunken ship. We could now distinguish the tops of all the three masts appearing above the waves, for the sea was not deep, and the ship had settled down in an upright position.

Poor Charley Standish was soon in the cabin of the yacht, and after swallowing some champagne he revived sufficiently to tell us his story. The sunken ship was the “Melbourne,” bound for Australia, and this was Charley’s first voyage as a midshipman on board. During the darkness of the night she had been run into by a large homeward-bound merchantman of the same class. She sank within an hour of the collision. In the scramble for the boats Charley thought he had but little chance for finding a place; and as the ship filled and kept sinking deeper in the water, an instinct of self-preservation led him to climb into the rigging. Then up he went, higher and higher, even to the topmast; and at last, when the vessel went down all at once, he found himself, to his inexpressible relief, still above the surface.

What most astonished us all was that a boy so young should have been able to hold on for more than an hour to a slippery mast, exposed to the fury of the wind, and within reach, even, of the lashing waves. We sailed home at once to the Isle of Wight, and wrote to the boy’s mother, a widow living in London, to tell her of his safety. The boy himself stayed with us two or three days, until we bought him new clothes, and then went to his mother. Great was her joy when she once more clasped him to her loving heart. My brother-in-law took a great fancy to him. He has watched his career, and seen him at intervals ever since. Charley Standish is now a chief mate on board a great merchantman of the same class as the “Melbourne.”