Saved by W. Clark
(From The Wreck of the Grosvenor.)
We had never yet had the leisure to inspect the stores with which the
mutineers had furnished the quarter-boat, and we now found, in spite of their
having shifted a lot of provisions out of her into the long-boat before starting
in pursuit of us, that there was still an abundance left: four kegs of water,
several tins of cuddy bread, preserved meats and fruits, sugar, flour, and other
things, not to mention such items as boxes of lucifer matches, fishing-tackle, a
burning glass, a quantity of tools and nails; in a word, everything which men in
the condition they had hoped to find themselves in might stand in need of to
support life. Indeed, the foresight illustrated by the provisioning of this boat
was truly remarkable, the only things they had omitted being a mast and sail, it
having been their intention to keep this boat in tow of the other. I even found
that they had furnished the boat with the oars belonging to the disabled
quarter-boat in addition to her own.
However, the boat was not yet stocked to my satisfaction. I therefore
repaired to my cabin and procured the boat’s compass, some charts, a sextant,
and other necessary articles such as the “Nautical Almanac,” and pencils and
paper wherewith to work out my observations, which I placed very carefully in
the locker in the stern-sheets of the boat.
I allowed Mary to help me, that the occupation might divert her mind from the
overwhelming thoughts which the gradual settling of the ship on which we stood
must have excited in the strongest and bravest mind; and, indeed, I worked
busily and eagerly to guard myself against any terror that might come upon me.
She it was who suggested that we should provide ourselves with lamps and oil;
and I shipped a lantern to hoist at our masthead when the darkness came, and the
bull’s-eye lamp to enable me to work out observations of the stars, which I
intended to make when the night fell. To all these things, which sound numerous,
but in reality occupied but little space, I added a can of oil, meshes for the
lamps, top coats, oil-skins, and rugs to protect us at night, so that the
afternoon was well advanced before we had ended our preparations. Meanwhile, the
boatswain had stepped a topgallant-stun’-sail boom to serve us for a mast, well
stayed, with a block and halyards at the masthead to serve for hoisting a flag
or lantern, and a spare topgallant-stun’-sail to act as a sail.
By this time the wind had completely died away; a peaceful deep-blue sky
stretched from horizon to horizon; and the agitation of the sea had subsided
into a long and silent swell, which washed up against the ship’s sides, scarcely
causing her to roll, so deep had she sunk in the water.
I now thought it high time to lower the boat and bring her alongside, as our
calculation of the length of time to be occupied by the ship in sinking might be
falsified to our destruction by her suddenly going stern down with us on board.
We therefore lowered the boat and got the gangway-ladder over the side.
The boatswain got into the boat first to help Mary into her. I then took the
steward by the arms and brought him along smartly, as there was danger in
keeping the boat washing against the ship’s side. He resisted at first, and only
smiled vacantly when I threatened to leave him; but on the boatswain crying out
that his wife was waiting for him, the poor idiot got himself together with a
scramble, and went so hastily over the gangway that he narrowly escaped a
I paused a moment at the gangway and looked around, striving to remember if
there was anything we had forgotten which would be of some use to us. Mary
watched me anxiously, and called to me by my Christian name, at the same time
extending her arms. I would not keep her in suspense a moment, and at once
dropped into the boat. She grasped and fondled my hand, and drew me close beside
“I should have gone on board again had you delayed coming,” she whispered.
The boatswain shoved the boat’s head off, and we each shipped an oar and
pulled the boat about a quarter of a mile away from the ship; and then, from a
strange and wild curiosity to behold the ship sink, and still in our hearts
clinging to her, not only as the home where we had found shelter for many days
past, but as the only visible object in all the stupendous reach of waters, we
threw in the oars and sat watching her.
She had now sunk as deep as her main-chains, and was but a little higher out
of the water than the hull from which we had rescued Mary and her father. It was
strange to behold her even from a short distance and notice her littleness in
comparison with the immensity of the deep on which she rested, and recall the
terrible seas she had braved and triumphed over.
Few sailors can behold the ship in which they have sailed sinking before
their eyes without the same emotion of distress and pity, almost, which the
spectacle of a drowning man excites in them. She has grown a familiar name, a
familiar object; thus far she has borne them in safety; she has been rudely
beaten, and yet has done her duty; but the tempest has broken her down at last;
all the beauty is shorn from her; she is weary with the long and dreadful
struggles with the vast forces that nature arrayed against her; she sinks, a
desolate, abandoned thing, in mid-ocean, carrying with her a thousand memories
which surge up in the heart with the pain of a strong man’s tears.
I looked from the ship to realize our own position. Perhaps not yet could it
be keenly felt, for the ship was still a visible object for us to hold on by;
and yet, turning my eyes away to the far reaches of the horizon at one moment
borne high on the summit of the ocean swell, which appeared mountainous when
felt in and viewed from the boat, then sinking deep in the hollow, so that the
near ship was hidden from us—the supreme loneliness of our situation, our
helplessness, and the fragility and diminutiveness of the structure on which our
lives depended, came home to me with the pain and wonder of a shock.
Our boat, however, was new this voyage, with a good beam, and showing a
tolerably bold side, considering her dimensions and freight. Of the two
quarter-boats with which the Grosvenor had been furnished, this was the larger
and the stronger built, and for this reason had been chosen by Stevens. I could
not hope, indeed, that she would live a moment in anything of a sea; but she was
certainly stout enough to carry us to the Bermudas, providing that the weather
It was now six o’clock. I said to the boatswain:
“Every hour of this weather is valuable to us. There is no reason why we
should stay here.”
“I should like to see her sink, Mr. Royle; I should like to know that poor
Jim found a regular coffin in her,” he answered. “We can’t make no headway with
the sail, and I don’t recommend rowin’ for the two or three mile we can fetch
with the oars. It ’ud be wurse nor pumpin’.”
He was right. When I reflected, I was quite sure I should not, in my
exhausted state, be able to handle one of the big oars for even five minutes at
a stretch; and, admitting that I had been strong enough to row for a
couple of hours, yet the result to have been obtained could not have been
important enough to justify the serious labor.
The steward all this time sat perfectly quiet in the bottom of the boat, with
his back against the mast. He paid no attention to us when we spoke, nor looked
around him, though sometimes he would fix his eyes vacantly on the sky as if his
shattered mind found relief in contemplating the void. I was heartily glad to
find him quiet, though I took care to watch him, for it was difficult to tell
whether his imbecility was not counterfeited, by his madness, to throw us off
our guard, and furnish him with an opportunity to play us and himself some
As some hours had elapsed since we had tasted food, I opened a tin of meat
and prepared a meal. The boatswain ate heartily, and so did the steward: but I
could not prevail upon Mary to take more than a biscuit and sherry and water.
Indeed, as the evening approached, our position affected her more deeply, and
often, after she had cast her eyes toward the horizon, I could see her lips
whispering a prayer, and feel her hand tightening on mine.
The ship still floated, but she was so low in the water that I every minute
expected to see her vanish. The water was above her main-chains, and I could
only attribute her obstinacy in not sinking to the great quantity of wood—both
in cases and goods—which composed her cargo.
The sun was now quite close to the horizon, branding the ocean with a purple
glare, but itself descending in a cloudless sky. I cannot express how majestic
and wonderful the great orb looked to us who were almost level with the water.
Its disk seemed vaster than I had ever before seen it, and there was something
sublimely solemn in the loneliness of its descent. All the sky about it, and far
to the south and north, was changed into the color of gold by its lustre; and
over our heads the heavens were an exquisite tender green, which melted in the
east into a dark blue.
I was telling Mary that ere the sun sunk again we might be on board a ship,
and whispering any words of encouragement and hope to her, when I was startled
by the boatswain, crying, “Now she’s gone! Look at her!”
I turned my eyes toward the ship, and could scarcely credit my senses when I
found that her hull had vanished, and that nothing was to be seen of her but her
spars, which were all aslant sternward.
I held my breath as I saw the masts sink lower and lower. First the
cross-jack yard was submerged, the gaff with the ensign hanging dead at the
peak, then the main-yard; presently only the main-topmast cross-trees were
visible, a dark cross upon the water; they vanished. At the same moment the sun
disappeared behind the horizon; and now we were alone on the great, breathing
deep, with all the eastern sky growing dark as we watched.
“It’s all over!” said the boatswain, breaking the silence, and speaking in a
hollow tone. “No livin’ man’ll ever see the Grosvenor again!”
Mary shivered and leaned against me. I took up a rug and folded it round her,
and kissed her forehead.
The boatswain had turned his back upon us, and sat with his hands folded, I
believe in prayer. I am sure he was thinking of Jim Cornish, and I would not
have interrupted that honest heart’s communion with its Maker for the value of
the ship that had sunk.
Darkness came down very quickly, and, that we might lose no chance of being
seen by any distant vessel, I lighted the ship’s lantern and hoisted it at the
masthead. I also lighted the bull’s-eye lamp and set it in the stern-sheets.
“Mary,” I whispered, “I will make you up a bed in the bottom of the boat.
While this weather lasts, dearest, we have no cause to be alarmed by our
position. It will make me happy to see you sleeping, and be sure that while you
sleep there will be watchful eyes near you.”
“I will sleep as I am here, by your side; I shall rest better so,” she
answered. “I could not sleep lying down.”
It was too sweet a privilege to forego; I passed my arm around her and held
her close to me; and she closed her eyes like a child, to please me.
Worn out as I was, enfeebled both intellectually and physically by the heavy
strain that had been put upon me ever since that day when I had been ironed by
Captain Coxon’s orders, I say—and I solemnly believe in the truth of what I am
about to write—that had it not been for the living reality of this girl,
encircled by my arm, with her head supported by my shoulder; had it not been for
the deep love I felt for her, which localized my thoughts, and, so to say,
humanized them down to the level of our situation, forbidding them to trespass
beyond the prosaic limits of our danger, of the precautions to be taken by us,
of our chances of rescue, of the course to be steered when the wind should fill
our sail—I should have gone mad when the night came down upon the sea and
enveloped our boat (a lonely speck on the gigantic world of water) in the
mystery and fear of the darkness. I know this by recalling the fancy that for a
few moments possessed me in looking along the water, when I clearly beheld the
outline of a coast, with innumerable lights winking upon it; by the whirling,
dizzy sensation in my head which followed the extinction of the vision; by the
emotion of wild horror and unutterable disappointment which overcame me when I
detected the cheat. I pressed my darling to me, and looked upon her sweet face,
revealed by the light shed by the lantern at the masthead, and all my misery
left me; and the delight which the knowledge that she was my own love, and that
I held her in my arms, gave me, fell like an exorcism upon the demons of my
She smiled when I pressed her to my side, and when she saw my face close to
hers, looking at her; but she did not know that she had saved me from a fate
more dreadful than death, and that I—so strong as I seemed, so earnest as I had
shown myself in my conflicts with fate, so resolutely as I had striven to
comfort her—had been rescued from madness by her whom I had a thousand times
pitied for her helplessness.
She fell asleep at last, and I sat for nearly two hours motionless, that I
should not awaken her. The steward slept with his head in his arms, kneeling—a
strange, mad posture. The boatswain sat forward, with his face turned aft and
his arms folded. I addressed him once, but he did not answer. Probably I spoke
too low for him to hear, being fearful of waking Mary; but there was little we
had to say. Doubtless he found his thoughts too engrossing to suffer him to
Being anxious, to “take a star,” as we say at sea, and not knowing how the
time went, I gently drew out my watch and found the hour a quarter to eleven. In
replacing the watch I aroused Mary, who raised her head and looked round her
with eyes that flashed in the lantern light.
“Where are we?” she exclaimed, and bent her head to gaze at me, on which she
recollected herself. “Poor boy!” she said, taking my hand, “I have kept you
supporting my weight. You were more tired than I. But it is your turn now. Rest
your head on my shoulder.”
“No, it is still your turn,” I answered, “and you shall sleep again
presently. But since you are awake, I will try to find out where we are. You
shall hold the lamp for me while I make my calculations, and examine the chart.”
Saying which, I drew out my sextant and got across the thwarts to the mast,
which I stood up alongside of to lean on; for the swell, though moderate enough
to pass without notice on a big vessel, lifted and sank the boat in such a way
as to make it difficult to stand steady.
I was in the act of raising the sextant to my eye, when the boatswain
suddenly cried, “Mr. Royle, listen!”
“What do you hear?” I asked.
“Hush! listen now!” he answered, in a breathless voice.
I strained my ear, but nothing was audible to me but the wash of the water
against the boat’s side.
“Don’t you hear it, Mr. Royle?” he cried, in a kind of agony, holding up his
finger. “Miss Robertson, don’t you hear something?”
There was another interval of silence, and Mary answered: “I hear a kind of
“It is so!” I exclaimed. “I hear it now! it is the engines of a steamer.”
“A steamer? Yes! I hear it! where is she?” shouted the boatswain, and he
jumped on to the thwart on which I stood.
We strained our ears again.
That throbbing sound, as Mary had accurately described it, closely resembling
the rhythmical running of a locomotive-engine heard in the country on a silent
night at a long distance, was now distinctly audible; but so smooth was the
water, so breathless the night, that it was impossible to tell how far away the
vessel might be; for so fine and delicate a vehicle of sound is the ocean in a
calm, that, though the hull of a steamship might be below the horizon, yet the
thumping of her engines would be heard.
Once more we inclined our ears, holding our breath as we listened.
“It grows louder!” cried the boatswain. “Mr. Royle, bend your bull’s-eye lamp
to the end o’ one o’ the oars and swing it about, while I dip this masthead
Very different was his manner now from what it had been that morning when the
Russian hove in sight.
I lashed the lamp by the ring of it to an oar and waved it to and fro.
Meanwhile the boatswain had got hold of the masthead halyards, and was running
the big ship’s lantern up and down the mast.
“Mary,” I exclaimed, “lift up the seat behind you, and in the left-hand
corner you will find a pistol.”
“I have it,” she answered, in a few moments.
“Point it over the stern and fire!” I cried.
She levelled the little weapon and pulled the trigger; the white flame
leaped, and a smart report followed.
“Listen now!” I said.
I held the oar steady, and the boatswain ceased to dance the lantern. For the
first few seconds I heard nothing, then my ear caught the throbbing sound.
“I see her!” cried the boatswain; and, following his finger (my sight being
keener than my hearing), I saw not only the shadow of a vessel down in the
south-west, but the smoke from her funnel pouring along the stars.
“Mary,” I cried, “fire again!”
She drew the trigger.
The clear report whizzed like a bullet past my ear.
Simultaneously with the second report a ball of blue fire shot up into the
sky. Another followed, and another.
A moment after a red light shone clear upon the sea.
“She sees us!” I cried, “God be praised! Mary, darling, she sees us!”
I waved the lamp furiously. But there was no need to wave it any longer. The
red light drew nearer and nearer; the throbbing of the engines louder and
louder, and the revolutions of the propeller sounded like a pulse heating
through the water. The shadow broadened and loomed larger. I could hear the
water spouting out of her side and the blowing off of the safety-valve.
Soon the vessel grew a defined shape against the stars, and then a voice,
thinned by the distance, shouted, “What light is that?”
I cried to the boatswain: “Answer, for God’s sake! My voice is weak.”
He hollowed his hands and roared back: “We’re shipwrecked seamen adrift in a
Nearer and nearer came the shadow, and now it was a long, black hull, a
funnel pouring forth a dense volume of smoke, spotted with fire-sparks, and
tapering masts and fragile rigging, with the stars running through them.
The sound of the throbbing grew more measured. We could hear the water as it
was churned up by the screw.
The sounds ceased, and the vessel came looming up slowly, more slowly, until
“What is that?—a boat?” exclaimed a strong bass voice.
“Yes!” answered the boatswain. “We’ve been shipwrecked; we’re adrift in a
“Can you bring her alongside?”
“Ay, ay, sir!”
I threw out an oar, but trembled so violently that it was as much as I could
do to work it. We headed the boat for the steamer and rowed toward her. As we
approached, I perceived that she was very long, bark-rigged, and raking,
manifestly a powerful, iron-built ocean steamer. They hung a red light on the
forestay and a white light over her port quarter, and lights flitted about her
A voice sung out: “How many are there of you?”
The boatswain answered: “Three men and a lady.”
On this the same voice called, “If you want help to bring that boat
alongside, we’ll send to you.”
“We’ll be alongside in a few minutes,” returned the boatswain.
But the fact was, the vessel had stopped her engines when further off from us
than we had imagined; being deceived by the magnitude of her looming hull, which
seemed to stand not a hundred fathoms away from us, and by the wonderful
distinctness of the voice that had spoken us.
I did not know how feeble I had become until I took the oar; and the violent
emotions excited in me by our rescue, now to be effected after our long and
heavy trials, diminished still the little strength that was left in me; so that
the boat moved very slowly through the water, and it was full twenty minutes
starting from the time when we had shipped oars, before we came up with her.
“We’ll fling you a rope’s end,” said a voice; “look out for it.”
A line fell into the boat. The boatswain caught it, and sung out, “All fast!”
I looked up the high side of the steamer: there was a crowd of men assembled
round the gangway, their faces visible in the light shed not only by our own
masthead lantern (which was on a level with the steamer’s bulwarks), but by
other lanterns which some of them held. In all this light we, the occupants of
the boat, were to be clearly viewed from the deck; and the voice that had first
addressed us said:
“Are you strong enough to get up the ladder? If not, we’ll sling you on
I answered that if a couple of hands would come down into the boat so as to
help the lady and a man (who had fallen imbecile) over the ship’s side, the
other two would manage to get on board without assistance.
On this a short gangway-ladder was lowered, and two men descended and got
into the boat.
“Take that lady first,” I said, pointing to Mary, but holding on, as I spoke,
to the boat’s mast, for I felt horribly sick and faint, and knew not, indeed,
what was going to happen to me; and I had to exert all my power to steady my
They took her by the arms, and watching the moment when the wash of the swell
brought the boat against the ship’s side, landed her cleverly on the ladder and
helped her on to the deck.