The Wreck of the Golden Mary
I was apprenticed to the Sea when I was twelve years old, and I have
encountered a great deal of rough weather, both literal and metaphorical.
It has always been my opinion since I first possessed such a thing as
an opinion, that the man who knows only one subject is next tiresome
to the man who knows no subject. Therefore, in the course of my
life I have taught myself whatever I could, and although I am not an
educated man, I am able, I am thankful to say, to have an intelligent
interest in most things.
A person might suppose, from reading the above, that I am in the
habit of holding forth about number one. That is not the case.
Just as if I was to come into a room among strangers, and must either
be introduced or introduce myself, so I have taken the liberty of passing
these few remarks, simply and plainly that it may be known who and what
I am. I will add no more of the sort than that my name is William
George Ravender, that I was born at Penrith half a year after my own
father was drowned, and that I am on the second day of this present
blessed Christmas week of one thousand eight hundred and fifty-six,
fifty-six years of age.
When the rumour first went flying up and down that there was gold
in California—which, as most people know, was before it was discovered
in the British colony of Australia—I was in the West Indies, trading
among the Islands. Being in command and likewise part-owner of
a smart schooner, I had my work cut out for me, and I was doing it.
Consequently, gold in California was no business of mine.
But, by the time when I came home to England again, the thing was
as clear as your hand held up before you at noon-day. There was
Californian gold in the museums and in the goldsmiths’ shops,
and the very first time I went upon ’Change, I met a friend of
mine (a seafaring man like myself), with a Californian nugget hanging
to his watch-chain. I handled it. It was as like a peeled
walnut with bits unevenly broken off here and there, and then electrotyped
all over, as ever I saw anything in my life.
I am a single man (she was too good for this world and for me, and
she died six weeks before our marriage-day), so when I am ashore, I
live in my house at Poplar. My house at Poplar is taken care of
and kept ship-shape by an old lady who was my mother’s maid before
I was born. She is as handsome and as upright as any old lady
in the world. She is as fond of me as if she had ever had an only
son, and I was he. Well do I know wherever I sail that she never
lays down her head at night without having said, “Merciful Lord!
bless and preserve William George Ravender, and send him safe home,
through Christ our Saviour!” I have thought of it in many
a dangerous moment, when it has done me no harm, I am sure.
In my house at Poplar, along with this old lady, I lived quiet for
best part of a year: having had a long spell of it among the Islands,
and having (which was very uncommon in me) taken the fever rather badly.
At last, being strong and hearty, and having read every book I could
lay hold of, right out, I was walking down Leadenhall Street in the
City of London, thinking of turning-to again, when I met what I call
Smithick and Watersby of Liverpool. I chanced to lift up my eyes
from looking in at a ship’s chronometer in a window, and I saw
him bearing down upon me, head on.
It is, personally, neither Smithick, nor Watersby, that I here mention,
nor was I ever acquainted with any man of either of those names, nor
do I think that there has been any one of either of those names in that
Liverpool House for years back. But, it is in reality the House
itself that I refer to; and a wiser merchant or a truer gentleman never
“My dear Captain Ravender,” says he. “Of
all the men on earth, I wanted to see you most. I was on my way
“Well!” says I. “That looks as if you were
to see me, don’t it?” With that I put my arm in his,
and we walked on towards the Royal Exchange, and when we got there,
walked up and down at the back of it where the Clock-Tower is.
We walked an hour and more, for he had much to say to me. He had
a scheme for chartering a new ship of their own to take out cargo to
the diggers and emigrants in California, and to buy and bring back gold.
Into the particulars of that scheme I will not enter, and I have no
right to enter. All I say of it is, that it was a very original
one, a very fine one, a very sound one, and a very lucrative one beyond
He imparted it to me as freely as if I had been a part of himself.
After doing so, he made me the handsomest sharing offer that ever was
made to me, boy or man—or I believe to any other captain in the
Merchant Navy—and he took this round turn to finish with:
“Ravender, you are well aware that the lawlessness of that
coast and country at present, is as special as the circumstances in
which it is placed. Crews of vessels outward-bound, desert as
soon as they make the land; crews of vessels homeward-bound, ship at
enormous wages, with the express intention of murdering the captain
and seizing the gold freight; no man can trust another, and the devil
seems let loose. Now,” says he, “you know my opinion
of you, and you know I am only expressing it, and with no singularity,
when I tell you that you are almost the only man on whose integrity,
discretion, and energy—” &c., &c. For, I don’t
want to repeat what he said, though I was and am sensible of it.
Notwithstanding my being, as I have mentioned, quite ready for a
voyage, still I had some doubts of this voyage. Of course I knew,
without being told, that there were peculiar difficulties and dangers
in it, a long way over and above those which attend all voyages.
It must not be supposed that I was afraid to face them; but, in my opinion
a man has no manly motive or sustainment in his own breast for facing
dangers, unless he has well considered what they are, and is able quietly
to say to himself, “None of these perils can now take me by surprise;
I shall know what to do for the best in any of them; all the rest lies
in the higher and greater hands to which I humbly commit myself.”
On this principle I have so attentively considered (regarding it as
my duty) all the hazards I have ever been able to think of, in the ordinary
way of storm, shipwreck, and fire at sea, that I hope I should be prepared
to do, in any of those cases, whatever could be done, to save the lives
intrusted to my charge.
As I was thoughtful, my good friend proposed that he should leave
me to walk there as long as I liked, and that I should dine with him
by-and-by at his club in Pall Mall. I accepted the invitation
and I walked up and down there, quarter-deck fashion, a matter of a
couple of hours; now and then looking up at the weathercock as I might
have looked up aloft; and now and then taking a look into Cornhill,
as I might have taken a look over the side.
All dinner-time, and all after dinner-time, we talked it over again.
I gave him my views of his plan, and he very much approved of the same.
I told him I had nearly decided, but not quite. “Well, well,”
says he, “come down to Liverpool to-morrow with me, and see the
Golden Mary.” I liked the name (her name was Mary, and she
was golden, if golden stands for good), so I began to feel that it was
almost done when I said I would go to Liverpool. On the next morning
but one we were on board the Golden Mary. I might have known,
from his asking me to come down and see her, what she was. I declare
her to have been the completest and most exquisite Beauty that ever
I set my eyes upon.
We had inspected every timber in her, and had come back to the gangway
to go ashore from the dock-basin, when I put out my hand to my friend.
“Touch upon it,” says I, “and touch heartily.
I take command of this ship, and I am hers and yours, if I can get John
Steadiman for my chief mate.”
John Steadiman had sailed with me four voyages. The first voyage
John was third mate out to China, and came home second. The other
three voyages he was my first officer. At this time of chartering
the Golden Mary, he was aged thirty-two. A brisk, bright, blue-eyed
fellow, a very neat figure and rather under the middle size, never out
of the way and never in it, a face that pleased everybody and that all
children took to, a habit of going about singing as cheerily as a blackbird,
and a perfect sailor.
We were in one of those Liverpool hackney-coaches in less than a
minute, and we cruised about in her upwards of three hours, looking
for John. John had come home from Van Diemen’s Land barely
a month before, and I had heard of him as taking a frisk in Liverpool.
We asked after him, among many other places, at the two boarding-houses
he was fondest of, and we found he had had a week’s spell at each
of them; but, he had gone here and gone there, and had set off “to
lay out on the main-to’-gallant-yard of the highest Welsh mountain”
(so he had told the people of the house), and where he might be then,
or when he might come back, nobody could tell us. But it was surprising,
to be sure, to see how every face brightened the moment there was mention
made of the name of Mr. Steadiman.
We were taken aback at meeting with no better luck, and we had wore
ship and put her head for my friends, when as we were jogging through
the streets, I clap my eyes on John himself coming out of a toyshop!
He was carrying a little boy, and conducting two uncommon pretty women
to their coach, and he told me afterwards that he had never in his life
seen one of the three before, but that he was so taken with them on
looking in at the toyshop while they were buying the child a cranky
Noah’s Ark, very much down by the head, that he had gone in and
asked the ladies’ permission to treat him to a tolerably correct
Cutter there was in the window, in order that such a handsome boy might
not grow up with a lubberly idea of naval architecture.
We stood off and on until the ladies’ coachman began to give
way, and then we hailed John. On his coming aboard of us, I told
him, very gravely, what I had said to my friend. It struck him,
as he said himself, amidships. He was quite shaken by it.
“Captain Ravender,” were John Steadiman’s words, “such
an opinion from you is true commendation, and I’ll sail round
the world with you for twenty years if you hoist the signal, and stand
by you for ever!” And now indeed I felt that it was done,
and that the Golden Mary was afloat.
Grass never grew yet under the feet of Smithick and Watersby.
The riggers were out of that ship in a fortnight’s time, and we
had begun taking in cargo. John was always aboard, seeing everything
stowed with his own eyes; and whenever I went aboard myself early or
late, whether he was below in the hold, or on deck at the hatchway,
or overhauling his cabin, nailing up pictures in it of the Blush Roses
of England, the Blue Belles of Scotland, and the female Shamrock of
Ireland: of a certainty I heard John singing like a blackbird.
We had room for twenty passengers. Our sailing advertisement
was no sooner out, than we might have taken these twenty times over.
In entering our men, I and John (both together) picked them, and we
entered none but good hands—as good as were to be found in that
port. And so, in a good ship of the best build, well owned, well
arranged, well officered, well manned, well found in all respects, we
parted with our pilot at a quarter past four o’clock in the afternoon
of the seventh of March, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-one, and
stood with a fair wind out to sea.
It may be easily believed that up to that time I had had no leisure
to be intimate with my passengers. The most of them were then
in their berths sea-sick; however, in going among them, telling them
what was good for them, persuading them not to be there, but to come
up on deck and feel the breeze, and in rousing them with a joke, or
a comfortable word, I made acquaintance with them, perhaps, in a more
friendly and confidential way from the first, than I might have done
at the cabin table.
Of my passengers, I need only particularise, just at present, a bright-eyed
blooming young wife who was going out to join her husband in California,
taking with her their only child, a little girl of three years old,
whom he had never seen; a sedate young woman in black, some five years
older (about thirty as I should say), who was going out to join a brother;
and an old gentleman, a good deal like a hawk if his eyes had been better
and not so red, who was always talking, morning, noon, and night, about
the gold discovery. But, whether he was making the voyage, thinking
his old arms could dig for gold, or whether his speculation was to buy
it, or to barter for it, or to cheat for it, or to snatch it anyhow
from other people, was his secret. He kept his secret.
These three and the child were the soonest well. The child
was a most engaging child, to be sure, and very fond of me: though I
am bound to admit that John Steadiman and I were borne on her pretty
little books in reverse order, and that he was captain there, and I
was mate. It was beautiful to watch her with John, and it was
beautiful to watch John with her. Few would have thought it possible,
to see John playing at bo-peep round the mast, that he was the man who
had caught up an iron bar and struck a Malay and a Maltese dead, as
they were gliding with their knives down the cabin stair aboard the
barque Old England, when the captain lay ill in his cot, off Saugar
Point. But he was; and give him his back against a bulwark, he
would have done the same by half a dozen of them. The name of
the young mother was Mrs. Atherfield, the name of the young lady in
black was Miss Coleshaw, and the name of the old gentleman was Mr. Rarx.
As the child had a quantity of shining fair hair, clustering in curls
all about her face, and as her name was Lucy, Steadiman gave her the
name of the Golden Lucy. So, we had the Golden Lucy and the Golden
Mary; and John kept up the idea to that extent as he and the child went
playing about the decks, that I believe she used to think the ship was
alive somehow—a sister or companion, going to the same place as
herself. She liked to be by the wheel, and in fine weather, I
have often stood by the man whose trick it was at the wheel, only to
hear her, sitting near my feet, talking to the ship. Never had
a child such a doll before, I suppose; but she made a doll of the Golden
Mary, and used to dress her up by tying ribbons and little bits of finery
to the belaying-pins; and nobody ever moved them, unless it was to save
them from being blown away.
Of course I took charge of the two young women, and I called them
“my dear,” and they never minded, knowing that whatever
I said was said in a fatherly and protecting spirit. I gave them
their places on each side of me at dinner, Mrs. Atherfield on my right
and Miss Coleshaw on my left; and I directed the unmarried lady to serve
out the breakfast, and the married lady to serve out the tea.
Likewise I said to my black steward in their presence, “Tom Snow,
these two ladies are equally the mistresses of this house, and do you
obey their orders equally;” at which Tom laughed, and they all
Old Mr. Rarx was not a pleasant man to look at, nor yet to talk to,
or to be with, for no one could help seeing that he was a sordid and
selfish character, and that he had warped further and further out of
the straight with time. Not but what he was on his best behaviour
with us, as everybody was; for we had no bickering among us, for’ard
or aft. I only mean to say, he was not the man one would have
chosen for a messmate. If choice there had been, one might even
have gone a few points out of one’s course, to say, “No!
Not him!” But, there was one curious inconsistency in Mr.
Rarx. That was, that he took an astonishing interest in the child.
He looked, and I may add, he was, one of the last of men to care at
all for a child, or to care much for any human creature. Still,
he went so far as to be habitually uneasy, if the child was long on
deck, out of his sight. He was always afraid of her falling overboard,
or falling down a hatchway, or of a block or what not coming down upon
her from the rigging in the working of the ship, or of her getting some
hurt or other. He used to look at her and touch her, as if she
was something precious to him. He was always solicitous about
her not injuring her health, and constantly entreated her mother to
be careful of it. This was so much the more curious, because the
child did not like him, but used to shrink away from him, and would
not even put out her hand to him without coaxing from others.
I believe that every soul on board frequently noticed this, and not
one of us understood it. However, it was such a plain fact, that
John Steadiman said more than once when old Mr. Rarx was not within
earshot, that if the Golden Mary felt a tenderness for the dear old
gentleman she carried in her lap, she must be bitterly jealous of the
Before I go any further with this narrative, I will state that our
ship was a barque of three hundred tons, carrying a crew of eighteen
men, a second mate in addition to John, a carpenter, an armourer or
smith, and two apprentices (one a Scotch boy, poor little fellow).
We had three boats; the Long-boat, capable of carrying twenty-five men;
the Cutter, capable of carrying fifteen; and the Surf-boat, capable
of carrying ten. I put down the capacity of these boats according
to the numbers they were really meant to hold.
We had tastes of bad weather and head-winds, of course; but, on the
whole we had as fine a run as any reasonable man could expect, for sixty
days. I then began to enter two remarks in the ship’s Log
and in my Journal; first, that there was an unusual and amazing quantity
of ice; second, that the nights were most wonderfully dark, in spite
of the ice.
For five days and a half, it seemed quite useless and hopeless to
alter the ship’s course so as to stand out of the way of this
ice. I made what southing I could; but, all that time, we were
beset by it. Mrs. Atherfield after standing by me on deck once,
looking for some time in an awed manner at the great bergs that surrounded
us, said in a whisper, “O! Captain Ravender, it looks as if the
whole solid earth had changed into ice, and broken up!”
I said to her, laughing, “I don’t wonder that it does, to
your inexperienced eyes, my dear.” But I had never seen
a twentieth part of the quantity, and, in reality, I was pretty much
of her opinion.
However, at two p.m. on the afternoon of the sixth day, that is to
say, when we were sixty-six days out, John Steadiman who had gone aloft,
sang out from the top, that the sea was clear ahead. Before four
p.m. a strong breeze springing up right astern, we were in open water
at sunset. The breeze then freshening into half a gale of wind,
and the Golden Mary being a very fast sailer, we went before the wind
merrily, all night.
I had thought it impossible that it could be darker than it had been,
until the sun, moon, and stars should fall out of the Heavens, and Time
should be destroyed; but, it had been next to light, in comparison with
what it was now. The darkness was so profound, that looking into
it was painful and oppressive—like looking, without a ray of light,
into a dense black bandage put as close before the eyes as it could
be, without touching them. I doubled the look-out, and John and
I stood in the bow side-by-side, never leaving it all night. Yet
I should no more have known that he was near me when he was silent,
without putting out my arm and touching him, than I should if he had
turned in and been fast asleep below. We were not so much looking
out, all of us, as listening to the utmost, both with our eyes and ears.
Next day, I found that the mercury in the barometer, which had risen
steadily since we cleared the ice, remained steady. I had had
very good observations, with now and then the interruption of a day
or so, since our departure. I got the sun at noon, and found that
we were in Lat. 58 degrees S., Long. 60 degrees W., off New South Shetland;
in the neighbourhood of Cape Horn. We were sixty-seven days out,
that day. The ship’s reckoning was accurately worked and
made up. The ship did her duty admirably, all on board were well,
and all hands were as smart, efficient, and contented, as it was possible
When the night came on again as dark as before, it was the eighth
night I had been on deck. Nor had I taken more than a very little
sleep in the day-time, my station being always near the helm, and often
at it, while we were among the ice. Few but those who have tried
it can imagine the difficulty and pain of only keeping the eyes open—physically
open—under such circumstances, in such darkness. They get
struck by the darkness, and blinded by the darkness. They make
patterns in it, and they flash in it, as if they had gone out of your
head to look at you. On the turn of midnight, John Steadiman,
who was alert and fresh (for I had always made him turn in by day),
said to me, “Captain Ravender, I entreat of you to go below.
I am sure you can hardly stand, and your voice is getting weak, sir.
Go below, and take a little rest. I’ll call you if a block
chafes.” I said to John in answer, “Well, well, John!
Let us wait till the turn of one o’clock, before we talk about
that.” I had just had one of the ship’s lanterns held
up, that I might see how the night went by my watch, and it was then
twenty minutes after twelve.
At five minutes before one, John sang out to the boy to bring the
lantern again, and when I told him once more what the time was, entreated
and prayed of me to go below. “Captain Ravender,”
says he, “all’s well; we can’t afford to have you
laid up for a single hour; and I respectfully and earnestly beg of you
to go below.” The end of it was, that I agreed to do so,
on the understanding that if I failed to come up of my own accord within
three hours, I was to be punctually called. Having settled that,
I left John in charge. But I called him to me once afterwards,
to ask him a question. I had been to look at the barometer, and
had seen the mercury still perfectly steady, and had come up the companion
again to take a last look about me—if I can use such a word in
reference to such darkness—when I thought that the waves, as the
Golden Mary parted them and shook them off, had a hollow sound in them;
something that I fancied was a rather unusual reverberation. I
was standing by the quarter-deck rail on the starboard side, when I
called John aft to me, and bade him listen. He did so with the
greatest attention. Turning to me he then said, “Rely upon
it, Captain Ravender, you have been without rest too long, and the novelty
is only in the state of your sense of hearing.” I thought
so too by that time, and I think so now, though I can never know for
absolute certain in this world, whether it was or not.
When I left John Steadiman in charge, the ship was still going at
a great rate through the water. The wind still blew right astern.
Though she was making great way, she was under shortened sail, and had
no more than she could easily carry. All was snug, and nothing
complained. There was a pretty sea running, but not a very high
sea neither, nor at all a confused one.
I turned in, as we seamen say, all standing. The meaning of
that is, I did not pull my clothes off—no, not even so much as
my coat: though I did my shoes, for my feet were badly swelled with
the deck. There was a little swing-lamp alight in my cabin.
I thought, as I looked at it before shutting my eyes, that I was so
tired of darkness, and troubled by darkness, that I could have gone
to sleep best in the midst of a million of flaming gas-lights.
That was the last thought I had before I went off, except the prevailing
thought that I should not be able to get to sleep at all.
I dreamed that I was back at Penrith again, and was trying to get
round the church, which had altered its shape very much since I last
saw it, and was cloven all down the middle of the steeple in a most
singular manner. Why I wanted to get round the church I don’t
know; but I was as anxious to do it as if my life depended on it.
Indeed, I believe it did in the dream. For all that, I could not
get round the church. I was still trying, when I came against
it with a violent shock, and was flung out of my cot against the ship’s
side. Shrieks and a terrific outcry struck me far harder than
the bruising timbers, and amidst sounds of grinding and crashing, and
a heavy rushing and breaking of water—sounds I understood too
well—I made my way on deck. It was not an easy thing to
do, for the ship heeled over frightfully, and was beating in a furious
I could not see the men as I went forward, but I could hear that
they were hauling in sail, in disorder. I had my trumpet in my
hand, and, after directing and encouraging them in this till it was
done, I hailed first John Steadiman, and then my second mate, Mr. William
Rames. Both answered clearly and steadily. Now, I had practised
them and all my crew, as I have ever made it a custom to practise all
who sail with me, to take certain stations and wait my orders, in case
of any unexpected crisis. When my voice was heard hailing, and
their voices were heard answering, I was aware, through all the noises
of the ship and sea, and all the crying of the passengers below, that
there was a pause. “Are you ready, Rames?”—“Ay,
ay, sir!”—“Then light up, for God’s sake!”
In a moment he and another were burning blue-lights, and the ship and
all on board seemed to be enclosed in a mist of light, under a great
The light shone up so high that I could see the huge Iceberg upon
which we had struck, cloven at the top and down the middle, exactly
like Penrith Church in my dream. At the same moment I could see
the watch last relieved, crowding up and down on deck; I could see Mrs.
Atherfield and Miss Coleshaw thrown about on the top of the companion
as they struggled to bring the child up from below; I could see that
the masts were going with the shock and the beating of the ship; I could
see the frightful breach stove in on the starboard side, half the length
of the vessel, and the sheathing and timbers spirting up; I could see
that the Cutter was disabled, in a wreck of broken fragments; and I
could see every eye turned upon me. It is my belief that if there
had been ten thousand eyes there, I should have seen them all, with
their different looks. And all this in a moment. But you
must consider what a moment.
I saw the men, as they looked at me, fall towards their appointed
stations, like good men and true. If she had not righted, they
could have done very little there or anywhere but die—not that
it is little for a man to die at his post—I mean they could have
done nothing to save the passengers and themselves. Happily, however,
the violence of the shock with which we had so determinedly borne down
direct on that fatal Iceberg, as if it had been our destination instead
of our destruction, had so smashed and pounded the ship that she got
off in this same instant and righted. I did not want the carpenter
to tell me she was filling and going down; I could see and hear that.
I gave Rames the word to lower the Long-boat and the Surf-boat, and
I myself told off the men for each duty. Not one hung back, or
came before the other. I now whispered to John Steadiman, “John,
I stand at the gangway here, to see every soul on board safe over the
side. You shall have the next post of honour, and shall be the
last but one to leave the ship. Bring up the passengers, and range
them behind me; and put what provision and water you can got at, in
the boats. Cast your eye for’ard, John, and you’ll
see you have not a moment to lose.”
My noble fellows got the boats over the side as orderly as I ever
saw boats lowered with any sea running, and, when they were launched,
two or three of the nearest men in them as they held on, rising and
falling with the swell, called out, looking up at me, “Captain
Ravender, if anything goes wrong with us, and you are saved, remember
we stood by you!”—“We’ll all stand by one another
ashore, yet, please God, my lads!” says I. “Hold on
bravely, and be tender with the women.”
The women were an example to us. They trembled very much, but
they were quiet and perfectly collected. “Kiss me, Captain
Ravender,” says Mrs. Atherfield, “and God in heaven bless
you, you good man!” “My dear,” says I, “those
words are better for me than a life-boat.” I held her child
in my arms till she was in the boat, and then kissed the child and handed
her safe down. I now said to the people in her, “You have
got your freight, my lads, all but me, and I am not coming yet awhile.
Pull away from the ship, and keep off!”
That was the Long-boat. Old Mr. Rarx was one of her complement,
and he was the only passenger who had greatly misbehaved since the ship
struck. Others had been a little wild, which was not to be wondered
at, and not very blamable; but, he had made a lamentation and uproar
which it was dangerous for the people to hear, as there is always contagion
in weakness and selfishness. His incessant cry had been that he
must not be separated from the child, that he couldn’t see the
child, and that he and the child must go together. He had even
tried to wrest the child out of my arms, that he might keep her in his.
“Mr. Rarx,” said I to him when it came to that, “I
have a loaded pistol in my pocket; and if you don’t stand out
of the gangway, and keep perfectly quiet, I shall shoot you through
the heart, if you have got one.” Says he, “You won’t
do murder, Captain Ravender!” “No, sir,”
says I, “I won’t murder forty-four people to humour you,
but I’ll shoot you to save them.” After that he was
quiet, and stood shivering a little way off, until I named him to go
over the side.
The Long-boat being cast off, the Surf-boat was soon filled.
There only remained aboard the Golden Mary, John Mullion the man who
had kept on burning the blue-lights (and who had lighted every new one
at every old one before it went out, as quietly as if he had been at
an illumination); John Steadiman; and myself. I hurried those
two into the Surf-boat, called to them to keep off, and waited with
a grateful and relieved heart for the Long-boat to come and take me
in, if she could. I looked at my watch, and it showed me, by the
blue-light, ten minutes past two. They lost no time. As
soon as she was near enough, I swung myself into her, and called to
the men, “With a will, lads! She’s reeling!”
We were not an inch too far out of the inner vortex of her going down,
when, by the blue-light which John Mullion still burnt in the bow of
the Surf-boat, we saw her lurch, and plunge to the bottom head-foremost.
The child cried, weeping wildly, “O the dear Golden Mary!
O look at her! Save her! Save the poor Golden Mary!”
And then the light burnt out, and the black dome seemed to come down
I suppose if we had all stood a-top of a mountain, and seen the whole
remainder of the world sink away from under us, we could hardly have
felt more shocked and solitary than we did when we knew we were alone
on the wide ocean, and that the beautiful ship in which most of us had
been securely asleep within half an hour was gone for ever. There
was an awful silence in our boat, and such a kind of palsy on the rowers
and the man at the rudder, that I felt they were scarcely keeping her
before the sea. I spoke out then, and said, “Let every one
here thank the Lord for our preservation!” All the voices
answered (even the child’s), “We thank the Lord!”
I then said the Lord’s Prayer, and all hands said it after me
with a solemn murmuring. Then I gave the word “Cheerily,
O men, Cheerily!” and I felt that they were handling the boat
again as a boat ought to be handled.
The Surf-boat now burnt another blue-light to show us where they
were, and we made for her, and laid ourselves as nearly alongside of
her as we dared. I had always kept my boats with a coil or two
of good stout stuff in each of them, so both boats had a rope at hand.
We made a shift, with much labour and trouble, to got near enough to
one another to divide the blue-lights (they were no use after that night,
for the sea-water soon got at them), and to get a tow-rope out between
us. All night long we kept together, sometimes obliged to cast
off the rope, and sometimes getting it out again, and all of us wearying
for the morning—which appeared so long in coming that old Mr.
Rarx screamed out, in spite of his fears of me, “The world is
drawing to an end, and the sun will never rise any more!”
When the day broke, I found that we were all huddled together in
a miserable manner. We were deep in the water; being, as I found
on mustering, thirty-one in number, or at least six too many.
In the Surf-boat they were fourteen in number, being at least four too
many. The first thing I did, was to get myself passed to the rudder—which
I took from that time—and to get Mrs. Atherfield, her child, and
Miss Coleshaw, passed on to sit next me. As to old Mr. Rarx, I
put him in the bow, as far from us as I could. And I put some
of the best men near us in order that if I should drop there might be
a skilful hand ready to take the helm.
The sea moderating as the sun came up, though the sky was cloudy
and wild, we spoke the other boat, to know what stores they had, and
to overhaul what we had. I had a compass in my pocket, a small
telescope, a double-barrelled pistol, a knife, and a fire-box and matches.
Most of my men had knives, and some had a little tobacco: some, a pipe
as well. We had a mug among us, and an iron spoon. As to
provisions, there were in my boat two bags of biscuit, one piece of
raw beef, one piece of raw pork, a bag of coffee, roasted but not ground
(thrown in, I imagine, by mistake, for something else), two small casks
of water, and about half-a-gallon of rum in a keg. The Surf-boat,
having rather more rum than we, and fewer to drink it, gave us, as I
estimated, another quart into our keg. In return, we gave them
three double handfuls of coffee, tied up in a piece of a handkerchief;
they reported that they had aboard besides, a bag of biscuit, a piece
of beef, a small cask of water, a small box of lemons, and a Dutch cheese.
It took a long time to make these exchanges, and they were not made
without risk to both parties; the sea running quite high enough to make
our approaching near to one another very hazardous. In the bundle
with the coffee, I conveyed to John Steadiman (who had a ship’s
compass with him), a paper written in pencil, and torn from my pocket-book,
containing the course I meant to steer, in the hope of making land,
or being picked up by some vessel—I say in the hope, though I
had little hope of either deliverance. I then sang out to him,
so as all might hear, that if we two boats could live or die together,
we would; but, that if we should be parted by the weather, and join
company no more, they should have our prayers and blessings, and we
asked for theirs. We then gave them three cheers, which they returned,
and I saw the men’s heads droop in both boats as they fell to
their oars again.
These arrangements had occupied the general attention advantageously
for all, though (as I expressed in the last sentence) they ended in
a sorrowful feeling. I now said a few words to my fellow-voyagers
on the subject of the small stock of food on which our lives depended
if they were preserved from the great deep, and on the rigid necessity
of our eking it out in the most frugal manner. One and all replied
that whatever allowance I thought best to lay down should be strictly
kept to. We made a pair of scales out of a thin scrap of iron-plating
and some twine, and I got together for weights such of the heaviest
buttons among us as I calculated made up some fraction over two ounces.
This was the allowance of solid food served out once a-day to each,
from that time to the end; with the addition of a coffee-berry, or sometimes
half a one, when the weather was very fair, for breakfast. We
had nothing else whatever, but half a pint of water each per day, and
sometimes, when we were coldest and weakest, a teaspoonful of rum each,
served out as a dram. I know how learnedly it can be shown that
rum is poison, but I also know that in this case, as in all similar
cases I have ever read of—which are numerous—no words can
express the comfort and support derived from it. Nor have I the
least doubt that it saved the lives of far more than half our number.
Having mentioned half a pint of water as our daily allowance, I ought
to observe that sometimes we had less, and sometimes we had more; for
much rain fell, and we caught it in a canvas stretched for the purpose.
Thus, at that tempestuous time of the year, and in that tempestuous
part of the world, we shipwrecked people rose and fell with the waves.
It is not my intention to relate (if I can avoid it) such circumstances
appertaining to our doleful condition as have been better told in many
other narratives of the kind than I can be expected to tell them.
I will only note, in so many passing words, that day after day and night
after night, we received the sea upon our backs to prevent it from swamping
the boat; that one party was always kept baling, and that every hat
and cap among us soon got worn out, though patched up fifty times, as
the only vessels we had for that service; that another party lay down
in the bottom of the boat, while a third rowed; and that we were soon
all in boils and blisters and rags.
The other boat was a source of such anxious interest to all of us
that I used to wonder whether, if we were saved, the time could ever
come when the survivors in this boat of ours could be at all indifferent
to the fortunes of the survivors in that. We got out a tow-rope
whenever the weather permitted, but that did not often happen, and how
we two parties kept within the same horizon, as we did, He, who mercifully
permitted it to be so for our consolation, only knows. I never
shall forget the looks with which, when the morning light came, we used
to gaze about us over the stormy waters, for the other boat. We
once parted company for seventy-two hours, and we believed them to have
gone down, as they did us. The joy on both sides when we came
within view of one another again, had something in a manner Divine in
it; each was so forgetful of individual suffering, in tears of delight
and sympathy for the people in the other boat.
I have been wanting to get round to the individual or personal part
of my subject, as I call it, and the foregoing incident puts me in the
right way. The patience and good disposition aboard of us, was
wonderful. I was not surprised by it in the women; for all men
born of women know what great qualities they will show when men will
fail; but, I own I was a little surprised by it in some of the men.
Among one-and-thirty people assembled at the best of times, there will
usually, I should say, be two or three uncertain tempers. I knew
that I had more than one rough temper with me among my own people, for
I had chosen those for the Long-boat that I might have them under my
eye. But, they softened under their misery, and were as considerate
of the ladies, and as compassionate of the child, as the best among
us, or among men—they could not have been more so. I heard
scarcely any complaining. The party lying down would moan a good
deal in their sleep, and I would often notice a man—not always
the same man, it is to be understood, but nearly all of them at one
time or other—sitting moaning at his oar, or in his place, as
he looked mistily over the sea. When it happened to be long before
I could catch his eye, he would go on moaning all the time in the dismallest
manner; but, when our looks met, he would brighten and leave off.
I almost always got the impression that he did not know what sound he
had been making, but that he thought he had been humming a tune.
Our sufferings from cold and wet were far greater than our sufferings
from hunger. We managed to keep the child warm; but, I doubt if
any one else among us ever was warm for five minutes together; and the
shivering, and the chattering of teeth, were sad to hear. The
child cried a little at first for her lost playfellow, the Golden Mary;
but hardly ever whimpered afterwards; and when the state of the weather
made it possible, she used now and then to be held up in the arms of
some of us, to look over the sea for John Steadiman’s boat.
I see the golden hair and the innocent face now, between me and the
driving clouds, like an angel going to fly away.
It had happened on the second day, towards night, that Mrs. Atherfield,
in getting Little Lucy to sleep, sang her a song. She had a soft,
melodious voice, and, when she had finished it, our people up and begged
for another. She sang them another, and after it had fallen dark
ended with the Evening Hymn. From that time, whenever anything
could be heard above the sea and wind, and while she had any voice left,
nothing would serve the people but that she should sing at sunset.
She always did, and always ended with the Evening Hymn. We mostly
took up the last line, and shed tears when it was done, but not miserably.
We had a prayer night and morning, also, when the weather allowed of
Twelve nights and eleven days we had been driving in the boat, when
old Mr. Rarx began to be delirious, and to cry out to me to throw the
gold overboard or it would sink us, and we should all be lost.
For days past the child had been declining, and that was the great cause
of his wildness. He had been over and over again shrieking out
to me to give her all the remaining meat, to give her all the remaining
rum, to save her at any cost, or we should all be ruined. At this
time, she lay in her mother’s arms at my feet. One of her
little hands was almost always creeping about her mother’s neck
or chin. I had watched the wasting of the little hand, and I knew
it was nearly over.
The old man’s cries were so discordant with the mother’s
love and submission, that I called out to him in an angry voice, unless
he held his peace on the instant, I would order him to be knocked on
the head and thrown overboard. He was mute then, until the child
died, very peacefully, an hour afterwards: which was known to all in
the boat by the mother’s breaking out into lamentations for the
first time since the wreck—for, she had great fortitude and constancy,
though she was a little gentle woman. Old Mr. Rarx then became
quite ungovernable, tearing what rags he had on him, raging in imprecations,
and calling to me that if I had thrown the gold overboard (always the
gold with him!) I might have saved the child. “And now,”
says he, in a terrible voice, “we shall founder, and all go to
the Devil, for our sins will sink us, when we have no innocent child
to bear us up!” We so discovered with amazement, that this
old wretch had only cared for the life of the pretty little creature
dear to all of us, because of the influence he superstitiously hoped
she might have in preserving him! Altogether it was too much for
the smith or armourer, who was sitting next the old man, to bear.
He took him by the throat and rolled him under the thwarts, where he
lay still enough for hours afterwards.
All that thirteenth night, Miss Coleshaw, lying across my knees as
I kept the helm, comforted and supported the poor mother. Her
child, covered with a pea-jacket of mine, lay in her lap. It troubled
me all night to think that there was no Prayer-Book among us, and that
I could remember but very few of the exact words of the burial service.
When I stood up at broad day, all knew what was going to be done, and
I noticed that my poor fellows made the motion of uncovering their heads,
though their heads had been stark bare to the sky and sea for many a
weary hour. There was a long heavy swell on, but otherwise it
was a fair morning, and there were broad fields of sunlight on the waves
in the east. I said no more than this: “I am the Resurrection
and the Life, saith the Lord. He raised the daughter of Jairus
the ruler, and said she was not dead but slept. He raised the
widow’s son. He arose Himself, and was seen of many.
He loved little children, saying, Suffer them to come unto Me and rebuke
them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. In His name, my
friends, and committed to His merciful goodness!” With those
words I laid my rough face softly on the placid little forehead, and
buried the Golden Lucy in the grave of the Golden Mary.
Having had it on my mind to relate the end of this dear little child,
I have omitted something from its exact place, which I will supply here.
It will come quite as well here as anywhere else.
Foreseeing that if the boat lived through the stormy weather, the
time must come, and soon come, when we should have absolutely no morsel
to eat, I had one momentous point often in my thoughts. Although
I had, years before that, fully satisfied myself that the instances
in which human beings in the last distress have fed upon each other,
are exceedingly few, and have very seldom indeed (if ever) occurred
when the people in distress, however dreadful their extremity, have
been accustomed to moderate forbearance and restraint; I say, though
I had long before quite satisfied my mind on this topic, I felt doubtful
whether there might not have been in former cases some harm and danger
from keeping it out of sight and pretending not to think of it.
I felt doubtful whether some minds, growing weak with fasting and exposure
and having such a terrific idea to dwell upon in secret, might not magnify
it until it got to have an awful attraction about it. This was
not a new thought of mine, for it had grown out of my reading.
However, it came over me stronger than it had ever done before—as
it had reason for doing—in the boat, and on the fourth day I decided
that I would bring out into the light that unformed fear which must
have been more or less darkly in every brain among us. Therefore,
as a means of beguiling the time and inspiring hope, I gave them the
best summary in my power of Bligh’s voyage of more than three
thousand miles, in an open boat, after the Mutiny of the Bounty, and
of the wonderful preservation of that boat’s crew. They
listened throughout with great interest, and I concluded by telling
them, that, in my opinion, the happiest circumstance in the whole narrative
was, that Bligh, who was no delicate man either, had solemnly placed
it on record therein that he was sure and certain that under no conceivable
circumstances whatever would that emaciated party, who had gone through
all the pains of famine, have preyed on one another. I cannot
describe the visible relief which this spread through the boat, and
how the tears stood in every eye. From that time I was as well
convinced as Bligh himself that there was no danger, and that this phantom,
at any rate, did not haunt us.
Now, it was a part of Bligh’s experience that when the people
in his boat were most cast down, nothing did them so much good as hearing
a story told by one of their number. When I mentioned that, I
saw that it struck the general attention as much as it did my own, for
I had not thought of it until I came to it in my summary. This
was on the day after Mrs. Atherfield first sang to us. I proposed
that, whenever the weather would permit, we should have a story two
hours after dinner (I always issued the allowance I have mentioned at
one o’clock, and called it by that name), as well as our song
at sunset. The proposal was received with a cheerful satisfaction
that warmed my heart within me; and I do not say too much when I say
that those two periods in the four-and-twenty hours were expected with
positive pleasure, and were really enjoyed by all hands. Spectres
as we soon were in our bodily wasting, our imaginations did not perish
like the gross flesh upon our bones. Music and Adventure, two
of the great gifts of Providence to mankind, could charm us long after
that was lost.
The wind was almost always against us after the second day; and for
many days together we could not nearly hold our own. We had all
varieties of bad weather. We had rain, hail, snow, wind, mist,
thunder and lightning. Still the boats lived through the heavy
seas, and still we perishing people rose and fell with the great waves.
Sixteen nights and fifteen days, twenty nights and nineteen days,
twenty-four nights and twenty-three days. So the time went on.
Disheartening as I knew that our progress, or want of progress, must
be, I never deceived them as to my calculations of it. In the
first place, I felt that we were all too near eternity for deceit; in
the second place, I knew that if I failed, or died, the man who followed
me must have a knowledge of the true state of things to begin upon.
When I told them at noon, what I reckoned we had made or lost, they
generally received what I said in a tranquil and resigned manner, and
always gratefully towards me. It was not unusual at any time of
the day for some one to burst out weeping loudly without any new cause;
and, when the burst was over, to calm down a little better than before.
I had seen exactly the same thing in a house of mourning.
During the whole of this time, old Mr. Rarx had had his fits of calling
out to me to throw the gold (always the gold!) overboard, and of heaping
violent reproaches upon me for not having saved the child; but now,
the food being all gone, and I having nothing left to serve out but
a bit of coffee-berry now and then, he began to be too weak to do this,
and consequently fell silent. Mrs. Atherfield and Miss Coleshaw
generally lay, each with an arm across one of my knees, and her head
upon it. They never complained at all. Up to the time of
her child’s death, Mrs. Atherfield had bound up her own beautiful
hair every day; and I took particular notice that this was always before
she sang her song at night, when everyone looked at her. But she
never did it after the loss of her darling; and it would have been now
all tangled with dirt and wet, but that Miss Coleshaw was careful of
it long after she was herself, and would sometimes smooth it down with
her weak thin hands.
We were past mustering a story now; but one day, at about this period,
I reverted to the superstition of old Mr. Rarx, concerning the Golden
Lucy, and told them that nothing vanished from the eye of God, though
much might pass away from the eyes of men. “We were all
of us,” says I, “children once; and our baby feet have strolled
in green woods ashore; and our baby hands have gathered flowers in gardens,
where the birds were singing. The children that we were, are not
lost to the great knowledge of our Creator. Those innocent creatures
will appear with us before Him, and plead for us. What we were
in the best time of our generous youth will arise and go with us too.
The purest part of our lives will not desert us at the pass to which
all of us here present are gliding. What we were then, will be
as much in existence before Him, as what we are now.” They
were no less comforted by this consideration, than I was myself; and
Miss Coleshaw, drawing my ear nearer to her lips, said, “Captain
Ravender, I was on my way to marry a disgraced and broken man, whom
I dearly loved when he was honourable and good. Your words seem
to have come out of my own poor heart.” She pressed my hand
upon it, smiling.
Twenty-seven nights and twenty-six days. We were in no want
of rain-water, but we had nothing else. And yet, even now, I never
turned my eyes upon a waking face but it tried to brighten before mine.
O, what a thing it is, in a time of danger and in the presence of death,
the shining of a face upon a face! I have heard it broached that
orders should be given in great new ships by electric telegraph.
I admire machinery as much is any man, and am as thankful to it as any
man can be for what it does for us. But it will never be a substitute
for the face of a man, with his soul in it, encouraging another man
to be brave and true. Never try it for that. It will break
down like a straw.
I now began to remark certain changes in myself which I did not like.
They caused me much disquiet. I often saw the Golden Lucy in the
air above the boat. I often saw her I have spoken of before, sitting
beside me. I saw the Golden Mary go down, as she really had gone
down, twenty times in a day. And yet the sea was mostly, to my
thinking, not sea neither, but moving country and extraordinary mountainous
regions, the like of which have never been beheld. I felt it time
to leave my last words regarding John Steadiman, in case any lips should
last out to repeat them to any living ears. I said that John had
told me (as he had on deck) that he had sung out “Breakers ahead!”
the instant they were audible, and had tried to wear ship, but she struck
before it could be done. (His cry, I dare say, had made my dream.)
I said that the circumstances were altogether without warning, and out
of any course that could have been guarded against; that the same loss
would have happened if I had been in charge; and that John was not to
blame, but from first to last had done his duty nobly, like the man
he was. I tried to write it down in my pocket-book, but could
make no words, though I knew what the words were that I wanted to make.
When it had come to that, her hands—though she was dead so long—laid
me down gently in the bottom of the boat, and she and the Golden Lucy
swung me to sleep.
* * * * *
All that follows, was written by John Steadiman, Chief Mate:
On the twenty-sixth day after the foundering of the Golden Mary at
sea, I, John Steadiman, was sitting in my place in the stern-sheets
of the Surf-boat, with just sense enough left in me to steer—that
is to say, with my eyes strained, wide-awake, over the bows of the boat,
and my brains fast asleep and dreaming—when I was roused upon
a sudden by our second mate, Mr. William Rames.
“Let me take a spell in your place,” says he. “And
look you out for the Long-boat astern. The last time she rose
on the crest of a wave, I thought I made out a signal flying aboard
We shifted our places, clumsily and slowly enough, for we were both
of us weak and dazed with wet, cold, and hunger. I waited some
time, watching the heavy rollers astern, before the Long-boat rose a-top
of one of them at the same time with us. At last, she was heaved
up for a moment well in view, and there, sure enough, was the signal
flying aboard of her—a strip of rag of some sort, rigged to an
oar, and hoisted in her bows.
“What does it mean?” says Rames to me in a quavering,
trembling sort of voice. “Do they signal a sail in sight?”
“Hush, for God’s sake!” says I, clapping my hand
over his mouth. “Don’t let the people hear you.
They’ll all go mad together if we mislead them about that signal.
Wait a bit, till I have another look at it.”
I held on by him, for he had set me all of a tremble with his notion
of a sail in sight, and watched for the Long-boat again. Up she
rose on the top of another roller. I made out the signal clearly,
that second time, and saw that it was rigged half-mast high.
“Rames,” says I, “it’s a signal of distress.
Pass the word forward to keep her before the sea, and no more.
We must get the Long-boat within hailing distance of us, as soon as
I dropped down into my old place at the tiller without another word—for
the thought went through me like a knife that something had happened
to Captain Ravender. I should consider myself unworthy to write
another line of this statement, if I had not made up my mind to speak
the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—and I must,
therefore, confess plainly that now, for the first time, my heart sank
within me. This weakness on my part was produced in some degree,
as I take it, by the exhausting effects of previous anxiety and grief.
Our provisions—if I may give that name to what we had left—were
reduced to the rind of one lemon and about a couple of handsfull of
coffee-berries. Besides these great distresses, caused by the
death, the danger, and the suffering among my crew and passengers, I
had had a little distress of my own to shake me still more, in the death
of the child whom I had got to be very fond of on the voyage out—so
fond that I was secretly a little jealous of her being taken in the
Long-boat instead of mine when the ship foundered. It used to
be a great comfort to me, and I think to those with me also, after we
had seen the last of the Golden Mary, to see the Golden Lucy, held up
by the men in the Long-boat, when the weather allowed it, as the best
and brightest sight they had to show. She looked, at the distance
we saw her from, almost like a little white bird in the air. To
miss her for the first time, when the weather lulled a little again,
and we all looked out for our white bird and looked in vain, was a sore
disappointment. To see the men’s heads bowed down and the
captain’s hand pointing into the sea when we hailed the Long-boat,
a few days after, gave me as heavy a shock and as sharp a pang of heartache
to bear as ever I remember suffering in all my life. I only mention
these things to show that if I did give way a little at first, under
the dread that our captain was lost to us, it was not without having
been a good deal shaken beforehand by more trials of one sort or another
than often fall to one man’s share.
I had got over the choking in my throat with the help of a drop of
water, and had steadied my mind again so as to be prepared against the
worst, when I heard the hail (Lord help the poor fellows, how weak it
I looked up, and there were our companions in misfortune tossing
abreast of us; not so near that we could make out the features of any
of them, but near enough, with some exertion for people in our condition,
to make their voices heard in the intervals when the wind was weakest.
I answered the hail, and waited a bit, and heard nothing, and then
sung out the captain’s name. The voice that replied did
not sound like his; the words that reached us were:
“Chief-mate wanted on board!”
Every man of my crew knew what that meant as well as I did.
As second officer in command, there could be but one reason for wanting
me on board the Long-boat. A groan went all round us, and my men
looked darkly in each other’s faces, and whispered under their
“The captain is dead!”
I commanded them to be silent, and not to make too sure of bad news,
at such a pass as things had now come to with us. Then, hailing
the Long-boat, I signified that I was ready to go on board when the
weather would let me—stopped a bit to draw a good long breath—and
then called out as loud as I could the dreadful question:
“Is the captain dead?”
The black figures of three or four men in the after-part of the Long-boat
all stooped down together as my voice reached them. They were
lost to view for about a minute; then appeared again—one man among
them was held up on his feet by the rest, and he hailed back the blessed
words (a very faint hope went a very long way with people in our desperate
situation): “Not yet!”
The relief felt by me, and by all with me, when we knew that our
captain, though unfitted for duty, was not lost to us, it is not in
words—at least, not in such words as a man like me can command—to
express. I did my best to cheer the men by telling them what a
good sign it was that we were not as badly off yet as we had feared;
and then communicated what instructions I had to give, to William Rames,
who was to be left in command in my place when I took charge of the
Long-boat. After that, there was nothing to be done, but to wait
for the chance of the wind dropping at sunset, and the sea going down
afterwards, so as to enable our weak crews to lay the two boats alongside
of each other, without undue risk—or, to put it plainer, without
saddling ourselves with the necessity for any extraordinary exertion
of strength or skill. Both the one and the other had now been
starved out of us for days and days together.
At sunset the wind suddenly dropped, but the sea, which had been
running high for so long a time past, took hours after that before it
showed any signs of getting to rest. The moon was shining, the
sky was wonderfully clear, and it could not have been, according to
my calculations, far off midnight, when the long, slow, regular swell
of the calming ocean fairly set in, and I took the responsibility of
lessening the distance between the Long-boat and ourselves.
It was, I dare say, a delusion of mine; but I thought I had never
seen the moon shine so white and ghastly anywhere, either on sea or
on land, as she shone that night while we were approaching our companions
in misery. When there was not much more than a boat’s length
between us, and the white light streamed cold and clear over all our
faces, both crews rested on their oars with one great shudder, and stared
over the gunwale of either boat, panic-stricken at the first sight of
“Any lives lost among you?” I asked, in the midst of
that frightful silence.
The men in the Long-bout huddled together like sheep at the sound
of my voice.
“None yet, but the child, thanks be to God!” answered
one among them.
And at the sound of his voice, all my men shrank together like the
men in the Long-boat. I was afraid to let the horror produced
by our first meeting at close quarters after the dreadful changes that
wet, cold, and famine had produced, last one moment longer than could
be helped; so, without giving time for any more questions and answers,
I commanded the men to lay the two boats close alongside of each other.
When I rose up and committed the tiller to the hands of Rames, all my
poor follows raised their white faces imploringly to mine. “Don’t
leave us, sir,” they said, “don’t leave us.”
“I leave you,” says I, “under the command and the
guidance of Mr. William Rames, as good a sailor as I am, and as trusty
and kind a man as ever stepped. Do your duty by him, as you have
done it by me; and remember to the last, that while there is life there
is hope. God bless and help you all!” With those words
I collected what strength I had left, and caught at two arms that were
held out to me, and so got from the stern-sheets of one boat into the
stern-sheets of the other.
“Mind where you step, sir,” whispered one of the men
who had helped me into the Long-boat. I looked down as he spoke.
Three figures were huddled up below me, with the moonshine falling on
them in ragged streaks through the gaps between the men standing or
sitting above them. The first face I made out was the face of
Miss Coleshaw, her eyes were wide open and fixed on me. She seemed
still to keep her senses, and, by the alternate parting and closing
of her lips, to be trying to speak, but I could not hear that she uttered
a single word. On her shoulder rested the head of Mrs. Atherfield.
The mother of our poor little Golden Lucy must, I think, have been dreaming
of the child she had lost; for there was a faint smile just ruffling
the white stillness of her face, when I first saw it turned upward,
with peaceful closed eyes towards the heavens. From her, I looked
down a little, and there, with his head on her lap, and with one of
her hands resting tenderly on his cheek—there lay the Captain,
to whose help and guidance, up to this miserable time, we had never
looked in vain,—there, worn out at last in our service, and for
our sakes, lay the best and bravest man of all our company. I
stole my hand in gently through his clothes and laid it on his heart,
and felt a little feeble warmth over it, though my cold dulled touch
could not detect even the faintest beating. The two men in the
stern-sheets with me, noticing what I was doing—knowing I loved
him like a brother—and seeing, I suppose, more distress in my
face than I myself was conscious of its showing, lost command over themselves
altogether, and burst into a piteous moaning, sobbing lamentation over
him. One of the two drew aside a jacket from his feet, and showed
me that they were bare, except where a wet, ragged strip of stocking
still clung to one of them. When the ship struck the Iceberg,
he had run on deck leaving his shoes in his cabin. All through
the voyage in the boat his feet had been unprotected; and not a soul
had discovered it until he dropped! As long as he could keep his
eyes open, the very look of them had cheered the men, and comforted
and upheld the women. Not one living creature in the boat, with
any sense about him, but had felt the good influence of that brave man
in one way or another. Not one but had heard him, over and over
again, give the credit to others which was due only to himself; praising
this man for patience, and thanking that man for help, when the patience
and the help had really and truly, as to the best part of both, come
only from him. All this, and much more, I heard pouring confusedly
from the men’s lips while they crouched down, sobbing and crying
over their commander, and wrapping the jacket as warmly and tenderly
as they could over is cold feet. It went to my heart to check
them; but I knew that if this lamenting spirit spread any further, all
chance of keeping alight any last sparks of hope and resolution among
the boat’s company would be lost for ever. Accordingly I
sent them to their places, spoke a few encouraging words to the men
forward, promising to serve out, when the morning came, as much as I
dared, of any eatable thing left in the lockers; called to Rames, in
my old boat, to keep as near us as he safely could; drew the garments
and coverings of the two poor suffering women more closely about them;
and, with a secret prayer to be directed for the best in bearing the
awful responsibility now laid on my shoulders, took my Captain’s
vacant place at the helm of the Long-boat.
This, as well as I can tell it, is the full and true account of how
I came to be placed in charge of the lost passengers and crew of the
Golden Mary, on the morning of the twenty-seventh day after the ship
struck the Iceberg, and foundered at sea.