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´╗┐Title: The Boy Tar
Author: Reid, Mayne, 1818-1883
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Boy Tar" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

The Boy Tar, by Captain Mayne Reid.

This is a really extraordinary book, especially when you consider that
the author was the first to write in the Wild West genre, and was also
no mean naturalist.  It is true that he did write a few books with a sea
setting, much like those by other nautical authors.  But this book,
although the setting for most of the book is inside the cargo hold of
a merchant vessel, doesn't really fit into any of Reid's usual genres.

The young hero is a very little lad, no more than four feet high.  He
has friends among the other boys of the village, but none of them seem
to get up to his sort of escapades.  One of these involves stowing away
in the hold of a vessel bound for Peru, six months' voyage away.  He
stowed away, as he thought, just before she sailed, but what he didn't
realise was that there was a great deal of last-minute cargo yet to be
loaded.  When the ship finally sailed he found that he was right at the
bottom of a huge amount of cargo.  Luckily he found that there were some
boxes of biscuits nearby, and, luckily also, some water casks.  He works
out that he might be able to survive the six months on these supplies.
What he didn't reckon on were the rats, who soon deprived him of the
biscuits.  It then became imperative to get out.

The next forty chapters, no less, detail the painstaking way in which,
armed only with a good knife, which eventually breaks and has to be
repaired somehow, and in the dark, remember, he makes his way through
layer after layer of cargo; through brandy casks, pianos, boxes of
ladies' bonnets; and all this in a hold whose shape made it harder and
harder the more he mounted towards the cargo hatch.  This a very
gripping tale, faultlessly written, and very hard to put down.  Unlike
other tales of the sea nobody gets killed, though some of the rats have
to go, even being eaten as the boy's hunger mounts.

Of course it does have a happy ending, but not many of us could have
done what he did, and certainly not many little chaps only four feet in
height.  Makes a superb audiobook.




My name is Philip Forster, and I am now an old man.

I reside in a quiet little village, that stands upon the sea-shore, at
the bottom of a very large bay--one of the largest in our island.

I have styled it a quiet village, and so it really is, though it boasts
of being a seaport.  There is a little pier or jetty of chiselled
granite, alongside which you may usually observe a pair of sloops, about
the same number of schooners, and now and then a brig.  Big ships cannot
come in.  But you may always note a large number of boats, either hauled
up on the beach, or scudding about the bay, and from this, you may
conclude that the village derives its support rather from fishing than
commerce.  Such in reality is the fact.

It is my native village--the place in which I was born, and where it is
my intention to die.

Notwithstanding this, my fellow-villagers know very little about me.
They only know me as "Captain Forster," or more specifically as "The
Captain," this _soubriquet_ being extended to me as the only person in
the place entitled to it.

Strictly speaking, I am not entitled to it.  I have never been a captain
of soldiers, nor have I held that rank in the navy.  I have only been
the master of a merchant vessel,--in other words, a "skipper."  But the
villagers are courteous, and by their politeness I am styled "Captain."

They know that I live in a pretty cottage about half a mile from the
village, up shore; they know that I live alone--for my old housekeeper
can scarce be accounted as company; they see me each day pass through
the place with my telescope under my arm; they note that I walk out on
the pier, and sweep the offing with my glass, and then, perhaps, return
home again, or wander for an hour or two along the shore.  Beyond these
facts, my fellow-villagers know but little of myself, my habits, or my

They have a belief among them that I have been a great traveller.  They
know that I have many books, and that I read much; and they have got it
into their heads that I am a wonderful scholar.

I _have_ been a great traveller, and am a great reader, but the simple
villagers are mistaken as to my scholarship.  In my youth I was denied
the advantages of a fine education, and what little literary knowledge I
possess has been acquired by self-instruction--hasty and interrupted--
during the brief intervals of an active life.

I have said that my fellow-villagers know very little about me, and you
are no doubt surprised at this; since among them I began my life, and
among them I have declared my intention of ending it.  Their ignorance
of me is easily explained.  I was but twelve years of age when I left
home, and for forty years after I never set foot in my native place, nor
eyes upon any of its inhabitants.

He must be a famous man who would be remembered after forty years'
absence; and I, scarce a boy at going forth, returned to find myself
quite forgotten.  Even my parents were scarce remembered.  Both had died
before I went away from home, and while I was only a mere lad.  Besides,
my father, who was a mariner by profession, was seldom or never at home,
and I remember little else about him, than how I grieved when the news
came that his ship was lost, and he with most of his crew were drowned.
Alas! my mother did not long survive him; and their death occurring such
a long time ago, it is but natural that both should be forgotten among a
people with whom they had but slight intercourse.  Thus, then, is it
explained how I chance to be such a stranger in my native place.

But you are not to suppose that I am lonely or without companions.
Though I have ceased to follow my profession of the sea, and returned
home to spend the remainder of my days in a quiet, peaceful way, I am by
no means of an unsocial disposition or morose habits.  On the contrary,
I am fond, as I have ever been, of social intercourse; and old man
though I be, I take great delight in the society of young people,
especially little boys.  I can boast, too, that with all these in the
village I am a favourite.  I spend hours upon hours in helping them to
fly their kites, and sail their tiny boats; for I remember how much
delight I derived from these pastimes when I was myself a boy.

As I take part in their sports, little do the simple children think that
the gentle old man who can so amuse them and himself, has spent most of
his life amidst scenes of wild adventure and deadly peril; and yet such
has been my history.

There are those in the village, however, who are better acquainted with
some chapters from the story of my life--passages of it which they have
heard from my own lips, for I am never disinclined _to relate to_ those
who may be worthy of hearing it any interesting adventure through which
I may have passed; and even in our quiet village I have found an
audience that merits the narrator.  Schoolboys have been my listeners;
for there is a famous school near the village--an "establishment for
young gentlemen" it is styled--and it is from this I draw my most
attentive auditory.

These boys and I used to meet in our rambles along the shore, and
observing my weather-beaten, salt-water look, they fancied that I could
tell them tales of wild scenes and strange incidents that I had
encountered far over the sea.  Our meetings were frequent--almost
daily--and soon a friendly acquaintance sprung up between us; until, at
their solicitation, I began to relate to them an occasional adventure of
my life.  Often I may have been observed, seated upon the "bent" grass
of the beach, encircled by a crowd of these well-dressed youths, whose
parted lips and eager eyes betokened the interest they felt in my

I am not ashamed to declare that I, too, felt pleasure in this sort of
thing: like all old soldiers and sailors, who proverbially delight to
"fight their battles o'er again."

These desultory recitals continued for some time, until one day, as I
met my young friends in the ordinary way, only somewhat earlier than
common, I saw that there was something unusual in the wind.  They
mustered stronger than was their wont, and I noticed that one of them--
the biggest boy of the crowd--held a folded paper in his hand, upon
which I could perceive there was writing.

As I drew near, the paper was placed in my hands without a word being
said; and I saw by the superscription that it was directed to myself.

I opened the paper, and soon perceived the nature of its contents.  It
was a "petition" signed by all the boys present.  It ran thus:--

  "Dear Captain,--We have been allowed holiday for the whole of to-day;
  and we know of no way in which we could spend it with so much of
  pleasure and profit, as by listening to you.  We have therefore taken
  the liberty of asking you to indulge us, by the narration of some
  remarkable incident that has happened to you.  A stirring passage we
  should prefer, for we know that many of these have befallen you during
  your adventurous life; but choose whatever one it may be most pleasant
  for you to relate; and we shall promise to listen attentively, since
  one and all of us know that it will be an easy thing to keep that
  promise.  And now, dear captain! grant us the favour we ask, and your
  petitioners shall be for ever grateful."

Such a polite request could not be refused; and without hesitation I
declared my intention to gratify my young friends with a chapter from my
life.  The chapter chosen was one which I thought would be most
interesting to them--as it gave some account of my own boy-life, and of
my first voyage to sea--which, from the odd circumstances under which it
was made, I have termed a "Voyage in the Dark."

Seating myself upon the pebbly beach, in full view of the bright sea,
and placing my auditory around me, I began.



From my earliest days, I was fond of the water--instinctively so.  Had I
been born a duck, or a water-dog, I could not have liked it better.  My
father had been a seaman, and his father before him, and grandfather
too; so that perhaps I inherited the instinct.  Whether or not, my
aquatic tastes were as strong as if the water had been my natural
element; and I have been told, though I do not myself remember it, that
when still but a mere child, it was with difficulty I could be kept out
of puddles and ponds.  In fact, the first adventure of my life occurred
in a pond, and that I remember well.  Though it was neither so strange
nor so terrible as many adventures that befell me afterwards, still it
was rather a curious one, and I shall give you it, as illustrating the
early _penchant_ I had for aquatic pursuits.  I was but a very little
boy at the time, and the odd incident occurring, as it were, at the very
threshold of my life, seemed to foreshadow the destiny of my future
career--that I was to experience as in reality I have experienced, many
vicissitudes and adventures.

I have said I was but a very little boy at the time--just big enough to
go about, and just of that age when boys take to sailing paper-boats.  I
knew how to construct these out of the leaf of an old book, or a piece
of a newspaper; and often had I sent them on voyages across the
duck-pond, which was my ocean.  I may ay, I had got a step beyond the
mere paper-boats: with my six months' stock of pocket-money, which I had
saved for the purpose, I had succeeded in purchasing a full-rigged
sloop, from an old fisherman, who had "built" her during his hours of
leisure.  She was only six inches in length of keel, by less than three
in breadth of beam, and her tonnage, if registered--which it never was--
would have been about half a pound avoirdupois.  A small craft you will
style her; but at that time, in my eyes, she was as grand as a

I esteemed her too large for the duck-pond, and resolved to go in search
of a piece of water where she should have more room to exhibit her
sailing qualities.

This I soon found in the shape of a very large pond--or lake, I should
rather call it--where the water was clear as crystal, and where there
was usually a nice light breeze playing over the surface--just strong
enough to fill the sails, and drive my little sloop along like a bird on
the wing--so that she often crossed the pond before I myself could get
round to the other side to receive her into my hands again.

Many a race have I had with my little sloop, in which sometimes she, and
sometimes I, proved victorious, according as the wind was favourable or
unfavourable to her course.

Now this pretty pond--by the shores of which I used to delight myself,
and where I spent many of the happiest hours of my boyhood--was not
public property.  It was situated in a gentleman's park, that extended
backward from the end of the village, and the pond of course belonged to
the owner of the park.  He was a kind and liberal gentleman, however,
and permitted the villagers to go through his grounds whenever they
pleased, and did not object to the boys sailing their boats upon the
ornamental water, or even playing cricket in one of his fields, provided
they did not act rudely or destroy any of the shrubs or plants that grew
along the walks.  It was very kind and good of him to allow this
freedom; and we, the boys of the village, were sensible of this, and I
think on the whole we behaved as if we were so; for I never heard of any
damage being done that was deemed worthy of complaint.  The park and
pond are there still--you all know them?--but the kind gentleman I speak
of has long since left this world; for he was an _old_ gentleman, then,
and that is sixty years ago.

Upon the little lake, there was at that time a flock of swans--six, if I
remember aright--besides other water-fowl of rare kinds.  The boys took
great delight in feeding these pretty creatures; and it was a common
thing for one or other of us to bring pieces of bread, and chuck them to
the water-fowl.  For my part, I was very fond of this little piece of
extravagance; and, whenever I had the opportunity, I came to the lake
with my pockets crammed.

The fowls, and especially the swans, under this treatment had grown so
tame, that they would eat out of our hands, without exhibiting the
slightest fear of us.

There was a particular way of giving them their food, in which we used
to take great delight.  On one side of the lake, there was a bank that
rose three feet or so above the surface of the water.  Here the pond was
deep, and there was no chance for either the swans, or any other
creature, to land at this place without taking to wing.  The bank was
steep, without either shelf or stair to ascend by.  In fact, it rather
hung over, than shelved.

At this point we used to meet the swans, that were always ready to come
when they saw us; and then, placing the piece of bread in the split end
of a rod, and holding it out high above them, we enjoyed the spectacle
of the swans stretching up their long necks, and occasionally leaping
upward out of the water to snatch it, just as dogs would have done.  All
this, you will perceive, was rare fun for boys.

Now I come to the promised adventure.

One day, I had proceeded to the pond, carrying my sloop with me as
usual.  It was at an early hour; and on reaching the ground, I found
that none of my companions had yet arrived.  I launched my sloop,
however; and then walked around the shore to meet her on the opposite

There was scarcely a breath of wind, and the sloop sailed slowly.  I was
therefore in no hurry, but sauntered along at my leisure.  On leaving
home I had not forgotten the swans, which were my great pets: such
favourites, indeed, that I very much fear they induced me on more than
one occasion to commit small thefts for them; since the slices of bread
with which my pockets were crammed, had been rather surreptitiously
obtained from the domestic larder.

Be this as it may, I had brought their allowance along with me; and on
reaching the high bank, I halted to give it them.

All six, who knew me well, with proud arching necks and wings slightly
elevated, came gliding rapidly across the pond to meet me; and in a few
seconds arrived under the bank, where they moved about with upstretched
beaks, and eyes eagerly scanning my movements.  They knew that I had
called them thither to be kind to them.

Having procured a slight sapling, and split it at the end, I placed a
piece of bread in the notch, and proceeded to amuse myself with the
manoeuvres of the birds.

One piece after another was snatched away from the stick, and I had
nearly emptied my pockets, when all at once the sod upon which I was
standing gave way under me, and I fell _plump_ into the water.

I fell with a plunge like a large stone, and as I could not swim a
stroke, I should have gone to the bottom like one, but it so happened
that I came down right in the middle of the swans, who were no doubt
taken as much by surprise as myself.

Now it was not through any peculiar presence of mind on my part, but
simply from the instinct of self-preservation, which is common to every
living creature, that I made an effort to save myself.  This I did by
throwing out my hands, and endeavouring to seize hold of something, just
as drowning men will catch even at straws.  But I caught something
better than a straw, for I chanced to seize upon the leg of one of the
biggest and strongest of the swans, and to that I held on, as if my life
depended on my not letting it go.

At the first plunge my eyes and ears had been filled with water, and I
was hardly sensible of what I was doing.  I could hear a vast splashing
and spluttering as the birds scattered away in affright, but in another
second of time I had consciousness enough to perceive that I had got
hold of the leg of the swan, and was being towed rapidly through the
water.  I had sense enough to retain my hold; and in less time than I
have taken to tell it, I was dragged better than half across the pond,
which, after all, was but a short distance.  The swan made no attempt to
swim, but rather fluttered along the surface, using his wings, and
perhaps the leg that was still free, to propel himself forward.  Terror,
no doubt, had doubled both his strength and his energies, else he could
never have towed such a weight, big and strong as he was.  How long the
affair would have lasted, it is hard to say.  Not very long, however.
The bird might have kept above water a good while, but I could not have
held out much longer.  I was every moment being ducked under, the water
at each immersion getting into my mouth and nostrils.  I was fast losing
consciousness, and would soon have been forced to let go.

Just at this crisis, to my great joy, I felt something touch me
underneath; some rough object had struck against my knees.  It was the
stones and gravel at the bottom of the lake; and I perceived that I was
now in water of no great depth.  The bird, in struggling to escape, had
passed over the portion of the lake where it was deep and dangerous, and
was now close to the edge, where it shoaled, I did not hesitate a
moment; I was only too glad to put an end to the towing match, and
therefore released my grasp from the leg of the swan.  The bird, thus
lightened, immediately took to wing; and, screeching like a wild fowl,
rose high into the air.

For myself, I found bottom at once, and after some staggering, and a
good deal of sneezing and hiccoughing, I regained my feet; and then
wading out, stood once more safe upon _terra firma_.

I was so badly terrified by the incident that I never thought of looking
after my sloop.  Leaving her to finish her voyage as she might, I ran
away as fast as my legs would carry me, and never made halt or pause
till I had reached home and stood with dripping garments in front of the



You will fancy that the lesson I had thus received should have been a
warning to me to keep away from the water.  Not so, however.  So far as
that went, the ducking did me no good, though it proved beneficial in
other respects.  It taught me the danger of getting into water over
one's depth, which I had before then but little appreciated; and young
as I was, I perceived the advantage of being able to swim.  The peril
from which I had so narrowly escaped, stimulated me to form a resolve,
and that was--to learn the art of swimming.

I was encouraged in this resolution by my mother, as also by a letter
received from my father, who was then abroad; and in which he gave
directions that I should be taught to swim in the best manner.  It was
just what I desired, and with the intention of becoming a first-rate
swimmer, I went about it in right earnest.  Once and sometimes twice
each day during the warm weather--that is, after school was out--I
betook myself to the water, where I might be seen splashing and
spluttering about like a young porpoise.  Some bigger boys, who had
already learnt to swim, gave me a lesson or two; and I soon experienced
the delightful sensation of being able to float upon my back without
assistance from any one.  I well remember how proud I felt on the
occasion when I first accomplished this natatorial feat.

And here, young reader, let me advise you by all means to imitate my
example, and learn to swim.  You know not how soon you may stand in need
of a knowledge of this useful art; how soon you may be called upon to
practise it perforce.  You know not but that sooner or later it may be
the means of saving your life.

At the present time, the chances of death by drowning are multiplied far
beyond anything of the kind in past ages.  Almost everybody now travels
across seas, oceans, and upon large rivers, and the number of people who
annually risk their lives on the water, voyaging on business, pleasure,
or in the way of emigration, is scarce credible.  Of these, a
proportion--in stormy years a large one--perish by drowning.

I do not mean to assert that a swimmer, even the best, if cast away at a
great distance from shore, in mid-Atlantic, for instance, or even in the
middle of the English Channel--would have any prospect of swimming to
land.  That, of course, would be impracticable.  But there are often
other chances of life being saved, besides that of getting to land.  A
boat may be reached, a spar, an empty hencoop or barrel; and there are
many instances on record of lives having been saved by such slight
means.  Another vessel, too, may be in sight, may hasten to the scene of
the disaster, and the strong swimmer may be still afloat upon her
arrival; while those who could not swim, must of course have gone to the

But you must know that it is neither in the middle of the Atlantic, nor
of any great ocean, that most vessels are wrecked and lives are lost.
Some are, it is true--when a storm rages with extreme fury, "blowing
great guns," as the seamen phrase it, and blowing a ship almost to
atoms.  These events, however, are extremely rare, and bear but a small
proportion to the number of wrecks that take place within sight of the
shore, and frequently upon the beach itself.  It is in "castaways" of
this kind, that the greatest number of lives are sacrificed, under
circumstances when, by a knowledge of the art of swimming, many of them
might have been saved.  Not a year passes, but there is a record of
hundreds of individuals who have been drowned within cable's length of
the shore--ships full of emigrants, soldiers, and sailors, have sunk
with all on board, leaving only a few good swimmers survivors of the
wreck!  Similar "accidents" occur in rivers, scarce two hundred yards in
width; and you yourselves are acquainted with the annual drownings, even
in the narrow and icy Serpentine!

With these facts before the eyes of the world, you will wonder that the
world does not take warning, and at once learn to swim.

It may be wondered, too, that governments do not compel the youth to
learn this simple accomplishment; but that indeed is hardly to be
wondered at, since the business of governments in all ages has been
rather to tax than to teach their people.

It seems to me, however, that it would be a very easy thing for
governments to compel all those who travel by ships, to provide
themselves with a life-preserver.  By this cheap and simple contrivance,
I am prepared to show that thousands of lives would be annually saved;
and no one would grumble at either the cost or inconvenience of carrying
so useful an article.

Governments take special care to tax travellers for a piece of worthless
paper, called a passport.  Once you have paid for this, it signifies not
to them how soon you and your passport go to the bottom of the sea.

Well, young reader, whether it be the desire of your government or not,
take a hint from me, and make yourself a good swimmer.  Set about it at
once--that is, if the weather be warm enough--and don't miss a day while
it continues so.  Be a swimmer before you become a man; for when you
have reached manhood, you will most probably find neither time,
opportunity, nor inclination to practise; besides, you may run many
risks of being drowned long before there is hair upon your lip.

For myself, I have had a variety of hair-breadth escapes from drowning.
The very element which I loved so dearly, seemed the most desirous of
making a victim of me; and I should have deemed it ungrateful, had I not
known that the wild billows were unreasoning, irresponsible creatures;
and I had too recklessly laid "my hand upon their mane."

It was but a few weeks after my ducking in the pond, and I had already
taken several swimming lessons, when I came very near making my last
essay at this aquatic exercise.

It was not in the pond that the incident occurred, for that, being a
piece of ornamental water, and private property, as I have told you, was
not permitted to be used as a bathing place.

But the people of a sea-shore town need no lake in which to disport
themselves.  The great salt sea gives them a free bath, and our village
had its bathing beach in common with others of its kind.  Of course,
then, my swimming lessons were taken in salt-water.

The beach which was habitually used by the villagers, had not the best
name as a bathing place.  It was pretty enough, with yellow sand, white
shells, and pebbles; but there was what is termed an "under-tow"--in one
particular place stronger than elsewhere; and at times it was a
dangerous matter to get within the influence of this "under-tow," unless
the person so exposing himself was a good and strong swimmer.

There was a legend among the villagers, that some one had been drowned
by this current; but that was an occurrence of long ago, and had almost
ceased to be talked about.  There were also one or two more modern
instances of bathers being carried out to sea, but finally saved by
boats sent after them.

I remember at that time having been struck with a fact relating to these
mishaps; and this was, that the older inhabitants of the village, and
they who were of most consequence in the place, never liked to talk
about them; either shrugging their shoulders and remaining silent, or
giving the legends a flat contradiction.  Some of them even went so far
as to deny the existence of an "under-tow," while others contented
themselves by asserting that it was perfectly harmless.  I always
noticed, however, that parents would not permit their boys to bathe near
the place where the dangerous current was represented to exist.

I never knew the reason why the villagers were so unwilling to
acknowledge the "under-tow," and the truth of the stories connected
therewith.  That is, I knew it not until long, long afterwards--until I
came home again after my forty years of adventure.  On my return, I
found the same silence and shrugging of the shoulders, although by a
generation of villagers altogether different from those I had left
behind.  And this, too, notwithstanding that several accidents had
occurred in my absence, to prove that the "under-tow" did actually
exist, and that it was actually dangerous.

But I was then older and better able to reason about men's motives, and
I soon fathomed the mystery.  It was this: our village is, as you know,
what is called a "watering-place," and derived some support from
visitors who came to it to spend a few weeks of their summer.  It is a
watering-place upon a small scale, it is true, but were there to be much
talk about the "under-tow," or too much credence given to legends of
people who have been drowned by it, it would become a watering-place on
a still smaller scale, or might cease to be one altogether.  Therefore
the less you say of the "under-tow," the better for your own popularity
among the wise men of the village.

Now, my young friends, I have been making a long story about what you
will deem a very ordinary adventure, after all.  It is simply to end by
my telling you that I was drowned by the "under-tow"--actually

You will say that I could not have been _drowned dead_, though that is a
doubtful point, for, as far as my feelings were concerned, I am certain
I should not have known it had I never been restored to life again.  No,
I should not have felt pain had I been cut into a hundred pieces while I
was in that state, nor would I ever have come to life again had it not
been for somebody else.  That somebody else was a fine young waterman of
our village, by name Harry Blew, and to him was I indebted for my
_second_ life.

The incident, as I have said, was of the ordinary kind, but I relate it
to show how I became acquainted with Harry Blew, whose acquaintance and
example had an important influence on my after-life.

I had gone to the beach to bathe as usual, at a point new to me, and
where I had not seen many people bathe before.  It chanced to be one of
the worst places for this "under-tow," and shortly after entering the
water I got into its gripe, and was drawn outward into the open sea, far
beyond the distance I could have swum back.  As much from terror, that
paralysed my strength, as aught else--for I was aware of my danger--I
could swim no further, but sank to the bottom like a piece of lead!

I did not know that I had ever come up again.  I knew nothing at all
about what happened after.  I only remembered seeing a boat near me, and
a man in it; and then all was dark, and I heard a loud rumbling like
thunder in my ears, and my consciousness went out like the snuffing of a

It returned again, thanks to young Harry Blew, and when I knew that I
was still alive, I re-opened my eyes, and saw a man kneeling above me,
rubbing me all over with his hands, and pushing my belly up under my
ribs, and blowing into my mouth, and tickling my nostrils with a
feather, and performing a great variety of such antic manoeuvres upon

That was Harry Blew bringing me to life again; and as soon as he had
partially succeeded, he lifted me up in his arms and carried me home to
my mother, who was nearly distracted on receiving me; and then wine was
poured down my throat, and hot bricks and bottles were put to my feet,
and my nose anointed with hartshorn, and my body rolled in warm
blankets, and many other appliances were administered, and many remedies
had I to take, before my friends considered the danger to be over, and
that I should be likely to live.

But it was all over at length, and in twenty hours' time I was on my
feet again, and as brisk and well as ever.

I had now had my warning of the water, if that could have been of any
service.  But it was not, as the sequel will show.



No; the warning was all in vain.  Even the narrow escape I had had, did
not cure me of my fondness for being on the water, but rather had an
opposite effect.

The acquaintance thus singularly formed between the young waterman and
myself, soon ripened into a strong feeling of friendship.  His name, as
I have said, was Harry Blew, and--if I may be allowed to play upon the
word--he was "true blue," for he was gifted with a heart as kind as it
was brave.  I need hardly add that I grew vastly fond of him, and he
appeared to reciprocate the feeling, for he acted towards me from that
time forward as if I had saved _his_ life, instead of its being the
other way.  He took great pains to make me perfect in swimming; and he
also taught me the use of the oar; so that in a short time I was able to
row in a very creditable manner, and far better than any boy of my age
or size.  I even attained to such proficiency that I could manage a pair
of oars, and pull about without any assistance from my instructor.  This
I esteemed a great feat, and I was not a little proud when I was
entrusted (as was frequently the case) to take the young waterman's boat
from the little cove where he kept her, to some point on the beach where
he might be waiting to take up a fare.  Perhaps in passing an anchored
sloop, or near the beach, where some people might be sauntering, I may
have heard remarks made in a sneering tone, such as, "You are a queer
chap to be handlin' a pair o' oars!" or, "Oh, jimminy!  Look at that
millikin pin, boys!"  And then I could hear other jeers mingled with
shouts of laughter.  But this did not mortify me in the least.  On the
contrary, I felt proud to show them that, small as I was, I could propel
my craft in the right direction, and perhaps as rapidly as many of them
that were even twice my size.

After a time I heard no more of these taunts, unless now and then from
some stranger to the place.  The people of our village soon learned how
well I could manage a boat; and small as I was, they held me in
respect--at all events, they no longer jeered at me.  Often they would
call me the "little waterman," or the "young sailor," or still oftener
was I known by the name of the "Boy Tar."  It was my father's design
that, like himself, I should follow the sea as a calling; and had he
lived to make another voyage, it was his intention to have taken me away
with him.  I was encouraged, therefore, in these ideas; and moreover, my
mother always dressed me in sailor costume of the most approved
pattern--blue cloth jacket and trousers, with black silk handkerchief
and folding collar.  Of all this I was very proud, and it was my costume
as much as aught else, that led to my receiving the _soubriquet_ of the
"Boy Tar."  This title pleased me best of any, for it was Harry Blew
that first bestowed it on me, and from the day that he saved me from
drowning, I regarded him as my true friend and protector.

He was at this time rather a prosperous young fellow, himself owner of
his boat--nay, better still, he had two boats.  One was much bigger than
the other--the yawl, as he styled her--and this was the one he mostly
used, especially when three or four persons wanted a sail.  The lesser
boat was a little "dinghy" he had just purchased, and which for
convenience he took with him when his fare was only a single passenger,
since the labour of rowing it was much less.  In the watering season,
however, the larger boat was more often required; since parties of
pleasure were out every day in it, and at such times the little one lay
idle at its moorings.  I was then welcome to the use of it for my own
pleasure, and could take it when I liked, either by myself or with a
companion, if I chose to have one.  It became my custom, therefore,
after school hours, or indeed whenever I had any spare time, to be off
to the dinghy, and rowing it all about the harbour.  I was rarely
without a companion--for more than one of my schoolfellows relished this
sort of thing--and many of them even envied me the fine privilege I had
in being almost absolute master of a boat.  Of course, whenever I
desired company, I had no need to go alone; it was not often that I was
so.  Some one or other of the boys was my companion on every excursion
that was made, and these were almost daily--at least, every day on which
the weather was calm enough to allow of it.  With such a small
cockleshell of a boat, we dared not go out when it was not calm; and
with regard to this, I had been duly cautioned by Henry Blew himself.
Our excursions only extended to a short distance from the village,
usually up the bay, though sometimes down, but I always took care to
keep near the shore, and never ventured far out, lest the little boat
might be caught in a squall and get me into danger.

As time passed on, however, I grew less timid, and began to feel more at
home on the wide water.  Then I extended my excursions sometimes as far
as a mile from the shore, and thought nothing of it.  My friend, the
waterman, seeing me on one of these far voyages, repeated his former
caution, but it might have had a more salutary effect had I not
overheard him, the moment after, observe to one of his companions:--

"Wonderful boy! ain't he, Bob?  Come of the true stock--make the right
sort of a sailor, if ever he grows big enough."

This remark led me to think that I had not much displeased my patron in
what I had done; and therefore his caution "to keep close in-shore"
produced very little effect on me.

It was not a long time before I quite disobeyed it; and the
disobedience, as you shall hear, very nigh cost me my life.

But first let me tell of a circumstance that occurred at this date, and
which quite changed the current of my existence.  It was a great
misfortune that befell me--the loss of both my parents.

I have said that my father was a seaman by profession.  He was the
master of a ship that traded, I believe, to the colonies of America, and
so little was he at home from the time I was old enough to remember,
that I scarce recollected him more than just what he was like--and that
was a fine, manly, sailor-looking man, with a face bronzed by the
weather until it was nearly of a copper colour, but for all that a
handsome and cheerful face.

My mother must have thought so too, for from the time that news arrived
that his ship was wrecked and he himself drowned, she was never herself
again.  She seemed to pine away, as if she did not wish to live longer,
but was desirous of joining him in the other world.  If such were her
wishes, it was not long before they were gratified; for in a very few
weeks after the terrible news had reached us, my poor mother was carried
to her grave.

These were the circumstances that changed the current of my existence.
Even my mode of life was no longer the same.  I was now an orphan,
without means and without a home; for, as my parents had been without
any fortune, and subsisted entirely upon the hard earnings of my
father's trade, no provision had been made against such an unexpected
event as my brave father's death, and even my mother had been left
almost penniless.  Perhaps it was a merciful providence that called her
away from a world that to her was no longer a place of enjoyment; and
although I long lamented my dear kind mother, in after years I could not
help thinking that it was her happier destiny that at that time she had
been summoned away.  Long, long years it was before I could have done
anything to aid or protect her--during the chill cold winter of poverty
that must have been her portion.

To me the events brought consequences of the most serious kind.  I found
a home, it is true, but a very different one from that to which I had
all along been used.  I was taken to live with an uncle, who, although
my mother's own brother, had none of her tender or affectionate
feelings; on the contrary, he was a man of morose disposition and coarse
habits, and I soon found that I was but little more cared for than any
one of his servants, for I was treated just as they.

My school-days were at an end, for I was no more sent to school from the
day I entered my uncle's house.  Not that I was allowed to go about
idle.  My uncle was a farmer, and soon found a use for me; so that
between running after pigs and cattle, and driving the plough horses, or
tending upon a flock of sheep, or feeding calves, or a hundred other
little matters, I was kept busy from sunrise till sunset of every day in
the week.  Upon Sundays only was I permitted to rest--not that my uncle
was at all religious, but that it was a custom of the place that there
should be no work done on the Sabbath.  This custom was strictly
observed by everybody belonging to the village, and my uncle was
compelled to follow the common rule; otherwise, I believe, he would have
made Sunday a day of work as well as any other.

My uncle, not having any care for religion, I was not sent to church,
but was left free to wander idle about the fields, or indeed wherever I
chose to go.  You may be sure I did not choose to stop among the hedges
and ditches.  The blue sea that lay beyond, had far more attractions for
me than birds-nesting, or any other rural amusement; and the moment I
could escape from the house I was off to my favourite element, either to
accompany my friend, Harry Blew, in some of his boating trips, or to get
possession of the "dinghy," and have a row on my own account.  Thus,
then, were my Sundays passed.

While my mother was living, I had been taught to regard this idle way of
spending Sunday as sinful; but the example which I had before me in my
uncle's life, soon led me to form other ideas upon this matter, and I
came to regard the Lord's Day as only differing from any other of the
week in its being by far the pleasantest.

One Sunday, however, proved anything but pleasant.  So far from it, that
it came very near being the most painful as well as the _last_ day of my
life--which was once more imperilled by my favourite element--the water.



It was Sunday morning, and as fine a one as I can remember.  It was in
the month of May, and not likely to be otherwise than fine.  The sun was
shining brightly, and the birds filled the air with joyous music.  The
thrush and blackbird mingled their strong vigorous voices, with the
mellowed trilling of the skylark, and over the fields could be heard
almost continuously the call of the cuckoo--now here, now there, as the
active creature plied her restless wing from one hedge-tree to another.
There was a strong sweet perfume in the air like the scent of almonds,
for the white thorn was now expanding its umbels of aromatic flowers,
and there was just enough breeze to bear their fragrance throughout the
whole atmosphere.  The country, with its green hedgerows, its broad
fields of young corn, its meadows enamelled with the golden ranunculus
and the purple spring orchis both in full flower; the country with its
birds' nests and bird music would have been attractive to most boys of
my age, but far more fascination for me was there in that which lay
beyond--that calm, glassy surface of a sky-blue colour that shone over
the fields, glistening under the rays of the sun like a transparent
mirror.  That great watery plain was the field upon which I longed to
disport myself: far lovelier in my eyes than the rigs of waving corn, or
the flower-enamelled mead, its soft ripple more musical to my ear than
the songs of thrush or skylark, and _even_ its peculiar smell more
grateful to my senses than the perfume of buttercups and roses.

As soon, therefore, as I left my chamber and looked forth upon this
smiling, shining sea, I longed to fling myself on its bosom with a
yearning which I cannot express.  To satisfy this desire, I made all
haste to be gone.  I did not even wait for a regular breakfast, but was
content with a piece of bread and a bowl of milk, which I obtained from
the pantry, and having hurriedly swallowed these, I struck out for the

I rather stole away than otherwise, for I had apprehensions that some
obstacle might arise to hinder me from gratifying my wishes.  Perhaps my
uncle might find reason to call me back, and order me to remain about
the house; for although he did not object to my roaming idly about the
fields, I knew that he did not like the idea of my going upon the water,
and once or twice already had forbidden it.

This apprehension, then, caused me to use a little precaution.  Instead
of going out by the avenue leading direct from the house to the main
road that ran along the shore, I went by a back way that would bring me
to the beach in a circuitous direction.

I met with no interruption, but succeeded in reaching the water edge
without being observed--by any one who had an interest in knowing where
I went.

On arriving at the little cove where the young waterman kept his boats,
I perceived that the larger one was out, but the dinghy was there at my
service.  This was just what I wished for, as on that particular day I
had formed a design to make a very grand excursion in the little boat.
My first act, then, was to get inside and bale out the water which had
gathered in the bottom of the dinghy.  There was a good deal of water in
her, and I concluded from this that she must have lain several days
without being used, for she was a craft that did not leak very fast.
Fortunately, I found an old tin pan, that was kept on purpose to bale
out with, and after scooping away for some ten minutes or a quarter of
an hour, I got the little boat dry enough for my purpose.  The oars were
kept in a shed behind the cottage of the waterman, which stood only a
short distance back upon the beach: and these I fetched, as I had often
done before, without the necessity of asking leave from any one.

I now entered the dinghy, and having adjusted the thole pins and placed
my oars on the rowlocks, I took my seat and pushed off from the shore.
My little skiff yielded freely to my stroke, and shot out into the deep
water as smoothly as if she had been a fish; and with a heart as light
as ever beat in my breast, I pulled away over the bright blue sea.  The
sea was not only bright and blue, but as calm as a lake.  There was
hardly so much as a ripple, and so clear was it underneath, I could see
the fishes at play down to a depth of several fathoms.

The bed of the sea in our bay is of pure sand of a silvery whiteness;
and the smallest objects, even little crabs not so big as a crown-piece,
could be distinctly seen gambolling along the bottom, in playful pursuit
of one another, or in search of some creatures still smaller than
themselves, of which they designed to make their breakfast.  I could see
"schools" of small herring fry and broad round plaice, and huge turbots,
and beautiful green mackerel, and great conger eels as large as
boa-constrictors, all engaged in pursuits of pleasure or prey.

It was one of those mornings when the sea is perfectly still, and such
as are very rare upon our coasts.  It was just the morning for me, for,
as I have already said, I had designed a "grand excursion" for the day,
and the weather would enable me to carry my design into execution.

You will ask whither was I going?  Listen, and you shall hear.

About three miles from the shore, and just visible from it, lay a small
islet.  It is not exactly correct to say islet.  It was but a shoal of
rocks--a small patch, apparently about a square pole in dimensions, and
rising only a few inches above the surface of the water.  This, too,
only when the tide was out, for at all other times it was quite covered
with the waves; and then there could only be seen a slender staff
sticking up out of the water to the height of a few feet, and at the
head of this appeared a sort of knob, or lump.  Of course the staff had
been placed there to point out the shoal in times of high tide, so that
the sloops and other small vessels that traded up the bay might not run
upon it by mistake, and so get wrecked.

Only when the tide was low, then, was this little islet to be observed
from the shore.  Usually, it appeared of a jet black colour; but there
were other times when it was as white as if covered a foot deep with
snow, and then it showed plainer and more attractive.  I knew very well
what caused this singular metamorphosis in its colour.  I knew that the
white mantle that covered it was neither more nor less than a vast flock
of beautiful sea-fowl, that had settled upon the rocks, either to rest
themselves after so much flying, or to search for such small fish or
Crustacea as might be left there by the tide.

Now this little spot had long been to me a place of first-rate interest,
partly on account of its remote and isolated situation; but more, I
fancy, on account of these very birds, for in no other part of the bay
had I seen so many of them together.  It seemed also to be a favourite
place with them; for at the going out of every tide, I observed them
gather from all directions, hover around the staff, and then settle down
upon the black rocks around it, until the latter were hidden from the
view behind the white bodies of the birds.  These birds were gulls; but
there appeared to be several kinds of them; large ones and small ones,
and at different times I had noticed birds of other kinds, such as the
great terns and grebes, preening themselves in the same neighbourhood.
Of course, from the shore the view one could have of these creatures was
a very distant one, and it was difficult to tell to what species they
belonged.  The largest of them appeared not much bigger than sparrows,
and had they not been on the wing, or so many of them together, they
might have moved about unnoticed by any one passing along the shore.

I think it was the presence of these birds that had made this remote
spot so interesting to me.  At a very early age I was fond of all
objects of natural history, but particularly of the creatures that have
wings, and I believe there are few boys that are not so.  There may be
sciences and studies of greater importance to mankind, but there is none
more refining to the taste or more fascinating to the youthful fancy
than the study of nature.  Whether it was to get a good look at the
birds, or whether from some curiosity about other things I might see
upon this little islet, I often wished that I could get to it.  Never
did I turn my eyes in that direction--and I did so as often as I came
near the beach--without feeling a strong wish to get there and explore
it from end to end.  I knew in my memory the exact shape of it when the
tide was lowest, and could at any time have chalked out its profile
without looking at it.  It was lower at both ends, and rose with a sort
of curve towards the middle, like a huge black whale lying along the
surface, and the staff, rising from the highest point, looked like a
harpoon that was sticking in his back.

That staff, too, I longed to get my hands upon; to see what it was made
out of; how high it really was if one were near it, for it only looked
about a yard high from the shore; what sort of a thing the knob was on
the top, and how the butt was fastened in the ground.  Firmly it must
have been set; for I had often seen the waves wash up to it during great
storms, and the spray driving so high above it, that neither rock, nor
staff, nor knob were at all visible.

Ah! many a time had I sighed to visit that attractive spot; but never
yet had the opportunity occurred.  It was by far too distant for any
excursion I had hitherto dared to make--far too dangerous a flight for
me to take in the little dinghy; and no one had offered to go with me.
Harry Blew had once promised me he would take me--at the same time, he
laughed at the desire I expressed to visit such a place.  What was it to
him?  He had often rowed past it and around it, and no doubt landed upon
it, and perhaps tied his boat to the staff, while he shot the sea-birds,
or fished in the waters beside it; but it had never been my good fortune
to accompany him in one of these pleasant excursions.  I had been in
expectation, however, of doing so; but now these hopes were gone.  I
could no more get away except on the Sundays; and on these very days my
friend was always engaged in his own occupation--for Sundays, above all
other days of the week, was the time for sailing parties.

For a long time, then, I had waited in vain; but I now resolved to wait
no longer.  I had made a bold determination on that very morning; which
was, that I should take the dinghy and visit the reef myself.  This,
then, was the grand excursion on which I was bound, when I removed the
little boat from her fastenings, and shot out upon the bosom of the
bright blue sea.



I have styled my determination a bold one.  True, there was nothing
remarkable in the enterprise itself.

I only mean that it was bold for one so young and so little as I was at
the time.  Three miles rowing would be a good long pull, and that right
out into the great deep water almost beyond sight of the shore!  I had
never been so far before, nor half so far, neither; in fact, never more
than a mile from the beach, and in pretty shallow water, too--I mean,
while by myself.

With Blew I had been everywhere around the bay; but then, of course, I
had nothing to do with the management of the boat; and, trusting to the
skill of the young waterman, had no cause to feel afraid.

Alone, the case was different.  Everything depended upon myself; and
should any accident arise, I should have no one to give me either
counsel or assistance.

Indeed, before I had got quite a mile from the shore, I began to reflect
that my enterprise was not only a bold but a _rash_ one, and very little
would have induced me to turn round and pull back.

It occurred to me, however, that some one might have been watching me
from the shore; some boy who was jealous of my prowess as an oarsman--
and there were such in our village--and this boy or boys would have seen
that I had started for the islet, would easily have divined my reasons
for turning back, and would not fail to "twit" me with cowardice.
Partly influenced by this thought, and partly because I still had a
desire to proceed, I plucked up fresh spirit and rowed on.

When I had got within about half a mile of the shoal, I rested upon my
oars, and looked behind me, for in that direction lay the goal I was
struggling to reach.  I perceived at a glance that the little islet was
quite out of the water, as if the tide was at its lowest; but the black
stones were not visible on account of the birds that were standing or
sitting all over them.  It looked as if a flock of swans or white geese
were resting upon the shoal; but I knew they were only large gulls, for
many of the same kind were wheeling about in the air--some settling down
and some rising to take a fresh flight.  Even at the distance of half a
mile, I could hear their screaming quite distinctly, and I had heard it
much further off, so calm was the atmosphere.

I was now the more anxious to proceed on account of the presence of the
birds, for I was desirous of getting near them and having a good view of
them.  I intended to stop again before going too close, in order to
watch the movements of these pretty creatures; for many of them were in
motion over the shoal, and I could not divine what they were about.

In hopes that they would let me approach near enough to observe them, I
rowed gently and silently, dipping the blades of my oars as carefully as
a cat would set down her paws.

When I had reached within some two hundred yards of them, I once more
lifted the oars above water, and twisted my neck round to look at the
birds.  I observed that I had not yet alarmed them.  Though gulls are
rather shy birds, they know pretty well the range of a common
fowling-piece, and will rarely trouble themselves to stir from the spot
where they are seated until one is just getting within shooting
distance.  I had no gun, and therefore they had nothing to fear--not
much, indeed, even had I possessed one, as I should not have known how
to use it.  It is probable enough that had they seen a gun they would
not have allowed me so near, for white gulls somewhat resemble, black
crows in this respect, and can distinguish between a gun and hoe-handle
a long way off.  Right well do they know the glance of a

I watched the creatures for a long while with great interest; and would
have considered myself well rewarded for the exertions I had made in
getting there, had I even turned back on the spot and rowed ashore
again.  The birds that clustered near the stones were all gulls, but
there were two kinds, very different in size, and somewhat unlike in
colour.  One sort had black heads and greyish wings, while the other and
larger kind was nearly of a pure white colour.  Nothing could exceed the
cleanly appearance of both.  They looked as if a spot of dirt had never
soiled their snowy plumage; and their beautiful red legs shone like
branches of the purest coral.  I made out that those upon the stones
were engaged in various ways.  Some ran about evidently in search of
food; and this consisted of the small fry of fish that had been left by
the receding tide, as well as little crabs, shrimps, lobsters, mussels,
and other curious animals of the sea.  A great many of the birds merely
sat preening their white plumage, of which they appeared to be not a
little proud.  But although they all looked contented and happy, they
were evidently not exempted, any more than other living creatures, from
cares and evil passions.  This was proved by the fact that more than one
terrible quarrel occurred among them while I was looking on, from what
cause--unless it was the male birds battling through jealousy--I could
not determine.  A most captivating sight it was to see those upon the
wing engaged in their occupation of fishing; to see them shoot down from
a height of more than a hundred yards, disappear with almost silent
plunge beneath the blue waves, and after a short interval emerge,
bearing their glittering prey in their beaks.  Of all the movements of
birds, either upon foot or on the wing, I think there is none so
interesting to look at as the actions of the fishing gull while engaged
in pursuit of his prey.  Even the kite is not more graceful in its
flight.  The sudden turning in his onward course--the momentary pause to
fix more accurately the position of his prey--the arrow-like descent--
the plunge--the white spray dancing upward, and then the hiatus
occasioned by the total disappearance of the winged thunderbolt, until
the white object starts forth again above the blue surface--all these
points are incomparable to behold.  No ingenuity of man, aided by all
the elements of air, water, or fire, can produce an exhibition with so
fine an effect.

For a good long while I sat in my little boat watching the movements of
the gulls; and then, satisfied that I had not made the excursion in
vain, I turned myself to carrying out my original design, and landing
upon the reef.

The pretty birds kept their places until I had got nearly up to its
edge.  They seemed to know that I intended them no harm, and did not
mistrust me.  At all events, they had no fear of a gun, for when they at
length arose they winged their way directly over my head, so near that I
could almost have struck them down with the oar.

One, that I thought was larger than any of the flock, had been all the
time perched in a conspicuous place--on the top of the signal-staff.
Perhaps I only fancied him larger on account of the position in which he
was placed; but I noticed that before any of the others took to flight,
he had shot upward with a screech, as if it were a command for the rest
to follow example.  Very likely he was either the sentinel or leader of
the flock; and this little bit of tactics was no other than I had often
seen practised by a flock of crows, when engaged on a pillaging
expedition in a field of beans or potatoes.

The departure of the birds appeared to produce a darkening effect upon
my spirits.  The very sea seemed blacker after they had gone; but this
was natural enough, for instead of their white plumage that had filled
my eyes, I now looked upon the desolate reef, covered over with loose
stones that were as black as if coated with tar.  This was only partly
what had brought about the change in my feelings.  There was another
cause.  A slight breeze had sprung up, as a cloud passed suddenly over
the sun's disc; and the surface of the water, hitherto smooth and
glassy, had grown all at once of a greyish hue by the curling of the
little waves.

The reef had a forbidding aspect; but determined to _explore_ it--since
I had come so far for that especial purpose--I rowed on till the keel of
the dinghy grated upon the rocks.

A little cove presented itself to my view, which I thought would answer
my purpose; and heading my prow up into it, I stepped out, and took my
way direct towards the staff--that object which for so many years I had
looked upon from afar, and with which I had longed to be more intimately



I soon touched with my hands the interesting piece of wood, and felt as
proud at that moment as if it had been the North Pole itself, and I its
discoverer.  I was not a little surprised at its dimensions, and how
much the distance had hitherto deceived me.  Viewed from the shore, it
looked no bigger than the shaft of a hoe or a hay-fork, and the knob at
the top about equal to a fair-sized turnip.  No wonder I was a bit
astonished to find the staff as thick, and thicker, than my thigh, and
the top full larger than my whole body!  In fact, it was neither more
nor less than a barrel or cask of nine gallons.  It was set upon end,
the top of the staff being wedged into a hole in the bottom, thus
holding it firmly.  It was painted white, though this I knew before, for
often had I viewed it glistening under the sun, while the shaft below
was a dark colour.  It may have been black at one time, and had grown
discoloured by the weather and the spray of the stormy water, that often
lashed all around it, even up to the barrel at the top.

Its height, too, I had miscalculated as much as its thickness.  From the
land it appeared no taller than an ordinary man; but looking up to it
from the shoal, it towered above me like the mast of a sloop.  It could
not have been less than twelve feet--yes, twelve it was at the very

I was equally surprised at the extent of ground that I found above
water.  I had long fancied that my islet was only a pole or so in size,
but I now perceived it was a hundred times that--an acre, or very near.
Most of the surface was covered with loose rocks, or "boulders," from
the size of small pebbles to pieces as big as a man's body, and there
were other rocks still larger, but these I perceived were not loose, but
half buried, and fast as rocks could be.  They were only the projecting
ends of great masses that formed the strength of the reef.  All, both
large ones and small ones, were coated over with a black, slimy
substance, and here and there great beds of seaweed, of different kinds,
among which I recognised some sorts that were usually cast up on our
beach, and passed by the name of "sea-wreck."  With these I had already
formed a most intimate acquaintance, for more than one hard day's work
had I done in helping to spread them over my uncle's land, where they
were used as manure for potatoes.

After having satisfied myself with a survey of the tall signal-staff,
and guessed at the dimensions of the barrel at the top, I turned away
from it, and commenced wandering over the reef.  This I did to see if I
could find some curious shell or other object that would be worth
carrying back with me--something to keep as a memento of this great and
hitherto pleasant excursion.

It was not such an easy matter getting about; more difficult than I had
imagined.  I have said the stones were coated over with a slimy
substance, and this made them slippery too.  Had they been well soaped,
they could not have been smoother to the tread; and before I had
proceeded very far, I got a tolerably ugly fall, and several severe

I hesitated as to whether I should go farther in that direction, which
was to the opposite side from where I had left the boat; but there was a
sort of peninsula jutting out from the main part of the reef; and near
the end of this I saw what I fancied to be a collection of rare shells,
and I was now desirous of possessing some.  With this view, then, I kept

I had already observed several sorts of shells among the sand that lay
between the boulders, some with fish in them, and others opened and
bleached.  None of these kinds were new to me, for I had seen them all
many a time before--even in the potato-field, where they turned up among
the wreck.  They were only blue mussels, and a sort the farm people
called "razors," and "whelks," and common "cockle-shells."  I saw no
oysters, and I regretted this, for I had grown hungry and could have
eaten a dozen or two; but it was not the ground for these.  Plenty of
little crabs and lobsters there were, but these I did not fancy to eat
unless I could have boiled them, and that of course was not possible
under the circumstances.

On my way to the front of the peninsula, I looked for "sea-urchin," but
none fell in my way.  I had often wished to get a good specimen of this
curious shell, but without success.  Some of them turned up now and then
upon the beach near our village, but they were not allowed to lie long.
As they made a pretty ornament for the mantel-shelf, and were rare upon
our coast, it was natural they should be prized above the common kinds,
and such was in reality the case.  This reef being remote, and being
seldom visited by any of the boatmen, I was in hopes I should find some
upon it, and I was determined to look narrowly for one.  With this view
I sauntered slowly along, examining every crevice among the rocks, and
every water hole that lay within eyeshot of my path.

I had great hopes that I should find something rare upon the peninsula.
The glittering forms that had first induced me to turn my steps in that
direction, seemed to gleam still brighter as I drew near.  For all that,
I did not particularly hasten.  I had no fear that the shells would walk
off into the water.  These were houses whose tenants had long since
deserted them, and I knew they would keep their place till I got up; so,
under this impression, I continued to go deliberately, searching as I
went.  I found nothing to my mind until I had reached the peninsula; but
then indeed a beautiful object came under my eyes.  It was of a dark red
colour, round as an orange, and far bigger; but I need not describe what
I saw, since every one of you must have seen and admired the shell of
the sea-urchin.

It was not long before I held it in my hand, and admiring its fine
curving outlines, and the curious protuberances that covered them.  It
was one of the handsomest I had ever seen, and I congratulated myself
upon the pretty _souvenir_ it would make of my trip.

For some minutes I kept looking at it, turning it over and over, and
peeping into its empty inside--into the smooth white chamber that its
tenant had long since evacuated.  Yes, some minutes passed before I
tired of this manipulation; but at length I remembered the other shells
I had noticed, and strode forward to gather them.

Sure enough they were strangers, and fair strangers too.  They were of
three or four sorts, all new to me; and on this account I filled my
pockets with them, and after that both my hands, and then turned round
with the intention of going back to the boat.

Gracious heaven! what did I see?  A sight that caused me to drop my
shells, sea-urchin and all, as if they had been pieces of red-hot iron.
I dropped them at my feet, and was nigh to falling on top of them, so
greatly was I astonished at what I saw.  What was it?  _My boat! my
boat!  Where was my boat_?



It was the boat, then, that had caused me this sudden surprise, or
rather alarm, for it speedily came to this.  What, you will ask, had
happened to the boat?  Had she gone to the bottom?  Not that; but, what
at first appeared almost as bad for me--_she had gone away_!

When I turned my eyes in the direction I expected to see her, she was
not there!  The little cove among the rocks was empty.

There was no mystery about the thing.  At a glance I comprehended all,
since at a glance I saw the boat herself, drifting away outward from the
reef.  No mystery at all.  I had neglected to make the boat fast, had
not even taken the rope-hawser ashore; and the breeze, which I now
observed had grown fresher, catching upon the sides of the boat, had
drifted her out of the cove, and off into the open water.

My first feeling was simply surprise; but in a second or two, this gave
way to one of alarm.  How was I to recover the boat?  How to get her
back to the reef?  If not successful in this, how then should I reach
the shore?  Three miles was the shortest distance.  I could not swim it
even for my life; and I had no hope that any one would come to my
rescue.  It was not likely that any one upon the shore could see me, or
be aware of my situation.  Even the little boat would hardly be seen,
for I was now aware of how much smaller objects would be rendered at
that great distance.  The signal-staff had taught me this fact, as well
as the reef itself.  Rocks that, from the shore, appeared to rise only a
foot above the surface, were actually more than a yard.  The boat,
therefore, would hardly be visible, and neither I nor my perilous
situation would be noticed by any one on the shore, unless, indeed, some
one might chance to be looking through a glass; but what probability was
there of such a thing?  None whatever, or the least in the world.

Reflection only increased my uneasiness; for the more I reflected the
more certain did it appear to me, that my negligence had placed me in a
perilous situation.

For a while my mind was in a state of confusion, and I could not decide
upon what course to follow.  There was but little choice left me--in
fact, I saw no alternative at all--but remain upon the reef.  Upon
second thoughts, however, an alternative did suggest itself, if I could
but succeed in following it.  That was to swim out after the boat, and
endeavour to regain possession of her.  She had not drifted so far away
but that I might reach her by swimming.  A hundred yards or so she had
got from the edge of the islet, but she was still widening the distance
between us, and would soon be much farther off.

It was plain, then, that if I intended to take this course, no time was
to be lost--not a moment.

What else could I do?  If I did not succeed in reaching her, I might set
myself down for a troublesome adventure, perhaps perilous too; and this
belief nerved me to the attempt.

With all the speed I could make, I stripped off my clothes and flung
them upon the rocks.  My shoes and stockings followed--even my shirt was
thrown aside, lest it might encumber me, and just as if I was going in
to have a bathe and a swim, I launched myself upon the water.  I had no
wading to do.  The water was beyond my depth from the very edge of the
reef, and I had to swim from the first plunge.  Of course, I struck out
directly for the boat, and kept on without turning to one side or the

I swam as swiftly as I could, but it was a long while before I could
perceive that I was coming any nearer to the dinghy.  At times, I
thought I was not gaining upon her at all, and when the thought occurred
to me that she might be going as fast as I was, it filled me with
vexation and alarm.  Should I not succeed in coming up with her, then it
would be a hopeless case indeed.  I should have to turn round again and
swim back to the reef, or else go to the bottom; for, as already stated,
I could no more have reached the shore by swimming than I could have
swum across the Atlantic.  Though I was now a very good swimmer, and
might have done a mile on a pinch, three were far beyond my power, and I
could not have made the distance to save my life.  Moreover, the boat
was not drifting in the direction of the shore, but up the bay, where
there was at least ten miles of water before me.

I was getting discouraged in this pursuit, and thought of turning back
to the reef, before I might become too exhausted to reach it, when I
noticed that the dinghy veered slightly round, and then drifted in a
direction oblique to that she had already taken.  This arose from a
sudden puff of wind which blew from a new quarter.  It brought the boat
nearer me, and I resolved to make one more effort to reach her.

In this, I at length succeeded; and in a few minutes more, had the
satisfaction of laying my hands upon the gunwale of the boat, which
enabled me to obtain a little rest after my long swim.

As soon as I had recovered breath, I attempted to climb in over the
side; but to my chagrin, the crank little craft sunk under my weight,
and turned bottom upwards, as if it had been a washing tub, plunging me
under water by the sudden capsize.  I rose to the surface, and once more
laying my hands upon the boat, climbed up to get astride across the
keel; but in this I was also unsuccessful, for losing my balance, I drew
the boat so much to one side, that she righted again mouth upwards.
This was what I should have desired; but I perceived to my alarm that
she was nearly full of water, which she had shipped in turning over.
The weight of the water steadied her, so that I was able to draw myself
over the gunwale without further difficulty, and got safe enough inside;
but I had not been there a second, till I perceived that the boat was
_sinking_!  My additional weight was the cause of this, and I saw at
once that unless I leaped out again, she would speedily go to the
bottom.  Perhaps if I had preserved my presence of mind and leaped out
again, the boat might still have kept afloat.  But what with my fears,
and the confusion consequent upon the various duckings I had had, my
presence of mind was gone, and I remained standing in the boat up to my
knees in the water.  I thought of baling her out, but I could find no
vessel.  The tin pan had disappeared, as well as the oars.  The former
no doubt had sunk as the boat capsized, and the oars were floating on
the water at a great distance off.

In my despair, I commenced baling out the water with my hands; but I had
not made half-a-dozen strokes before I felt that she was going down.
The next instant she had gone, sinking directly underneath me, and
causing me to jump outwards in order to escape from being carried down
in the vortex she had made.

I cast one glance upon the spot where she had disappeared.  I saw that
she was gone for ever; and heading away from the spot, I swam back in
the direction of the reef.



I succeeded in reaching the reef, but not without a tough struggle.  As
I breasted the water, I felt that there was a current against me--the
tide; and this it was, as well as the breeze, that had been drifting the
boat away.  But I got back to the reef, and there was not a foot to
spare.  The stroke that brought me up to the edge of the rocks, would
have been my last, had no rocks been there; for it would have been the
last I could give, so much was I exhausted.  Fortunately, my strength
had proved equal to the effort; but that was now quite gone, and I lay
for some minutes upon the edge of the reef, at the spot where I had
crawled out, waiting to recover my breath.

I did not maintain this inactive attitude longer than was necessary.
This was not a situation in which to trifle with time; and knowing this,
I got to my feet again to see if anything could be done.

Strange enough, I cast my eyes in the direction whence I had just come
from the boat.  It was rather a mechanical glance, and I scarce know why
I should have looked in that particular direction.  Perhaps I had some
faint hope that the sunken craft might rise to the surface; and I
believe some such fancy actually did present itself.  I was not
permitted to indulge in it, for there was no boat to be seen, nor
anything like one.  I saw the oars floating far out, but only the oars;
and for all the service they could do me, they might as well have gone
to the bottom, along with the boat.

I next turned my eyes toward the shore; but nothing was to be seen in
that direction, but the low-lying land upon which the village was
situated.  I could not see any people on shore--in fact, I could hardly
distinguish the houses; for, as if to add to the gloom and peril that
surrounded me, the sky had become overcast, and along with the clouds a
fresh breeze had sprung up.

This was raising the water into waves of considerable height, and these
interfered with my view of the beach.  Even in bright weather, the
distance itself would have hindered me from distinguishing human forms
on the shore; for from the reef to the nearest suburb of the village, it
was more than three statute miles.

Of course, it would have been of no avail to have cried out for
assistance.  Even on the calmest day I could not have been heard, and
fully understanding this, I held my peace.

There was nothing in sight--neither ship, nor sloop, nor schooner, nor
brig--not a boat upon the bay.  It was Sunday, and vessels had kept in
port.  Fishing boats for the same reason were not abroad, and such
pleasure boats as belonged to our village had all gone in their usual
direction, down the bay, to a celebrated lighthouse there--most likely
the boat of Harry Blew among the rest.

There was no sail in sight, either to the north, the south, the east, or
the west.  The bay appeared deserted, and I felt as much alone as if I
had been shut up in my coffin.

I remembered instinctively the dread feeling of loneliness that came
over me.  I remember that I sank down upon the rocks and wept.

To add to my agony of mind, the sea-birds, probably angry at me for
having driven them away from their resting-place and feeding ground, now
returned; and hovering over my head in a large flock, screamed in my
ears as if they intended to deafen me.  At times one or another of them
would swoop almost within reach of my hands; and uttering their wild
cries, shoot off again, to return next moment with like hideous screams.
I began to be afraid that these wild birds might attack me, though I
suppose, in their demonstrations they were merely actuated by some
instinct of curiosity.

After considering every point that presented itself to my mind, I could
think of no plan to pursue, other than to sit down (or stand up, if I
liked it better), and wait till some succour should arrive.  There was
no other course left.  Plainly, I could not get away from the islet of
myself, and therefore I must needs stay till some one came to fetch me.

But when would that be?  It would be the merest chance if any one on
shore should turn their eyes in the direction of the reef; and even if
they did, they would not recognise my presence there without the aid of
a glass.  One or two of the watermen had telescopes--this I knew--and
Harry Blew had one; but it was not every day that the men used these
instruments, and ten chances to one against their pointing them to the
reef.  What would they be looking for in that direction?  No boats ever
came or went that way, and vessels passing down or up the bay always
gave the shoal a wide berth.  My chances, therefore, of being seen from
the shore, either with the naked eye or through a glass, were slender
enough.  But still more slender were the hopes I indulged that some boat
or other craft might pass near enough for me to hail it.  It was very
unlikely, indeed, that any one would be coming in that direction.

It was with very disconsolate feelings, then, that I sat down upon the
rock to await the result.

That I should have to remain there till I should be starved I did not
anticipate.  The prospect did not appear to me so bad as that, and yet
such might have been the case, but for one circumstance, which I felt
confident would arise to prevent it.  This was, that Harry Blew would
_miss the dinghy and make search for me_.

He might not, indeed, miss her before nightfall, because he might not
return with his boating party before that time.  As soon as night came,
however, he would be certain to get home; and then, finding the little
boat away from her moorings, he would naturally suspect that I had taken
her, for I was the only boy in the village, or man either, who was
allowed this privilege.  The boat being absent, then, and not even
returning at night, Blew would most likely proceed to my uncle's house;
and then the alarm at my unusual absence would lead to a search for me;
which I supposed would soon guide them to my actual whereabouts.

Indeed, I was far less troubled about the danger I was in than about the
damage I had done.  How could I ever face my friend Blew again? how make
up for the loss of his boat?  This was a serious consideration.  I had
no money of my own, and would my uncle pay it for me?  I feared not; and
yet some one must remunerate the young waterman for the considerable
loss I had occasioned him.  But who was to do it, or how was it to be
done?  If my uncle would only allow me to work for Harry, thought I, I
might make it up to him in that way.  I would be willing to work at so
much a week, till the boat was paid for; if he could only find something
for me to do.

I was actually making calculations as to how I should make good the
loss, and regarding that as my chief trouble at the moment.  It had not
yet occurred to me _that my life was in danger_.  True, I anticipated a
hungry night of it, and a bitter cold one too.  I should be wet through
and through, for I knew that when the tide returned, it would cover the
stones of the reef, and I should have to stand all night in the water.

By the way, how deep would it be?  Up to my knees?

I looked around to discover some means of judging how high the water was
wont to rise.  I knew that the rocks would be all covered, for I had
often seen them so; but I had been all my life under the impression, and
so were people who lived on the shore, that the water rose only a few
inches above the reef.

At first, I could observe nothing that would guide me as to the height,
but at length my eye fell upon the signal-staff, and ran up and down its
shaft.  There was a water-line sure enough, and there was even a circle
of white paint round the post, no doubt intended to mark it; but judge
my surprise, my absolute terror, when I perceived that this line was at
least _six feet above the base of the staff_!

Half distracted, I ran up to the pole.  I placed myself by its side and
looked up.  Alas! my eye had measured but too correctly.  The line was
far above my head.  I could hardly touch it with the tips of my fingers!

A thrill of horror ran through my veins, as I contemplated the result of
this discovery.  The danger was too clearly defined.  Before rescue
could reach me, the tide would be in.  I should be overwhelmed--swept
from the reef--drowned in the waste of waters!



My belief now was, that my life was in peril--nay, rather, that death
was almost certain.  My hopes of being rescued on that day were but
slight from the first, but now they were slighter than ever.  The tide
would be back long before night.  In a few hours it would be at its
flood, and that would be the end.  Should people go in search of me
before night--which, for reasons already given, was not at all likely--
they would be too late.  The tide would not wait either for them or for

The mixed feeling of horror and despair that came over me, held me for a
long time as if paralysed.  I could not give consideration to anything,
nor did I notice for some time what was going on around me.  I only
gazed upon the blank surface of the sea, at intervals turning from one
side to the other, and helplessly regarding the waves.  There was
neither sail nor boat in sight; nothing to relieve the dreary monotony,
but here and there the white wings of the gulls, flapping about at their
leisure.  They no longer continued to annoy me with their screaming,
though, now and then, an odd one would return and fly very near; as if
wondering what I was doing in such a place, and whether I did not mean
to go away from it.

From this state of gloomy despair I was aroused by a gleam of hope.  My
eyes had fallen upon the signal-staff, the sight of which had so lately
caused me a feeling of the opposite kind; and then the thought rushed
into my mind that by means of this I might save myself.

I need hardly say that my design was to climb to its top, and there
remain till the tide should go down again.  One half the post, I knew,
was above watermark, even at high tide; and on its top I should find

It was only a question of climbing up the staff; but that seemed easy
enough.  I was a good tree climber, and surely I could accomplish this.

The discovery of this place of refuge filled me with renewed hopes.
Nothing could be easier than to get up; I might have a hard night of it,
staying up there, but there could be no danger.  The peril was past: I
should yet live to laugh at it.

Buoyed up with this belief, I once more approached the staff, with the
intention of climbing up.  I did not intend going up to remain.  I
thought it would be time enough when my footing failed me below; it was
only to make sure that I should be able to climb the pole when the hour
of necessity arrived.

I found it more difficult than I had anticipated, especially in getting
up the first six feet.  This portion of the staff was coated over with
some slimy substance--the same that covered the rocks around--and this
rendered it as slippery as one of the greased poles that I had seen at
merry-makings in our village.

It cost me several attempts and failures before I could get above the
watermark; but the rest was more easy, and I soon reached the top of the

I stretched my hand upward to seize hold of the barrel, and draw myself
up upon it, congratulating myself that I had been able to accomplish my
object, when a change came suddenly over my feelings, and I was once
more plunged into despair.

My arm was too short to reach the upper rim of the cask.  I could only
touch the swell, scarce half-way up.  I could get no hold upon it,
either to stay me where I was, or to pull myself up farther.

I could not remain where I was.  In a few seconds my strength gave way,
and I was forced to slide down to the base of the staff.

I tried again, with no better success; and then again, with a similar
result.  It was to no purpose.  Stretch my arms as I would, and wriggle
my limbs as I might, I could not get my body higher than the point where
the staff was set, and could only extend my hand half-way up the rounded
swell of the cask.  Of course I could not keep there, as there was
nothing to rest my weight upon, and I was forced to glide back to the

It was with a feeling of renewed alarm, then, that I made this
discovery, but I did not as before yield myself up to despair.  Perhaps
my wits were quickened by the peril that was fast approaching me.  At
all events, I kept my senses about me, and set to considering what was
best to be done.

If I had only been in possession of a knife, I might have cut notches in
the pole high up, and on these rested my feet; but I had no knife--
nothing to make notches with--unless I had eaten them out with my teeth.
Verily I was in a difficult dilemma.

All at once, however, a bright thought came to my relief.  Why might I
not raise a resting-place from below?  Why not make a platform by
building stones around the post, until they had reached above watermark,
and then stand upon these?  The very thing itself.  A few stones, I had
noticed already, were piled around the base, no doubt placed there to
make the staff more firm.  It would only be to bring up more stones,
build them into a _cairn_, and then get on the top of them!

Delighted with this new project of safety, I lost not a moment in
setting about carrying it into effect.  There were plenty of loose
boulders lying over the reef, and I supposed that in a few minutes I
could heap up enough of them to serve the purpose; but I had not worked
long before I perceived that the job would occupy me longer than I had
anticipated.  The stones were slippery, and this hindered me greatly in
carrying them--some were too heavy for me, and others that I had
supposed to be loose, I found to be half buried in sand, and held so
fast that I could not draw them out.

Notwithstanding these impediments, I worked on with all the strength and
energy I could command.  I knew that in time I could raise the cairn as
high as required, but time had now become the all-engrossing subject of
my thoughts.

The tide had long since turned; it was rising; slowly and continuously
it was lipping nearer and nearer--slowly but with certainty was it
coming; and I perceived all this!

I had many a fall, as I scrambled to and fro; and my knees were bleeding
from contact with the hard stones; but these were not matters to grieve
about, nor was it a time to give way to hardships, however painful to
endure.  A far greater hardship threatened--the loss of life itself--and
I needed no urging to make me persevere with my work.

I had raised the pile up to the height of my head before the tide had
yet risen over the rocks, but I knew that this would not be high enough.
Two feet more was wanted to bring the top of my cairn on a level with
high-water mark; and to accomplish this I slaved away without thinking
of a moment's rest.  The work as it went on became more difficult.  The
loose stones that lay near had all been used, and I was obliged to go
far out on the reef to procure others.  This led to a great many severe
falls, in which both my hands and knees were badly bruised; besides, it
prevented me from making rapid progress.  There was another cause that
delayed me.  At the height of four feet the pile was on a level with the
crown of my head, and it was with difficulty I could place the stones
higher up.  Each one occupied me for minutes, and sometimes a heavy
boulder which I had succeeded in getting up, would roll back again,
endangering my limbs in its fall.

In fine, after labouring for a long time--two hours, or more--my work
was brought to a termination.  Not that it was done--far from it.
Unfortunately, it was not terminated, but _interrupted_.  What
interrupted it I need hardly tell you, as you will guess that it was the
_tide_.  Yes, it was the tide, which, as soon as it had fairly begun to
cover the stones, seemed to rush over them all at once.  It did not
recoil, as I have often seen it do upon the beach.  There it flows in
gradually, wave after wave; but upon the reef--the surface of which was
nearly of equal height--the water, at the first rush, swept all over the
rocks, and was soon of a considerable depth.

I did not leave off my exertions until long after the rocks were
covered.  I worked until I was knee deep in water, bending down to the
surface, almost diving under it, detaching great stones from their bed,
and carrying them in my arms towards the pile.  I toiled away, with the
spray spitting in my face, and sometimes great sheets of it breaking
over my body, until I feared it would drown me--toiled on till the water
grew so deep and the sea so strong, that I could not longer keep my
footing upon the rocks; and then, half-wading, half-swimming, I brought
my last stone to the heap, and hoisted it up.  Climbing after, I stood
upon the highest point of the battery I had erected, with my right arm
closely hugging the shaft of the signal.  In this attitude, and with
trembling heart, I watched the inflow of the tide.



To say that I awaited the result with confidence would not be at all
true.  Quite the contrary.  Fear and trembling were far more the
characteristics of my mind in that hour.  Had I been allowed more time
to build my cairn--time to have made it high enough to overtop the
waves, and firm enough to resist them, I should have felt less
apprehension.  I had no fear that the signal-staff would give way.  It
had been well proved, for there had it stood defying the storm as long
as I could remember.  It was my newly-raised cairn that I dreaded, both
its height and its durability.  As to the former, I had succeeded in
raising it five feet high, just within one foot of high-water mark.
This would leave me to stand a foot deep in water, nor did I regard that
in the light of a hardship.  It was not on this account I had such
uncomfortable imaginings.  It was altogether a different thought that
was vexing me.  It was the doubt I entertained of the _faithfulness_ of
this watermark.  I knew that the white line indicated the height of the
full tide under ordinary circumstances, and that when the sea was calm,
the surface would coincide with the mark; but only when it was dead
calm.  Now it was not calm at that moment.  There was enough of breeze
to have raised the waves at least a foot in height--perhaps two feet.
If so, then two-thirds, or even three-fourths, of my body would be under
water--to say nothing of the spray which would be certain to drive
around me.  This, however, was still far less than I had to fear.
Supposing that the breeze should continue to freshen--supposing a storm
should come on--nay, even an ordinary gale--then, indeed, the slight
elevation which I had obtained above the surface would be of no avail;
for during storms I had often observed the white spray lashing over that
very reef, and rising many feet above the head of the signal-staff.

"Oh! if a storm should arise, then am I lost indeed!"

Every now and then was I pained with such an apprehension.

True, the probabilities were in my favour.  It was the fair month of
May, and the morning of that day one of the finest I had ever seen.  In
any other month, a storm would have been more regular; but there are
storms even in May, and weather that on shore may seem smiling and
bright, is, for all that, windy and gusty upon the bosom of the broad
sea, and causes destruction to many a fine ship.  Moreover, it did not
need to be a hurricane; far less than an ordinary gale would be
sufficient to overwhelm me, or sweep me from the precarious footing upon
which I stood.

Another apprehension troubled me: my cairn was far too loosely put
together.  I had not attempted to make any building of the thing; there
was not time for that.  The stones had been hurled or huddled on top of
one another, just as they dropped out of my hands; and as I set my feet
upon them I felt they were far from firm.  What if they should not prove
enough so to resist the current of the returning tide, or the lashing of
the waves?  Should they not, then indeed I had laboured in vain.  Should
they fall, I must fall with them, never again to rise!

No wonder that this added another to the many doubts I had to endure;
and as I thought upon such a mischance occurring, I again looked eagerly
outward, and ran my eyes in every direction over the surface of the bay,
only, as on every other occasion, to meet with sad disappointment.

For a long time I remained in the exact position I had first assumed--
that is with my arm thrown round the signal-staff, and hugging it as if
it were a dear friend.  True, it was the only friend I had then; but for
it an attempt to have built the cairn would have been vain.  Even could
I have raised it to the full height, it is neither likely that it would
have stood the water or that I could have held my position upon it.
Without the staff to hold on to, I could not have balanced my body on
its top.

This position, then, I kept, almost without moving a muscle of my body.
I dreaded even to change my feet from one stone to another lest the
movement might shake the pile and cause it to tumble down, and I knew
that if once down, there would be no chance to build it up again.  The
time was past for that.  The water all around the base of the staff was
now beyond my depth.  I could not have moved a step without swimming.

I passed most of the time in gazing over the water; though I did not
move my body, I kept constantly turning my neck.  Now looking before,
then behind, then to both sides, and the next moment repeating these
observations, until I had scanned the surface for the fiftieth time,
without sight of boat or ship to reward me.  At intervals I watched the
returning tide, and the huge waves as they rolled towards me over the
reef, coming home from their far wanderings.  They appeared angry, and
growled at me as they passed, as if to chide and scold me for being
there.  What was I, weak mortal, doing in this their own peculiar home--
this ground that was the chosen spot for their wild play?  I even
fancied that they talked to me.  I grew dizzy as I watched them, and
felt as if I should swoon away and melt into their dark flood.

I saw them rising higher and higher, until they swept over the top of my
cairn, and covered my feet resting on it; higher still and yet higher,
till I felt them lipping against my knees.  O! when will they stay?
When will they cease to come on?

Not yet--not yet--higher! higher! till I stand up to the waist in the
briny flood, and even above that the spray washes around me--against my
face--over my shoulders--into my mouth, and eyes, and ears--
half-stifling me, half-drowning me!  O merciful Father!

The water had reached its height, and I was almost overwhelmed by it;
but with desperate tenacity of life I held out, closely clinging to the
signal-shaft.  For a very long time I held on, and, had no change
occurred, I might have been able to keep my place till the morning; but
a change was near, and one that placed me in greater peril than ever.

Night came on; and, as if this had been a signal for my destruction, the
wind increased almost to a gale.  The clouds had been scowling
throughout the twilight, as if threatening rain, which now fell in
torrents--the wind, as it were, bringing the rain along with it.  I
perceived that the waves were every moment rising higher, and one or two
large ones now swept almost over me.  So great was their strength that I
was scarcely able to resist it, and came very near being swept away.

I was now full of fear.  I saw that should the breakers grow larger, I
could not hold out against them, but must succumb.  Even as they were,
it was doubtful whether my strength would hold out.

The last great wave that struck me had somewhat altered my foothold upon
the stones, and it was necessary for me to recover it, or fix myself
still better.  For this purpose I raised my body a little by my arms,
and was feeling about with my foot for the most elevated point of my
battery, when another huge wave came rushing along, and whipping both my
feet off the stones, carried them out from the shaft.  I held on with
both arms, and for some moments hung almost horizontally upon the water,
until the wave had passed.  Then permitting my feet to drop down, I felt
once more for the support of the cairn.  I touched the stones, but only
touched them.  As soon as a pound of my weight rested upon them, I felt
the cairn crumbling beneath my feet, as if it had melted suddenly away;
and, no longer able to sustain myself, I glided down the staff, and sank
after the scattered pile to the bottom of the sea!



Fortunately for me I had learnt to swim, and I was a tolerably good hand
at it.  It was the most useful accomplishment I could have possessed at
that moment; and but for it I should have been drowned on the instant.
Diving, too, I could do a little at, else the ducking I then received
would have discomfited me a good deal; for I went quite to the bottom
among the ugly black stones.

I stayed there not a moment longer than I could help, but mounted back
to the surface like a duck; and then, rising upon the wave, looked
around me.  My object in so doing was to get sight of the signal-staff,
and with the spray driving in my eyes this was not so easy.  Just like a
water-dog searching for some object in the water, I had to turn twice or
thrice before I saw it; for I was uncertain in which direction to look
for it, so completely had the sudden plunge blinded me and blunted my

I got my eyes upon it at length; not within reach, as might have been
expected; but many yards off, quite twenty, I should think!  Wind and
tide had been busy with me; and had I left them to themselves for ten
minutes more, they would have carried me to a point from which I should
never have been able to swim back.

As soon as I espied the post I struck directly for it--not indeed that I
very clearly knew what I should do when I got there, but urged on with a
sort of instinct that something might interfere in my favour.  I was
acting just as men act when in danger of being drowned.  I was catching
at straws.  I need not say that I was cool: you would not believe me,
nor would there be a word of truth in it, for I was far from cool in the
moral sense of the word, whatever I might be personally and physically.
On the contrary, I was frightened nearly out of my senses; and had just
enough left to direct me back to the post, though this might only have
been instinct.  But no, something more than instinct; for I had at the
same time a keen and rational sense of the unpleasant fact, that when I
should arrive at the post, I might be not a bit nearer to _safety_.  I
had no fear about being able to reach the staff.  I had confidence
enough in my natatory powers to make me easy on that score.  It was only
when I thought of the little help I should find there, that my
apprehensions were keen, and this I was thinking of all the while I was
in the water.

I could easily have climbed the staff as far as the cask, but no
farther.  To get to the top was beyond my power; one of those
difficulties which even the fear of death cannot overcome.  I had tried
it till I was tired of trying; in short, till I saw I could not do it.
Could I only have accomplished that feat, I might have done so before,
for I took it for granted that on that high perch I should have been
safe, and the nine-gallon barrel would have been large enough to have
given me a seat where I might without difficulty have weathered the

Another reason there was why it would have been the best place for me.
Had I succeeded in mounting up there before nightfall, some one upon the
shore might have noticed me, and then the adventure would have ended
without all this peril.  I even thought at the time of those things, and
while clambering up the shaft entertained hopes that some one might
observe me.  I afterwards learned that some one did--more than one--
idlers along shore; but not knowing who it was, and very naturally
believing that some Sabbath-breaking boys had gone out to the reef to
amuse themselves--part of that amusement being to "swarm" up the
signal-staff--I was set down as one of those, and no farther notice was
taken of me.

I could not have continued to go up the staff.  It speedily tired me
out; besides, as soon as I perceived the necessity for erecting the
platform, I needed every second of the time that was left me for that

All the above thoughts did not pass through my mind while I was in the
water struggling back to the staff, though some of them did.  I thought
of the impossibility of climbing up above the barrel--that was clear to
me; and I thought also of what I should do when I reached the post, and
that was not clear to me.  I should be able to lay hold upon the staff,
as I had done before, but how I was to retain my hold was the unsolved
problem.  And it remained so, till I had got up and seized the staff,
and indeed for a good while after.

Well, I reached the pole at length, after a great deal of buffetting,
having the wind and tide, and even the rain in my teeth.  But I reached
it, and flung my arms around it as if it had been some dear old friend.
Nor was it aught else.  Had it not been for that brave stick, I might as
well have stayed at the bottom.

Having clutched hold of it, I felt for some moments almost as if I had
been saved.  I experienced no great difficulty in keeping my limbs
afloat so long as I had such a support for my arms, though the work was
irksome enough.

Had the sea been perfectly calm I could have stood it for a long time;
perhaps till the tide had gone out again, and this would have been all I
could have desired.  But the sea was not calm, and that altered the
case.  There had been a short lull with the smoother sea just as I
returned to the staff, and even this was a fortunate circumstance, as it
gave me time to rest and recover my breath.

Only a short respite it was, and then came wind and rain and rough
seas--rougher than ever.  I was first lifted up nearly to the barrel,
and then let down again with a pitch, and then for some minutes was kept
swinging about--the staff serving as a pivot--like some wonderful
acrobat performing his feats in a gymnasium.

I withstood the first shock, and though it bowled me about, I held on
manfully.  I knew I was holding on for my life, and "needs must;" but I
had slight reason to be satisfied.  I felt how near it was to taking me,
and I had gloomy forebodings about the result.  Worse might come after,
and I knew that a few struggles like this last would soon wear me out.

What, then, could I do that would enable me to hold on?  In the interval
between the great seas, this was my ruling thought.  If I had only been
possessed of a rope, I could have tied myself to the staff; but then a
rope was as far away as a boat, or an easy chair by my uncle's fireside.
It was no use thinking of a rope, nor did I waste time in doing so; but
just at that moment, as if some good spirit had put the idea into my
head, I thought of something as good as a rope--a _substitute_.  Yes,
the very thing came up before my mind, as though Providence had guided
me to think of it.

You are impatient to hear what it was.  You shall hear.

Around my arms and shoulders I wore a garment familiarly known as a
"cord jacket"--a roundabout of corduroy cloth, such as boys in the
humbler ranks of life use to wear, or did when I was a boy.  It was my
everyday suit, and after my poor mother's death it had come to be my
Sunday wear as well.  Let us say nothing to disparage this jacket.  I
have since then been generally a well-dressed man, and have worn
broadcloth of the finest that West of England looms could produce; but
all the wardrobe I ever had would not in one bundle weigh as much in my
estimation as that corduroy jacket.  I think I may say that I owe my
life to it.

Well, the jacket chanced to have a good row of buttons upon it--not the
common horn, or bone, or flimsy lead ones, such as are worn nowadays,
but good, substantial metal buttons--as big as a shilling every way, and
with strong iron eyes in them.  Well was it for me they were so good and

I had the jacket upon my person, and that, too, was a chance in my
favour, for just as like I might not have had it on.  When I started to
overtake the boat, I had thrown off both jacket and trousers; but on my
return from that expedition, and before I had got as badly scared as I
became afterwards, I had drawn my clothes on again.  The air had turned
rather chilly all of a sudden, and this it was that influenced me to
re-robe myself.  All a piece of good fortune, as you will presently

What use, then, did I make of the jacket?  Tear it up into strips, and
with these tie myself to the staff?  No.  That might have been done, but
it would have been rather a difficult performance for a person swimming
in a rough sea, and having but one hand free to make a knot with.  It
would even have been out of my power to have taken the jacket off my
body, for the wet corduroy was clinging to my skin as if it had been
glued there.  I did not do this, then; but I followed out a plan that
served my purpose as well--perhaps better.  I opened wide my jacket,
laid my breast against the signal-staff, and, meeting the loose flaps on
the other side, buttoned them from bottom to top.

Fortunately the jacket was wide enough to take in all.  My uncle never
did me a greater favour in his life--though I did not think so at the
time--than when he made me wear an ugly corduroy jacket that was "miles
too big" for me.

When the buttoning was finished, I had a moment to rest and reflect--the
first for a long while.

So far as being washed away was concerned, I had no longer anything to
fear.  The post itself might go, but not without me, or I without it.
From that time forward I was as much part of the signal-staff as the
barrel at its top--indeed, more, I fancy--for a ship's hawser would not
have bound me faster to it than did the flaps of that strong corduroy.

Had the keeping close to the signal-staff been all that was wanted I
should have done well enough, but, alas!  I was not yet out of danger;
and it was not long ere I perceived that my situation was but little
improved.  Another vast breaker came rolling over the reef, and washed
quite over me.  In fact, I began to think that I was worse fixed than
ever; for in trying to fling myself upward as the wave rose, I found
that my fastening impeded me, and hence the complete ducking that I
received.  When the wave passed on, I was still in my place; but what
advantage would this be?  I should soon be smothered by such repeated
immersions.  I should lose strength to hold up, and would then slide
down to the bottom of the staff, and be drowned all the same--although
it might be said that I had "died by the standard!"



I had not lost presence of mind as yet, but once more set about
considering how I might be able to keep above water.  I could easily
slide up the staff without taking out a single button; but once up, how
could I remain there?  I should certainly come slipping down again.  Oh!
that there was only a notch--a knot--a nail--if I only had a knife to
make a nick; but knot, notch, nail, knife, nick--all were alike denied
me.  Stay!  I was wrong, decidedly wrong.  I remembered just then that
while attempting to get over the barrel, I had noticed that the staff
just under it was smaller than elsewhere.  It had been flanged off at
the top, as if to make a point upon it, and upon this point was placed
the barrel, or rather a portion of the top was inserted into the end of
the barrel.

I remembered this narrow part.  It formed a sort of ring or collar round
the post.  Was it likely that the protuberance would be large enough to
make a hold for my jacket, and prevent it from slipping back?  Likely or
not, it was not the time to be nice about the choice of expedients.
There was no choice: this or nothing.

Before another sea could reach me, I had "swarmed" up the pole.  I tried
the experiment.  It would not do.  I came sliding down again, sadder
than I had gone up; and as soon as down, I was treated to "another
sorrow of the same"--a fresh sea that ducked and drowned me as before.

The cause of my failure was that I could not get the collar of my jacket
high enough.  My head was in the way.

Up the pole again with a new thought.  A fresh hope had arisen in my
mind, as soon as I rose out of the waves; and this hope was that I might
fasten something around the top, and to this something fasten myself.

But what was the something to be?  I had also thought of that; and you
shall hear what it was.  I chanced to have upon my shoulders a pair of
braces, and fortunately they were good ones--no pedlar's stuff, but
stout braces of buckskin leather.  This was the something by which I
intended to hang myself up.

I lost no time in trying.  I had no desire to stay longer below than I
could help, and I soon "speeled" up again.  The jacket served a good
purpose.  It helped to stay me on the staff; and by pressing my back
outward, and holding well with my feet, I could remain a good while
without getting tired.

Placing myself in this attitude, I unloosed my braces.  I acted with
caution, notwithstanding my disagreeable plight.  I took care not to
drop them while knotting the two together; and I also took care to make
the knot a firm one, as well as to waste only a very little of the
precious length of the buckskin.  I should need every inch of it.

Having got them both into one piece, I made a loop at the end, taking
care that the post should be _inside_ the loop.  This done, I pushed the
loop up till it was above the shoulder of the staff--right "chuck" up to
the barrel--and then I drew it tight and close.  It remained only to
pass the other end through my buttoned jacket, and knot it round the
cloth.  This I managed after a little, and then lying back, tried it
with my whole weight.  I even let go with my feet, and hung suspended
for a moment or two; and had any pilot just then have seen me through
his night-glass, he could have had but one belief--that suicide or some
terrible crime had been committed.

Over-wearied, half-drowned was I, and I will not say whether or not I
laughed at the odd attitude in which I had placed myself; but I could
have laughed, for from that moment I knew no further fear.  I felt that
I was delivered from death, as certainly as if I had seen Harry Blew and
his boat rowing within ten yards of me.  The storm might rage, rain
fall, and wind blow; spray might pitch over and around me; but I was
satisfied that I should be able to keep my position in spite of all.

True, it was far from being as comfortable as I might have wished it;
but now that the peril was past I began to consider how I could improve
it.  My feet gave me the most trouble.  Every now and then my legs
exhibited a tendency to get tired and let go their hold, and then I
dropped back to my _hanging_ attitude again.

This was unpleasant and somewhat dangerous, but I did not allow it to
vex me long.  There was a cure for this, like everything else, and I
soon discovered it.  I split up the legs of my pantaloons quite to the
knees--as good luck would have it they were corduroy like the jacket--
and then taking the two long pieces that hung down, I gave them a twist
or two, passed them round the post, and knotted them together on the
opposite side.  This furnished a rest for the lower half of my body; and
thus, half sitting, half hanging, I passed the remainder of the night.

When I tell you that I saw the tide go out, and leave the rocks bare,
you will think I surely released myself from my perch, and got down upon
the reef.  But I did nothing of the kind.  I had no idea of trusting
myself on those rocks again if I could help it.

I was not comfortable where I was, but still I could endure it for a
while longer; and I feared to make any alteration in the premises lest I
might have to use them again.  Moreover, I knew that where I was I
should very likely be seen from the shore as soon as the day broke, and
then relief would be sure to be sent to me.

And it was sent, or came without any sending.  Scarcely was the red
Aurora above the water-line, when I perceived a boat making towards me
with all speed; and as soon as it drew near, I saw, what I had guessed
long before, that it was Harry Blew himself that was handling the oars.

I shall not tell you how Harry acted when he came up; how he laughed and
shouted, and waved his oar-blade in the air; and then how kindly and
gently he lowered me down, and laid me in his boat; and when I told him
the whole story, and how his boat had gone to the bottom, instead of
being angry with me, he only laughed, and said it was well it had been
no worse; and from that day not a syllable of reproach ever passed his
lips--not a word about the lost dinghy.



Even this narrow escape had no effect.  I was not more afraid of the
water than ever; but _rather liked_ it all the more on account of the
very excitement which its dangers produced.

Very soon after I began to experience a longing to see foreign lands,
and to travel over the great ocean itself.  I never cast my eyes out
upon the bay, that this yearning did not come over me; and when I saw
ships with their white sails, far off upon the horizon, I used to think
how happy they must be who were on board of them; and I would gladly
have exchanged places with the hardest-working sailor among their crews.

Perhaps I might not have felt these longings so intensely had I been
happy at home--that is, had I been living with a kind father and gentle
mother; but my morose old uncle took little interest in me; and there
being, therefore, no ties of filial affection to attach me to home, my
longings had full play.  I was compelled to do a good deal of work on
the farm, and this was a sort of life for which I had no natural liking.

The drudgery only increased my desire to go abroad--to behold the
wonderful scenes of which I had read in books, and of which I had
received still more glowing accounts from sailors, who had once been
fishermen in our village, and who occasionally returned to visit their
native place.  These used to tell us of lions, and tigers, and
elephants, and crocodiles, and monkeys as big as men, and snakes as long
as ships' cables, until their exciting stories of the adventures they
had experienced among such creatures filled me with an enthusiastic
desire to see with my own eyes these rare animals, and to take part in
the chasing and capturing of them as the sailors themselves had done.
In short, I became very tired of the dull monotonous life which I was
leading at home, and which I then supposed was peculiar to our own
country; for, according to our sailor-visitors, in every other part of
the world there was full store of stirring adventures, and wild animals,
and strange scenes.

One young fellow, I remember, who had only been as far as the Isle of
Man, brought back such accounts of his adventures among blacks and
boa-constrictors, that I quite envied him the exciting sports he had
there witnessed.  Though, for certain reasons, I had been well schooled
in writing and arithmetic, yet I had but a slight knowledge of
geography, as it was not a prominent branch of study in our school.  I
could scarce tell, therefore, where the Isle of Man lay; but I resolved,
the first opportunity that offered, that I should make a voyage to it,
and see some of the wonderful sights of which the young fellow spoke.

Although this to me would have been a grand undertaking, yet I was not
without hopes of being able to accomplish it.  I knew that upon odd
occasions a schooner traded from our port to this famed island, and I
believed it possible, some time or other, to get a passage in her.  It
might not be so easy, but I was resolved to try what could be done.  I
had made up my mind to get on friendly terms with some of the sailors
belonging to the schooner, and ask them to take me along with them on
one of their trips.

While I was patiently waiting and watching for this opportunity an
incident occurred that caused me to form new resolutions and drove the
schooner and three-legged island quite out of my head.

About five miles from our little village, and further down the bay,
stood a large town.  It was a real seaport, and big ships came there--
great three-masted vessels, that traded to all parts of the world, and
carried immense cargoes of merchandise.

One day I chanced to have been sent there, along with a farm-servant of
my uncle, who drove a cart full of farm produce which he was taking to
the town for sale.  I was sent to assist him, by holding the horse while
he was engaged disposing of the contents of the cart.

It happened that the cart was drawn up near one of the wharves where the
shipping lay, so that I had a fine opportunity of looking at the great
leviathans of vessels moored along the quay, and admiring their tall
slender masts and elegant rigging.

There was one ship directly opposite to us that particularly attracted
my admiration.  She was larger than any that was near, and her
beautifully tapering masts rose higher by several feet than those of any
other vessel in the port.  But it was neither her superior size nor her
more elegant proportions that fixed my attention so earnestly upon her,
though these had at first attracted it.  What rendered her so
interesting in my eyes was the fact that she was about to sail very
soon--upon the following day.  This fact I learnt from a large board,
which I saw fastened in a conspicuous place upon her rigging, and upon
which I read the following:--

"The _Inca_--for Peru--To-morrow."

My heart began to thump loudly against my ribs, as if some terrible
danger was near, but it was only the emotion caused by the wild thoughts
that rushed into my mind as I read the brief but stirring
announcement--"For Peru, _to-morrow_."

Quick as lightning ran my reflections, all having their origin in the
question, self-asked: why cannot I start "for Peru, to-morrow?"  Why

There were grand impediments, and many of them; I knew that, well
enough.  First, there was my uncle's servant, who was by my side, and
whose duty it was to take me home again.  Of course, it would have been
preposterous to have asked his consent to my going.

Secondly, there was the consent of the people of the ship to be
obtained.  I was not so innocent as to be ignorant of the fact, that a
passage to Peru, or to any other part of the world, was a thing that
cost a great deal of money; and that even little boys like myself would
not be taken without paying.

As I had no money, or not so much as would have paid for a passage in a
ferry-boat, of course this difficulty stared me in the face, very
plainly.  How was I to get passage?

As I have said, my reflections ran as quick as lightning, and before I
had gazed for a dozen minutes upon that beautiful ship, the impediments,
both of the passage-money and the guardianship of the farmer's man,
vanished from my thoughts; and I had come to the determination, with
full belief in being able to carry it out, that I _should_ start for
Peru to-morrow.

In what part of the world Peru lay, I knew no more than the man in the
moon; not near so much, since he has a good view of it on moonlight
nights, and must know very well where it is.  My school learning had
extended no farther than to reading, writing, and arithmetic.  In the
last I was quite an adept, for our village teacher was rather clever at
"ciphering," and took great pride in proving his accomplishment, by
communicating what he knew to his pupils.  It was the leading branch of
study in his school.  Geography, however, had been neglected, almost
untaught; and I knew not in what part of the world Peru lay, though I
had heard that there was such a country.

The returned sailors already mentioned had spoken much about Peru--that
it was a very hot country, and a very long way from England, a full six
months' voyage.  I had heard, moreover, that it was a country of
wonderful gold mines, and blacks, and snakes, and palm-trees; and this
was enough for me.  It was just the sort of place I desired to see.  For
Peru, then, was I bound, and in the good ship _Inca_.

My next reflection was how I should act--how get over the difficulty
about the passage-money, and also escape from the guardianship of my
friend "John," the driver of the cart.  The former would appear the
greater dilemma, though in reality it was no such thing; at least, so I
thought at the time.  My reasons for thinking so were these: I had often
heard of boys running away to sea--of their being accepted on board
ships, and allowed to become boy-sailors and afterwards able seamen.  I
was under the impression that there was not much difficulty about the
matter, and that almost any boy who was big enough and smart enough
would be taken aboard, if he was but willing to work for it.

My only apprehension at the time was about my own bigness, or rather
"littleness," for I knew that I was still but a very small shaver--
smaller even than my age would indicate--though I had a well-knit frame,
and was tolerably tight and tough.  I had some doubt, however, about my
size, for I was often "twitted" with being such a very little fellow.  I
was fearful, therefore, that this might be an obstacle to my being taken
as a boy-sailor; for I had really made up my mind to offer myself as
such on board the _Inca_.  With regard to "John," my apprehensions were
very great.  On the first impulse, I thought of no other plan than to
give him the slip, and leave him to go home without me.  After a little
reflection, I perceived that that course would never do.  John would be
back in the morning with half-a-dozen of his kind--and perhaps my uncle
himself--in quest of me.  They would most likely arrive before the ship
should sail, for vessels rarely take their departure at an early hour in
the morning.  The bellman would raise the hue and cry.  The whole town
would be traversed, and perhaps the ship searched, where, of course, I
should be found, delivered up, carried home, and, beyond doubt, severely
whipped; for I knew my uncle's disposition well enough to believe that
that would most certainly be the wind-up of the adventure.  No, no, it
would never do to let John and his cart go home without me.

A little reflection convinced me of this, and at the same time helped me
to resolve upon a better plan.  The new resolve was to go back along
with my guardian John, and then take my departure from home itself.

Without imparting aught of my design, or making John in any way my
confidant, I mounted into the cart along with him, and rode back to the
village.  I reached home as quietly, and apparently as little concerned
about anything that was passing in my mind, as when I left it in the



It was near night when we arrived at the farm; and I took care during
the remainder of the evening to act as naturally as if there was nothing
unusual in my thoughts.  Little dreamt my relatives and the domestics of
the farmhouse--little dreamt they of the big design that lay hid within
my bosom, and which at intervals, when I reflected upon it, caused my
heart to heave again.

There were moments when I half repented of my purpose.  When I looked
upon the familiar faces of home--for after all it was home--the only
home I had--when I reflected that I might never see those faces again;
when I reflected that some of them might grieve for me--some I knew,
_would_ grieve--when I pondered upon the deception I was practising upon
all of them, I in full possession of a design of which they knew
nothing; I say when these thoughts were in my mind, I half repented of
my purpose.  I would have given the world for a confidant, while thus
wavering; and no doubt, had I had one who would have advised me against
going, I should have remained at home--at least, for that time--though,
in the end, my wayward and aquatic nature would have carried me to sea
all the same.

You will, no doubt, think it strange that under these circumstances I
did not seek out Harry Blew, and take his advice.  Ah! that is just what
I should have done, had Harry been within reach, but he was not: the
young waterman was a waterman no more.  He had become tired of that sort
of life months ago, had sold his boat, and gone off as a regular sailor
_before the mast_.  Perhaps if Harry Blew had been still at home, I
should not have so much wished to go abroad; but from the time that he
left, I longed every day to follow his example; and whenever I looked
seaward over the bay, it was with a yearning that it would be impossible
to explain.  A prisoner, looking through the bars of his prison, could
not have felt a greater longing to be free, than I to be away, far away,
upon the bosom of the bright ocean.  Had the young waterman only been
there to counsel me, perhaps I might have acted differently; but he, my
best friend, was gone.

And now I had no confidant to whom I might impart my secret.  There was
one young fellow, a farm-servant, whom I thought I might have trusted.
I was fond of him, and I believe I was a favourite with him as well.
Twenty times I had it on my tongue's end to tell him of my intention,
but as often I checked myself.  I did not fear that he would betray me,
provided I gave up my design of running away; but I fancied he would
advise me against it, and in the event of my persisting, _then_ he might
betray me.  It would be of no use, therefore, seeking counsel from him,
and I kept the design to myself.

I ate my supper, and went to bed as usual.

You will expect to hear that I got out of bed, and stole away in the

Not so.  I kept my bed till the usual hour for rising, though I slept
scarce a wink.  The thought of my important purpose kept me awake, and
during the few snatches of sleep I had, I dreamt of big ships and
rolling seas, of climbing up tall masts, and dragging black, tarry
ropes, till my fingers were in blisters.

I had at first partly made up my mind to take my departure in the night,
which I could easily have effected without danger of disturbing any one.
There were no burglars in our quiet little village, nor had any been
heard of for years, so that most people left their outside doors on the
latch.  The door of my uncle's house was on that night particularly free
of egress, for, it being summer, and the weather extremely hot, it had
been left "on the jar."  I could have slipped out without causing it
even to creak.

But though so very young, I was not without some powers of
ratiocination; and I reasoned that if I ran away in the night, I should
be missed at an early hour of the morning, and consequently sought for.
The searchers, or some portion of them, would be pretty certain to
follow me to the seaport town, and find me there as a matter of course.
I should be in no better position than if I had given John the slip on
the preceding day.  Moreover, it was but five or six miles to the town--
I should go over the ground in two hours at most--I should arrive too
early, before the people of the ship would be stirring--the captain
would be a-bed, and therefore I could not see him to offer myself as a
volunteer in his service.  These were the considerations that induced me
to remain at home until morning, although I waited impatiently for the

I ate my breakfast along with the rest.  Some one observed that I looked
pale and "out of sorts."  John attributed it to my journey of the
preceding day, under the hot sun; and this explanation seemed to satisfy
every one.

After breakfast I was afraid I should be ordered to some work--such as
driving a horse, from which I might not easily get off--some one might
be set to a task along with me, who might report me too soon if I should
absent myself.  Fortunately there was no work fit for me on that
particular day, and I was not ordered about anything.

Taking advantage of this, I brought out my sloop, which I was
occasionally in the habit of amusing myself with during hours of
leisure.  There were other boys who had sloops, and schooners, and
brigs, and we used to have races over the pond in the park.  It was
Saturday.  There was no school on Saturday, and I knew that some of
these boys would repair to the pond as soon as they had breakfasted, if
not sooner.  This would be a capital excuse for my going there; and with
the sloop ostentatiously carried I passed through the farmyard, and
walked in the direction of the park.  I even entered the enclosure, and
proceeded to the pond, where, as I had conjectured, I found several of
my companions with their little ships going, in full sail.

"Oh," thought I, "if I were to declare my intentions! what a stir it
would make if the boys only knew what I was about to do with myself?"

I was welcomed by the boys, who seemed glad to see me once more among
them.  The reason of this was, that of late I had been kept almost
constantly at work, and found but few occasions when I could join them
at play, and I believe I had formerly been a play favourite with most of

But I remained among them only during the time in which the fleet made
one voyage across the lake--a miniature regatta, in which my own sloop
was conqueror--and taking the little vessel under my arm, I bade them
good-day, and left them.

They wondered at my going away so abruptly, but I found some excuse that
satisfied them.

As I crossed the park wall, I glanced back upon the companions of my
childhood, and the tears ran down my cheeks as I turned away from them
for ever.

I crouched along the wall, and soon got into the high road that led from
our village to the seaport town.  I did not remain upon the road, but
crossed it, and took into the fields on the opposite side.  My object in
doing this was to get under cover of some woods that ran for a good
distance nearly parallel to the direction of the road.  Through these I
intended to travel, as far as they would screen me from observation; for
I knew that if I kept on the road I should run the chance of being
passed or met by some of the villagers, who would report having seen me,
and thus guide the pursuit in the right direction.  I could not guess at
what hour the ship might weigh anchor, and therefore I could not make my
time for absenting myself from the village.  This had been the thought
that troubled me all the morning.  I feared to arrive too soon, lest the
vessel might not sail until I should be missed, and people sent after
me.  On the other hand, I dreaded lest I might reach the port too late,
and find the ship gone.  This would have been a disappointment worse
than to be taken back, and whipped for the attempt at running away--at
least, so I should have considered it at the time.  I say, then, that
this was the thought that had annoyed me all the morning, and still
continued to do so; for it no longer occurred to me that there was any
danger of my being refused once I offered myself on the ship.  I had
even forgotten that I was so small a boy.  The magnitude of my designs
had magnified me, in my own estimation, to the dimensions of a man.

I reached the woods, and traversed them from end to end unseen.  I met
neither ranger nor gamekeeper.  When I had passed through the timber, I
took into some fields; but I was now at a good distance from the road,
and I was less afraid of meeting any one who knew me.  I could tell how
far I was from the road, by keeping the sea in sight, for I knew that
the former ran close to the beach.

The tall spires of the seaport town at length came in sight, and by
these I was enabled to guide myself in the proper direction.  After
crossing a great many drains and ditches, and scrambling through
numerous hedges--here and there making a bit upon private roads that ran
in the right course--I arrived on the outskirts of the town.  I made no
pause there, but directing my steps among the houses, I soon found a
street that led towards the quay.  I saw the tall masts as I approached,
and wildly beat my heart as my eyes rested upon the tallest of all, with
its ensign drawn up to the main truck, and floating proudly in the

I took note of nothing more; but, hurrying forward, I scrambled over the
broad plank staging; and having crossed the gangway, stood upon the deck
of the _Inca_.



On crossing the gangway, I stopped near the main-hatchway, where five or
six sailors were busy with a large pile of barrels and boxes.  I saw
that they were lading the vessel, and with a tackle were lowering the
barrels and boxes into the hold.  They were in their shirt-sleeves, some
with Guernsey frocks and wide canvas trousers, smeared with grease and
tar.  One among them wore a blue cloth jacket, with trousers of similar
material, and it occurred to me that he might be the mate; for I fancied
that the captain of such a big ship must be a very grand individual, and
very superbly dressed.

He with the blue jacket was constantly giving orders and directions to
the sailors at work, which I noticed were not always promptly obeyed;
and frequently the men might be heard suggesting contrary modes of
action, until a hubbub of voices would arise disputing about the proper
plan for executing the work.

All this would have been different on board a man-of-war, where the
order of an officer is instantly obeyed without question or remark; but
on a merchant vessel it is far otherwise.  The orders of the mate are
often issued more as counsels than commands, and the men exercise a sort
of discretion in obeying them.  This is not always the case, and depends
very much on the character of the mate himself; but on board the _Inca_
the discipline did not appear to be of the strictest.  What with the
clatter of tongues, the "skreeking" of pulley-blocks, the rattling of
boxes against each other, the bundling of trucks over the staging, and
other like sounds, there was more noise than I had ever heard in my
life.  It quite disconcerted me at first; and I stood for some minutes
in a state of half bewilderment at what I heard and saw.

After a while there was a sort of lull.  The great water-butt that the
sailors had been lowering down the hatchway had reached the hold below,
and been rolled into its place, and this produced a temporary cessation
in the noises.

Just then one of the sailors chanced to set his eyes upon me; and, after
regarding me with a comic leer, cried out--

"Ho! my little marlin-spike!  What might _you_ be wantin' aboard?--goin'
to ship, eh?"

"No," rejoined a second; "don't yer see he's a captain hisself?--got his
own craft there!"

This remark was made in allusion to my schooner, which I had brought
along with me, and was holding in my hands.

"Schooner ahoy!" shouted a third of the men.  "Whither bound?"

This was followed by a burst of laughter from all hands, who were now
aware of my presence, and stood regarding me as though I was something
extremely ludicrous in their eyes.

I was rather abashed by this reception on the part of the rough tars,
and remained for some moments without knowing what to say or do.  But I
was relieved from my uncertainty by the mate in the blue jacket, who,
approaching me, asked, in a more serious tone, what was my business

I replied that I wanted to see the captain.  Of course I believed that
there was a captain, and that he was the proper person to whom I should
address myself in regard to the business I had in view.

"Want to see the captain!" echoed my interrogator.  "And what might be
your business with him, youngster?  I'm the mate: won't I do?"

I hesitated a moment; but seeing that it was the captain's
representative who put the question, I thought there could be no harm in
frankly declaring my intentions.  I replied--"I wish to be a sailor!"

If the men had laughed loud before, they now laughed louder.  In fact
there was a regular yell, in which the mate himself joined as heartily
as any of them.

Amidst the peals of laughter, my ears were greeted with a variety of
expressions that quite humiliated me.

"Look yonder, Bill!" cried one, addressing a comrade who was at some
distance.  "Look at the wee chap as wants to be a sailor.  My eyes!  You
little tuppence worth o' ha'pence, you ain't big enough for a belayin'
pin!  A see-a-lor!  My eyes!"

"Does your mother know yer out?" inquired a second.

"No, that she don't," said a third, making reply for me; "nor his
father, neyther.  I'll warrant, now, the chap has run away from home.
Have you gi'n 'em the slip, little sticklebat?"

"Look here, youngster!" said the mate.  "Take my advice: go back to your
mother, give my compliments to the old lady, and tell her to take a turn
or two of her petticoat strings round you, belay them to the leg of a
chair, and keep you safe moored there for half a dozen years to come!"
This advice elicited a fresh peal of laughter.  I felt humiliated at
this rough bantering, and knew not what reply to make.  In my confusion
I stammered out the words--

"I have no mother to go home to!"

This reply appeared to produce a sudden effect upon the mirth of these
rude-looking men, and I could hear some of them give utterance to
certain expressions of sympathy.

Not so, however, the mate, who, without changing his tone of banter,
instantly rejoined--

"Well, then, go to your father, and tell _him_ to give you a good

"I have no father!"

"Poor little chap! it's a horphin arter all," said one of the tars, in a
kind tone.

"No father either, you say," continued the mate, who appeared to me an
unfeeling brute; "then go to your grandmother, or your uncle, or your
aunt, if you've got one; or go anywhere you like, but get about your
business from here, or I'll trice you up, and give you a round dozen on
the buttocks; be off now, I say!"

The brute seemed fully in earnest; and, deeply mortified by the threat,
I turned away in obedience to the command.

I had reached the gangway, and was about to step upon the plank, when I
observed a man coming in the opposite direction--from the shore.  He was
dressed in the same style as a merchant or other citizen might have
been, with a black frock-coat and beaver hat; but there was something in
his look that told me he belonged to the sea.  The complexion of his
face was of that weather bronze, and there was an expression in the eyes
which I knew to be characteristic of men who lead the life of the
mariner.  Moreover, his trousers were of blue pilot-cloth, and that gave
him a sea-faring look.  It struck me at the moment that he was the
captain of the ship.

I was not long in doubt.  On reaching the gangway, the stranger stepped
aboard with an air that betokened him the master; and I heard him issue
some orders in a tone that bespoke his full command of everybody within

He did not stop after going aboard, but walked on towards the
quarter-deck of the vessel.

It occurred to me that I might still have some chance by addressing
myself directly to him; and, without hesitation, I turned back and
followed him.

In spite of some remonstrance from the mate and one or two of the men, I
kept on till I had overtaken the captain just as he was about to dive
down into his cabin.

I arrested his attention by plucking the skirt of his coat.

He turned round in some surprise, and inquired what I wanted with him.

In as few words as I could manage it, I made known my wishes.  The only
reply he made me was a laugh; and then turning round, he cried out to
one of the men--

"Here, Waters!  Hoist this urchin upon your shoulders, and set him
ashore.  Ha! ha! ha!"

Without saying another word, he stepped down the companion ladder, and
disappeared out of my sight.

In the midst of my chagrin, I felt myself lifted in the strong arms of
"Waters," who, after carrying me across the staging-plank, and some
yards over the wharf, deposited me upon the pavement, and thus addressed

"Now, my little sprat! take Jack Waters's advice, and keep out o'
salt-water as long as you can, else the sharks may get hold on you."

And then, after a pause, during which he seemed to reflect about
something, he inquired--

"And you're a horphin, are ye, my little 'un?  Got neyther father nor

"Neither," I replied.

"A pity it are!  I was once a horphin myself.  Well, yer a spunky little
chap to be wantin' to go to sea, and ye deserve somethin' for it.  If I
were captain I'd take you along; but ye see I'm only afore the mast, and
kin do nothin' for ye; but I'll be back some day again, and maybe you'll
be bigger then.  Here, take this anyhow for a keepsake, and by it you'll
remember me till sometime when you see me in port again, and who knows
but then I may find a berth for you.  So good-bye now!  Go home again,
like a good boy, and stay there till you've growed a bit."

As the kind-hearted sailor said this, he handed me his knife, and
turning away, walked back on board his ship, leaving me alone upon the

Wondering at his unexpected kindness, I stood gazing after him till he
disappeared behind the bulwarks; and then, mechanically putting the
knife in my pocket, I remained for a while without stirring from the



My reflections were anything but pleasant, for never had I been so
mortified in my life.  All my fine dreams of reefing topsails, and
seeing foreign lands, had been dissipated in a period of less than ten
minutes.  All my plans completely frustrated.

My first feeling was that of extreme humiliation and shame.  I fancied
that the passers-by must all be aware of what had transpired, and of the
precise situation in which I stood.  I saw, moreover, the heads of
several of the sailors as they stood looking at me over the bulwarks,
and upon their faces I could perceive a derisive expression.  Some of
them were still laughing loudly.

I could bear it no longer, and without hesitation I hurried away from
the spot.

Near at hand were large boxes, barrels, and bales of merchandise lying
upon the wharf.  They were not piled together, but scattered about, with
spaces between them.  Into one of those spaces I glided, and was soon
out of sight of everybody, while everybody was equally hidden from my
sight.  I felt almost as if I had got clear of some danger; so pleasant
is it to escape from ridicule, even though one may feel that he has not
deserved it.

There was a little box among the others, just big enough for a seat, and
upon this I sat down, and gave way to reflection.

What had I best do?  Yield up all thoughts of the sea, and return to the
farm, and my crabbed old uncle?

You will say that this would have been the wisest course for me to have
pursued, as well as the most natural.  Perhaps so; but the thought of
doing so scarcely entered my mind.  I did certainly entertain the
thought, but as quickly abandoned it.

"No," said I to myself, "I am not yet conquered; I shall not retreat
like a coward.  I have made one step, and I shall follow it up, if I
can.  What matters it if they refuse to take me in this big proud ship?
There are others in port--scores of others.  Some of them may be glad to
have me.  I shall try them all before I give up my design."

"Why did they refuse me?"  I asked myself, continuing my soliloquy.
"Why?  They gave no reason; what could it have been?  Ha! my size it
was!  They compared me to a marlin-spike, and a belaying-pin.  I know
what a marlin-spike is, and a belaying-pin, too.  Of course, they meant
by this insulting comparison to insinuate that I am too small to be a
sailor.  But a boy-sailor--surely I am big enough for that?  I have
heard of sailor boys not so old as I am.  What size am I?  How tall, I
should like to know?  Oh! if I only had a carpenter's rule I would soon
settle that point!  How thoughtless of me not to have measured myself
before leaving home!  Can I not do it here?  I wonder if there is no way
of finding out how tall I am."

The current of my reflections was at this moment broken in upon, by my
observing on one of the boxes some figures roughly scratched with chalk,
and on closer inspection I made out the cipher to be "4 foot."  I saw at
once that it referred to the length of the box, for its height could not
have been so much.  Perhaps it had been thus marked by the carpenter who
made the case, or it may have been put on to guide the sailors in lading
the vessel.

Be that as it may, it gave me an idea; and in less than three minutes I
knew my stature to an inch.

I ascertained it in the following manner: I laid myself down alongside
the box, and close in to its edge.  Having placed my heels on a level
with one end, I stretched myself out to my full length.  I then felt
with my hand whether the crown of my head came flush with the other end
of the case.  It did not, though there was scarce an inch wanting to
make me as long as the box; but wriggle and stretch my joints as I
might, I could not get more than square with it.  Of course, it made no
difference--as far as determining my height was concerned: if the box
was four feet long, I could not be quite four feet; and as I knew a boy
of only four feet in height was but a very small boy indeed, I rose to
my legs, considerably mortified by the knowledge I had gained.

Previous to this measurement, I really had no idea I was of such short
stature.  What boy _does_ think himself much less than a man?  But now I
was convinced of my littleness.  No wonder Jack Waters had called me a
sprat, and his comrades had compared me to a marlin-spike and a

The knowledge I had gained of my Lilliputian stature put me all out of
heart with myself, and my designs now assumed a more gloomy aspect.  I
felt almost sure that none of the ships would receive me; for I
remembered that I had never heard of boy-sailors so small as I was.
Certainly I had never seen any; but, on the contrary, some nearly as
large as men, who were nevertheless called "boys" on board the brigs and
schooners that frequented our little harbour.  It would be hopeless,
then, for me to offer myself.  After all, I should have to go home

I once more sat down upon the box, and proceeded to re-consider the
situation.  My mind is rather of an inventive turn, and it had a bent
that way even in earliest youth.  It was not long before a plan offered
itself that promised to relieve me from my dilemma, and enable me to
carry out my original intention to its full extent.

I was aided by memory in the conception of this plan.  I remembered
having both heard and read of boys--and men as well--concealing
themselves aboard ships, and being thus carried out to sea; and then
crawling forth from their hiding-places, when the vessels were too far
from land for them to be sent back.

The recollection of these daring adventurers had scarcely crossed my
mind, before I had formed the resolution to follow their example.  Quick
almost as the thought, I had made my resolve.  I could hide myself on
board a ship--perhaps that very ship from which I had been so
ignominiously expelled.  She was the only one that appeared to be
getting ready to sail; but, to tell the truth, had there been a dozen
others starting at the same time, I should have selected her before them

You may be surprised at my saying so, but it is easily explained.  I was
so piqued at the people on board, especially the mate, on account of the
uncivil treatment he had shown me, that I felt at the time it would be a
sort of revenge to play them this trick.  I knew that they would not
throw me overboard; and with the exception of the mate himself, I had
not noted any symptoms of a cruel disposition among the sailors.  Of
course it was natural they should have enjoyed a joke at my expense; but
I remembered, also, that some of them had uttered expressions of
sympathy when they heard from me that I was an orphan.

In the big ship, then, was I determined to have passage--spite of mate,
captain, and crew!



But how was I to get aboard?  How conceal myself when there?

These were the difficulties that presented themselves.  I might walk on
deck as I had already done, but not without being observed by some of
the crew, and of course ordered ashore again.

Could I not bribe some of the sailors to let me go about the deck?  What
had I to bribe them with?  Not a penny of money.  My sloop and my
clothes--these last of very poor quality--were all I possessed in the
world.  I would have given the sloop, but a moment's reflection
convinced me that no sailor would set any value on an article which he
could easily make for himself; for I presumed that all sailors could
manufacture little ships at their pleasure.  It would be useless to
attempt bribing any of them with such a toy, and I thought no more of

But stay!  I had something upon my person of some value.  I had a watch.
It is true it was but a very common one--an old-fashioned silver watch,
and not worth much, though it kept time well enough.  It had been given
me by my poor mother, though she had left me a much better one, which my
uncle had appropriated to himself.  The old one, of little value, I was
allowed to carry about with me, and fortunately it was in my fob at that
moment.  Would not this bribe Waters, or some other of the sailors, to
"smuggle" me aboard, and conceal me there till the ship got out to sea?
The thing was not unlikely.  At all risks, I resolved to make trial.

Perhaps the chief difficulty would be to see Waters, or any of the
sailors, apart from the rest, in order to communicate my wishes; but I
resolved to hang about the ship, and watch till some one of them should
come ashore alone.

I was not without hopes that I might be able to steal on board of
myself--perhaps after nightfall, when the men had "knocked off" work,
and were below in the forecastle.  In that case, I need not tell any of
them of my design.  In the darkness, I believed I might manage to crouch
past the watch or clamber over the side and get down below.  Once in the
hold, I had no fear but that I should be able to secrete myself among so
many barrels and boxes as they were stowing away.

There were two doubts that troubled me.  Would the ship remain in port
until night?  Would my uncle and his people not be after me before then?

For the first time, I was not very uneasy.  I saw that the vessel still
carried the same placard as on the preceding day--"_The Inca, for Peru,
to-morrow_!"  It was not likely she would sail upon that day.  Moreover,
there were still many packages of merchandise lying on the quay--which I
knew were intended as part of her lading, from the position in which
they were placed.  I had heard, moreover, that vessels, when bound for
distant parts, are not very punctual in their time of starting.

Reasoning in this way, I felt assured that the ship would not sail on
that day, and I should have the chances of boarding her in the

But then there was the other danger--of my being captured and carried
back home.  On reflection this did not appear imminent.  They would not
miss me on the farm before nightfall; or if they did, they would wait
until dark before going in search of me, thinking, of course, that night
would bring me home.  After all, I had no reason to be apprehensive from
this source; and ceasing altogether to think of it, I set about making
preparations to carry out my design.

I had foresight enough to perceive, that when once in the ship, I should
have to remain concealed for at least twenty-four hours--perhaps much
longer.  I could not live so long without eating.  Where was I to get
provisions?  I had not, as already mentioned, one penny in the world,
wherewith to purchase food, and I should not have known where or how to
beg for it.

But an idea came into my head that promised to relieve me from this
dilemma.  I could _sell my sloop_, and thus obtain wherewith to buy
something to eat.

The little vessel would be of no more use to me now; and why not part
with her at once?

Without farther consideration, therefore, I made my way out from among
the barrels, and proceeded along the quay to look out for a purchaser
for my little craft.

I soon succeeded in finding one.  A sort of marine toyshop offered
itself; and after a little bartering with the proprietor, I closed the
bargain for a shilling.  My little sloop, neatly rigged as she was, was
worth five times the amount, and, under different circumstances, I would
not have parted with her for even that sum; but the Jew dealer evidently
saw that I was in difficulties, and, like all his tribe, had no scruples
about taking advantage of them.

I was now in ample funds for my purpose; and repairing to a convenient
shop, I laid out the whole of the money on cheese and crackers.  I
bought sixpence worth of each; and having crammed my pockets with my
purchase, I returned to my old place among the merchandise, and seated
myself once more upon the box.  I had grown somewhat hungry--for it had
got to be after dinner hour--and I now relieved my appetite by an attack
upon the crackers and cheese, which considerably lightened the cargo in
my pockets.

Evening was now approaching, and I bethought me that I might as well
take a stroll along by the side of the ship, by way of a reconnaissance.
It would enable me to ascertain where I might climb over the side most
easily, which knowledge would be of use to me when the hour should
arrive for making the attempt.  What if the sailors _did_ see me going
about?  They could not hinder me from walking along the quay, and they
would never dream of my object in staying there.  What if they should
take notice of me, and taunt me as before?  I could talk back to them,
and thus gain a good opportunity for observation--the very thing I

Without losing another moment, I stepped forth from my resting-place,
and commenced sauntering along, with an assumed air of indifference to
all that was passing around.  I soon came opposite the stem of the big
ship, where I paused and looked up.  Her deck was nearly on a level with
the pavement, because she was now heavily laden, and of course at full
depth in the water; but the high bulwarks on her quarter prevented me
from seeing the deck.  I perceived that it would be easy to step from
the quay, and after clambering up the bulwarks, get over by the mizen
shrouds; and I at once made up my mind that this would be the proper
way.  Of course, I should have to creep through the shrouds with great
caution.  If the night should not prove dark enough, and I should be
detected by the watch, it would be all up with me.  I should get
caught--perhaps suspected as a thief and punished.  No matter; I was
resolved to risk it.

Everything was quiet on board.  I heard neither voice nor noises.  Some
of the merchandise was still lying upon the wharf, and therefore they
could not have finished lading the vessel.  But the men were no longer
at work, for I was now near enough to have a view of both the gangway
and the main hatch.  Whither could they have gone?

I moved silently forward, until I stood by the very end of the staging.
I had now a full view of the hatchway, and a considerable portion of the
main deck around it.  I saw neither the blue jacket of the mate nor the
greasy garments of the sailors.  All the men must have gone away to some
other part of the ship.

I paused and listened.  Indistinctly, I could hear the hum of voices
coming from the forward part of the vessel.  I knew they were the voices
of the crew in conversation with each other.

Just at that moment, I observed a man pass by the opening in the
gangway.  He was carrying a large vessel that steamed at the top.  It
contained coffee or some other hot viand.  It was the evening meal for
the people of the forecastle, and he who carried it was the cook.  This
accounted for the cessation of the work, and the absence of the sailors
from "amidships."  They were about going to supper.  Such was my

Partly impelled by curiosity, but as much by a new idea that had entered
my mind, I stepped upon the staging and glided cautiously aboard.  I
caught a glimpse of the sailors far off in the forward part of this
ship--some seated upon the windlass, others squatted upon the deck
itself, with their tin plates before them, and their jack-knives in
their hands.  Not one of them saw me--not one was looking in my
direction: their eyes were too busy with the cook and his steaming

I glanced hastily around; there was no one in sight.  The new idea to
which I have referred became more fully developed.  "Now or never!"
whispered I to myself; and under the impulse, I stepped down upon the
deck, and crouched forward to the foot of the main mast.

I was now on the edge of the open hatchway; and it was into this I
intended to go.  There was no ladder, but the rope by which the goods
had been lowered, still hung from the tackle, reaching down into the

I caught hold of this rope; and pulled on it, to find if it was securely
fastened above.  It proved to be so; and, grasping it firmly with both
hands, I slid downward as gently as I could.

It was a close shave that I did not break my neck--and as it was, I had
a tumble at the bottom--but I soon got to my feet again; and, scrambling
over some packages that were not yet stowed in their places, I crawled
behind a huge butt, and there ensconced myself in darkness and silence.



As soon as I had screened myself behind the butt, I squatted down; and,
in five minutes after, was so fast asleep; that it would have taken all
the bells of Canterbury to have waked me.  I had got but little sleep on
the preceding night, and not a great deal the night before that; for
John and I had been early up for the market.  The fatigue, moreover,
experienced in my cross-country journey, and the excitement of
twenty-four hours' suspense--now somewhat allayed--had quite done me up,
and I slept as sound as a top, only that my nap lasted as long as that
of a thousand tops.

There had been noises enough to have awaked me much sooner, as I
afterwards ascertained.  There had been the rattling of pulleys and
banging of boxes close to my ears, but I heard nothing of all this.

When I awoke, I knew by my sensations that I had been a long while
asleep.  It must be far into the night, thought I.  I supposed it was
night-time, by the complete darkness that enveloped me; for on first
squeezing myself behind the butt, I noticed that light came in by the
aperture through which I had passed.  Now there was none.  It was night,
therefore, and dark as pitch--that, of course, behind a huge hogshead
down in the hold of a ship.

"What time of night?  I suppose they have all gone to bed, and are now
snug in their hammocks?  It must be near morning?  Can I hear any one

I listened.  I had no need to listen intently.  I soon heard noises.
They were evidently caused by heavy objects striking and bumping, just
as if the sailors were still busy lading the vessel.  I could hear their
voices, too, though not very distinctly.  Now and then certain
ejaculations reached me, and I could make out the words "Heave!"

"Avast heavin'!" and once the "Yo-heave-ho!" chanted by a chorus of the

"Why, they are actually at work loading the vessel _in the night-time_!"

This, however, did not greatly surprise me.  Perhaps they wished to take
advantage of a tide or a fair wind, and were hurrying to complete the
stowage of the ship.

I continued to listen, expecting to hear a cessation of the noises; but
hour after hour passed, and still the clinking and clanking kept on.

"How very industrious!" thought I.  "They must be pressed for time, and
determined to start soon.  True, the placard `_For Peru--to-morrow_!'
did not keep faith to-day, but no doubt it will do so to-morrow, at a
very early hour.  So much the better for me; I shall the sooner get out
of my uncomfortable situation.  It's rather a hard bed I've had, and I
am growing hungry again."

With this last reflection, I was very willing to make a fresh onset upon
the cheese and crackers, and I accordingly did so.  I had found a fresh
appetite during my sleep, and I ate heartily, though it was the _middle
of the night_!

The noise of the lading still continued.  "Oh! they are going to keep at
it all night.  Hard work it is, poor fellows; but no doubt they will
receive double wages for it."

All at once the sounds ceased, and there was profound silence in the
ship--at least I could hear no one stirring about.

"At last they have knocked off," thought I; "they are now gone to bed;
but surely it must be near daybreak, though day has not yet broken, else
I should see some light through the aperture.  Well!  I shall try to go
to sleep again myself."

I laid me down as before, and endeavoured to compose myself to sleep.
In about an hour's time I had well-nigh succeeded in doing so, when the
thumping of the boxes re-commenced, and roused me up afresh.

"What? they are at it again!  Surely they cannot have been to sleep?--an
hour--it was not worth their while to lie down for an hour."

I listened to assure myself that they had really set about work again.
There could be no doubt of it.  I could hear the clinking and clanking,
and the creaking of the pulley-blocks just as before, only not quite so

"Well," thought I, "it is a strange crew, working thus all night long.
Ha! on second thoughts, perhaps it is a fresh set who are at it--another
watch that has relieved the former one?"

This was probable enough, and the conjecture satisfied me.  But I could
no more compose myself to sleep, and lay listening.

Still they worked on, and I could hear the noises through the longest
night I ever remember.  Several hours they had kept at it, and then
there was a pause of about an hour, and then I heard the work
progressing as before, and as yet there were no signs of morning--not a
ray of light came near me!

I began to fancy I was dreaming, and that those spells of work that
seemed to last for hours were only of minutes' duration.  And yet, if
they were only minutes, I must have been gifted with a strange appetite,
for no less than three times had I fallen ferociously upon my
provisions, until my stock was well-nigh exhausted.

At length the noises ceased altogether, and for several hours I did not
hear them.  During this interval there was almost complete silence above
and around me, in the midst of which I again fell asleep.

When I awoke, my ears were once more greeted with sounds, but these were
quite of another character from those I had before been listening to.
They were to me sounds of joy, for I at once recognised the well-known
"crik-crik-crik" of a windlass, and the rattling of a great chain.  Down
where I was, in the hold, I did not hear these noises very distinctly,
but enough so to know what was going on above.  _They were weighing the
anchor; the ship was about to sail_!

I could scarce restrain myself from giving a cheer; but I managed to
keep silence, fearing that my voice might be heard.  It was not yet
time.  If heard, I should be dragged forth, and sent packing without
ceremony.  I therefore lay as still as a mouse, and listened to the
great chain harshly rasping through the iron ring of the hawse-hole.
Harsh as it may have sounded in other ears, it was music to mine at that

The clicking and rasping both ceased after a while, and then another
sound reached me.  This resembled the rushing of a mighty wind, but I
knew it was not that.  I knew it was the "sough" of the sea against the
sides of the vessel.  It produced a delightful impression upon my mind,
for it told me that _the big ship was in motion_!

"Hurrah! we are off!"



The continued motion of the vessel, and the seething sound of the water,
which I could hear very plainly, convinced me that we had parted from
the quay, and were moving onward.  I felt completely happy; there was no
longer any fear of my being taken back to the farm.  I was now fairly
launched upon salt-water, and in twenty-four hours would be out on the
wide Atlantic--far from land, and in no danger either of being pursued
or sent back.  I was in ecstasies of delight at the success of my plan.

I thought it rather strange, their starting _in the night_--for it was
still quite dark--but I presumed they had a pilot who knew all the
channels of the bay, and who could take them into the open water just as
well by night as by day.

I was still somewhat puzzled to account for the extreme length of the
night--that was altogether mysterious--and I began to think that I must
have slept during the whole of a day, and was awake for two nights
instead of one.  Either that, or some of it must have been a dream.
However, I was too much joyed at the circumstance of our having started,
to speculate upon the strangeness of the hour.  It mattered not to me
whether we had set sail by night or by day, so long as we got safely out
into the great ocean; and I laid myself down again to wait until the
time should arrive, when I might safely show myself on deck.

I was very impatient for the arrival of that crisis, and for two special
reasons.  One was, that I had grown very thirsty, and longed for a
drink.  The cheese and dry crackers had helped to make me so thirsty.  I
was not hungry, for part of the provision was still left, but I would
gladly have exchanged it for a cup of water.

The other reason why I wanted to get out of my hiding-place was, that my
bones had become very sore from lying so long on the hard plank, and
also from the cramped attitude I was compelled to assume, on account of
the want of space.  So full of pain did my joints feel, that I could
hardly turn myself about; and I felt even worse when I continued to lie
still.  This also strengthened my belief that I must have slept during
the whole of a day, for a single night upon the naked timbers could
hardly have tired me so much.

What with the thirst, therefore, and the soreness of my bones, I kept
fidgeting and wriggling about for several hours, without intermission.

For these two reasons I was very impatient to crawl forth from my narrow
quarters, and set my foot upon deck; but for other reasons I deemed it
prudent to endure both the thirst and the aching, and remain where I was
for some time longer.

I had sufficient knowledge of seaport customs to be aware that ships
usually take a pilot a good way out to sea, and in all likelihood there
was one on board.  Should I show myself before this functionary had been
dismissed, I would certainly be taken back in his pilot-boat; which,
after all my success, and all my sufferings, would have been a
humiliating result.

Even had there been no pilot, we were yet in the track of fishing boats
and small coasting vessels; and one of these, inward bound, could easily
be brought alongside, and I might be chucked into it like a coil of
rope, and carried back to the port.

These considerations passed through my mind, and despite the torment of
thirst and the painful aching of my joints, I remained within my

For the first hour or two, the ship moved steadily through the water.
It was calm weather, I supposed, and she was yet within the shelter of
the bay.  Then I perceived that she began to sway a little to and fro,
and the rushing of the water along her sides became hoarser and more
violent.  Now and then I could hear the loud bumping of waves as they
struck against the bows, and the timbers creaked under the concussions.

These sounds were not displeasing.  I reasoned that we had got out of
the bay, and were passing into the open sea, where I knew the wind was
always fresher, and the waves larger and bolder.  "The pilot," thought
I, "will soon be dismissed, and then I may safely show myself on deck."

Of course I was not without misgivings as to my reception by the people
of the ship--in truth, I felt serious apprehension upon that score.  I
remembered the harsh brutal mate, and the reckless indifferent crew.
They would be indignant at the deception I had practised upon them--
perhaps treat me with cruelty--flog me, or commit some other outrage.  I
was far from being easy in my mind about how they would use me, and I
would fain have avoided the encounter.

But that was clearly impossible.  I could not keep concealed for the
whole voyage, for long weeks, ay, months; I had no provisions, no water,
and sooner or later I must go on deck, and take my chances.

While speculating upon these chances, I began to feel very miserable,
not with mental anguish alone, but with bodily pain.  Worse than thirst
it was, or the soreness of my bones.  A new misery was fast growing upon
me.  My head swam with dizziness, the sweat started from my brow, and I
felt sick both at the heart and in the stomach.  I experienced a
suffocating sensation in my breast and throat, as if my ribs were being
compressed inwardly, and my lungs had not room enough to expand and let
me breathe.  My nostrils were filled with a nauseating smell--the smell
of "bilge-water"--for being at the bottom of the hold, I was close to
the latter, and could hear it "jabbling" about under the timbers, where
no doubt it had lain for a long time.  In all these symptoms I had no
difficulty in telling what ailed me: _sea-sickness_--nothing more.
Knowing this, I was not alarmed; but yet I experienced horrid
sensations, as every one must who is under the infliction of this
peculiar malady.  Of course I felt ten times worse, situated as I was,
choking with thirst, and no water near; for I fancied that a glass of
pure water would to some extent have relieved me.  It might remove the
nausea, and give me freer breath.  I would have given anything for one

In dread of that terrible pilot, I bore my sufferings as long as I
could.  But the rocking of the ship every moment became more violent,
and the smell of the bilge-water more nauseous.  In like proportion rose
the revolt in my stomach, until the sickness and retching became quite

"Surely the pilot must have gone back?  Whether or not, I can stand it
no longer; I must get upon deck, or I shall die--oh!"

I rose from my recumbent position, and began to grope my way along the
side of the great butt.  I reached the end of it, and felt for the
aperture by which I had squeezed myself in.  To my great surprise, I
found that it was closed up!

I could scarce credit my senses, and I felt again and again, passing my
hands upwards and downwards.  Beyond a doubt the aperture was shut up!
My hands met resistance everywhere, coming in contact with a
perpendicular wall, which, I could tell by the "feel," was the side of
an immense box.  It blocked up the interval between the butt and the
side of the ship so completely, that there was not space enough on
either side to thrust the point of my finger through.

I placed my hands to the box in hopes of being able to push it away, but
I could not move it.  I laid my shoulder to it, and heaved with all the
strength of my body; I could not even _shake it_!  It was a large
packing-case, no doubt filled with heavy goods.  A strong man could
scarce have stirred it from the spot, and my puny strength was
altogether insufficient to move it.

After an effort I desisted from trying, and crept back along the side of
the butt, hoping I might get out by the other end; but on reaching this,
my hopes were dissipated in a moment.  There was not the space of an
inch between the rim of the great cask and another similar barrel, which
filled the aperture up to the ribs of the vessel!  A mouse could hardly
have squeezed itself through between.

I next felt along the top of both casks, but with like result.  There
was just space in that direction to admit of passing my hand through,
and no more.  A huge beam, traversing along the top, was within a few
inches of the rounded sides of the casks, and there was no aperture that
would have permitted me, small as I was, to have squeezed myself

I shall leave you to fancy my feelings, when the conviction broke upon
me that I was actually shut in--imprisoned--_built up among the



I could now comprehend why the night had seemed so long.  There had been
light enough, but it reached me not.  The great box had intercepted it.
There had been day, and I knew it not.  The men had been working by day,
when I thought it was after midnight.  Instead of a single night, at
least two nights and a day had passed since I crouched into my
hiding-place.  No wonder I had hungered, and was thirsty--no wonder I
felt an aching in my bones.  The short intervals of silence I had
observed were the hours when the crew were at their meals.  The long
silence that preceded the weighing of the anchor, had been the second
night, when all were resting and asleep.

I have stated, that I fell asleep almost instantly after I had crept
into my lurking-place.  It then still wanted several hours of sunset.
My sleep had been sound and long, lasting, no doubt, till the following
morning.  But on the previous evening, the stowers had been at work--
though I heard them not; and during my deep, unconscious slumber, the
box, and no doubt many others, had been placed before the aperture.

Every point was now clear to me, and clearer than all was the horrifying
fact, that I was "boxed up."

I did not at first comprehend the full horror of my situation.  I knew
that I was shut in, and that no strength I could exert would be enough
to get me out; but for all that, I did not apprehend any great
difficulty.  The strong sailors, who had stowed the packages, could
remove them again; and I had only to shout and bring them to the spot.

Alas! alas! little did I think that the loudest shout I might raise,
could not have been heard by human being.  Little did I suspect, that
the hatchway, through which I had descended to the hold, was now closed
with its strong hatches and these again covered with a thick tarpaulin--
to remain so, perhaps, to the end of the voyage!  Even had the hatches
not been down, there would have been little chance of my being heard.
The thick wall of bales and boxes would have intercepted my voice, or it
might have been drowned altogether by the hoarse and constant rushing of
the waves, as they broke along the sides of the ship.

I say, that, on first discovering that I was closed in, my apprehensions
were but slight, I thought, only, that I should be delayed awhile from
getting water, which I now longed for exceedingly.  It would take some
time, no doubt, for the men to remove the boxes and relieve me; and
meanwhile I was in misery.  These alone were the thoughts that troubled

It was only when I had screamed and shouted at the highest pitch of my
voice--after I had thundered upon the planks with the heels of my
shoes--after I had repeated my cries again and again, and still heard no
reply; it was only then, that I began to comprehend the true nature of
my situation.  Then, indeed, did I perceive its full and perfect horror.
Then, did the conviction burst upon me, that I had no prospect of
escape--no hope of being relieved; in short, that I was _entombed

I cried, I screamed, I shouted.  Long and loudly I cried, but how long I
cannot tell.  I did not leave off till I was weak and hoarse.

At intervals I listened, but no response reached me--no sound of human
voice.  The echoes of my own reverberated along the sides of the ship,
throughout the dark hold; but no voice responded to its lamentable

I listened to discover whether I could not hear the voices of the
sailors.  I had heard them in their chorus, when they were weighing
anchor, but then the ship was at rest, and the waves were not lashing
her timbers.  Moreover, as I afterwards learned, the hold hatches had
then been up, and were only put down on our standing out to sea.

For a long while I listened, but neither command nor chorus reached my
ears.  If I could not hear their loud baritone voices, how could they
hear mine?

"Oh! they cannot hear me!  They will never hear me!  They will never
come to my rescue!  Here I must die--I must die!"

Such was my conviction, after I had shouted myself hoarse and feeble.
The sea-sickness had yielded for a time to the more powerful throes of
despair; but the physical malady returned again, and, acting in
conjunction with my mental misery, produced such agony as I never before
endured.  I yielded to it; my energies gave way, and I fell over like
one struck down by paralysis.

For a long while, I lay in a state of helpless stupor.  I wished myself
dead, and indeed I thought I was going to die.  I seriously believe,
that at that moment I would have hastened the event if I could; but I
was too weak to have killed myself, even had I been provided with a
weapon.  I _had_ a weapon, but I had forgotten all about it in the
confusion of my thoughts.

You will wonder at my making this confession--that I desired death; but
you would have to be placed in a situation similar to that I was in, to
be able to realise the horror of despair.  Oh, it is a fearful thing!
May you never experience it!

I fancied I was going to die, but I _did not_.  Men do not die either
from sea-sickness or despair, nor boys either.  Life is not so easily
laid down.

I certainly was more than half dead, however; and I think for a good
while insensible.  I was in a stupor for a long time--for many hours.

At length my consciousness began to return, and along with it a portion
of my energies.  Strange enough, too, I felt my appetite reviving; for,
in this respect, the "sea-sickness" is somewhat peculiar.  Patients,
under it, often eat more heartily than at other times.  With me,
however, the appetite of thirst was now far stronger than that of
hunger, and its misery was not allayed by any hope of its being
appeased.  As for the other, I could still relieve it; some morsels were
in my pocket.

I need not recount the many fearful reflections that passed through my
mind.  For hours after, I was the victim of many a terrible paroxysm of
despair.  For hours I lay, or rather tossed about, in a state of
confused thought; but at last, to my relief, I fell asleep.

I fell asleep, for I had now been a long time awake, and this, with the
prostration of my strength from mental suffering, had at length deadened
the nerve of pain; so that, despite all my misery, I fell asleep.



I slept neither very long, nor very soundly.  My sleep was full of
dreams, all troubled and horrid; but not more horrid than the reality to
which I once more awoke.

After awaking, it was some time before I could think of where I was; but
on stretching out my arms, I was reminded of my situation: on every side
the wooden walls of my prison were within reach, and I could touch them
with my fingers all around.  I had little more than room sufficient to
turn myself in.  Small as was my body, another as big as myself would
almost have filled the space in which I was shut up.

On again comprehending my fearful situation, I once more gave utterance
to loud cries, shouting and screaming at the very highest pitch of my
voice.  I had not yet lost all hope that the sailors might hear me; for,
as already stated, I knew not what quantity of merchandise might be
stowed above me, nor did I think of the hatches of the lower deck being
fastened down.

Perhaps it was as well I did not know the whole truth, else the complete
despair which the knowledge must have produced might have driven me out
of my senses.  As it was, the intervals of despair already endured had
ever alternated with glimpses of hope; and this had sustained me, until
I became more able to look my terrible fate in the face.

I continued to cry out, sometimes for minutes at a time, and then only
now and again, at intervals; but as no response came, the intervals
between my spells of shouting became longer and longer, till at length,
resigning all hope of being heard, I allowed my hoarse voice to rest,
and remained silent.

For several hours after this, I lay in a sort of half stupor--that is,
my mind was in this state, but unfortunately my body was not so.  On the
contrary, I was racked with severe bodily pain--the pain of extreme
thirst--perhaps the most grievous and hardest to endure of all physical
suffering.  I never should have believed that one could be so tortured
by so simple a thing as the want of a drink of water, and when I used to
read of travellers in the desert, and shipwrecked mariners on the ocean,
having endured such agonies from thirst, as even to die of it, I always
fancied there was exaggeration in the narrative.  Like all English boys,
brought up in a climate where there is plenty of moisture, and in a
country where springs or runlets exist within a few hundred yards of any
given point, it is not likely I should ever have known thirst by
experience.  Perhaps a little of it at times, when at play off in the
fields, or by the sea-shore, where there was no fresh water.  Then I had
felt what we ordinarily call thirst--a somewhat unpleasant sensation in
the throat, which causes us to yearn for a glass of water.  But this
unpleasantness is very trifling, and is almost neutralised by the
anticipation we have of the pleasure to be experienced while allaying
it; for this, we know, we shall be able to accomplish in a very short
time.  Indeed, so trifling is the annoyance we feel from ordinary
thirst, that it is rare when we are compelled to stoop, either to the
ditch or the pond, for the purpose of assuaging it.  We are dainty
enough to wait, until we encounter a cool well or some limpid spring.

This, however, is not thirst; it is but thirst in its first and mildest
stage--rather pleasant from the knowledge you have of being able soon to
remove the pain.  Once take away this confidence--become assured that no
wells nor springs are near--no ponds, ditches, lakes, nor rivers--that
no fresh water is within hundreds of miles of you--no fluid of any kind
that will allay the appetite, and then even this incipient feeling of
thirst would at once assume a new character, and become sufficiently
painful to endure.

I may not have been so absolutely in need of drink at the time, for I
had not been so long without it.  I am sure I had often gone for days
without thinking of water, but this was just because I knew I might have
as much as I pleased at a moment's notice.  Now, that there was none to
be had, and no prospect of obtaining any, I felt for the first time in
my life that thirst was a real agony.

I was not again hungry.  The provisions which I had purchased with the
price of my sloop were not yet exhausted.  Some pieces of the cheese,
and several of the biscuits, still remained, but I did not venture to
touch them.  They would only have increased my thirst.  The last morsels
I had eaten had produced this effect.  My parched throat called only for
water--water at that moment appeared to me the most desirable thing in
the world.

I was in a situation somewhat similar to that of Tantalus.  Water I saw
not, but I heard it.  The hoarse rushing of the waves as they tore along
the sides of the ship was plainly audible.  I knew it was the water of
the sea--salt, and of no service to me, even could I have reached it--
but still it was the sound of water playing continually on my ears as if
to mock and tantalise me.

I need not recount the many painful reflections that passed through my
mind during the period that followed.  Suffice it to say, that for many
long hours I endured the terrible pain of thirst, without any hope of
being relieved from its torture.  I felt certain it was going to kill
me.  I knew not how soon, but I was sure that sooner or later it would
cause my death.  I had read of men living for days under the agony of
thirst, before life became extinct.  I tried to remember how many days
they had lived, but my memory was at fault.  Six or seven, I fancied,
was the longest period.  The prospect was appalling.  How could I endure
for six or seven days what I was then suffering?  How could I bear it
for even one day longer?  Oh! it was fearful to endure!  I hoped that
death would sooner come, and release me from such torture!

But a far brighter hope was nigh; and almost upon the instant that I had
given mental expression to that despairing wish, a sound fell upon my
ears that at once changed the current of my thoughts, and caused me to
forget the horror of my situation.

Oh! that sweet sound!  It was like the whisper of an angel of mercy!



I was lying, or half-standing erect, with my shoulder against one of the
great ribs of the ship that traversed my little chamber from top to
bottom, dividing it into two nearly equal parts.  I had got into this
attitude merely as a change; for during the long days and nights since I
entered my confined quarters, I had tried every attitude I could think
of, in order to obtain freedom from the monotony of remaining too long
in one position.  I had tried sitting; also standing, though somewhat
bent; more generally I had lain down--now on one side, now on the
other--sometimes upon my back, and even sometimes on my face.

The position I had now assumed to rest me for a moment was a standing
one, though only half erect, as the height of my chamber was not equal
to my own length.  The point of my shoulder found a resting-place
against the rib of the vessel, and my head, drooping forward, was nearly
in contact with the side of the great butt, upon the swell of which my
hand rested.

Of course, my ear was close to the cask, almost touching its hard oaken
staves; and it was through these that the sound reached me which I have
described as having caused a sudden and pleasant reaction in my

The sound itself was simple enough to understand.  I easily understood
it.  It was the "cluk-cluk" of water moving about inside the butt, its
motion being caused by the pitching of the ship, and a slight rolling of
the cask itself, which had not been steadily "cleated" in its place.

The first "cluk" was music to my ears; but I did not permit myself the
free enjoyment of it until I had fully satisfied myself as to the nature
of what I had heard.

I had raised my head with a start, and I now placed my cheek against the
oak staves, and stood with every nerve in my ear straining to catch the
sounds.  I waited a good while, for it was only at intervals that the
ship gave her heaviest lurches, and only then did the fluid within the
butt become disturbed.  I waited patiently, and my patience was
rewarded.  There again!--"cluk-cluk-cluk!"

"_Cluk-cleek-clee-chuckle-cluk_."  Beyond a doubt there was water in the

I could not restrain myself from uttering a shout of joy.  I felt like
one who had been for a long while in the act of being drowned, and who
at length had reached land, and was saved.

The sudden transition in my feelings almost caused me to faint; as it
was, I staggered back against the timbers, and dropped down in a state
of half-insensibility.

Not long did I remain so.  The acute torture soon prompted me to action;
and I rose again, and leant forward against the cask.

For what purpose?  To find the bung, of course; draw it out, and relieve
my thirst by a draught of water.  What other object could I have in
approaching it?

Alas! alas! my new-sprung joy fast fleeted away, almost as suddenly as
it had arisen!  Not quite so suddenly; for it took me some time to run
my fingers all over the swelling outlines of that great vessel; to pass
them around its ends as far as the heavy boxes would permit; to go over
the ground again and again, inch by inch, and stave by stave, with all
the careful touch of one who is blind.  Yes, it took me minutes to
accomplish this, and to become satisfied that the bung was not upon my
side of the cask--that it was either upon the top or the opposite side;
but, whether one or the other, it was beyond my reach, and it was
therefore as useless to me as if no such aperture existed.

In my search for the bung I had not forgotten the vent or tap-hole.  I
knew that every cask is provided with both these apertures--that one
should be in the side and the other in the head or end.  But my search
for the vent did not occupy two seconds of time.  I at once perceived
that both ends of the barrel, with the exception of a few inches near
the edge, were completely blocked up--one by the box, and the opposite
one by the other cask, already mentioned--the latter of which appeared
to be a counterpart of that in front of me.

It occurred to me that this other cask might also contain water, and I
proceeded to make a "reconnaissance" of it; but I could only "grope" a
small portion of its end, and there I felt only the smooth hard heading
of oak, that resisted my touch like a wall of rock.

It was only after all this had been accomplished, that I began once more
to feel the misery of my situation--once more to resign myself to
despair.  I was now tantalised even worse than ever.  I could hear at
intervals the "jabbling" of the water within two inches of my lips, and
was unable to taste it!  Oh! what I would have given for one drop upon
my tongue! one gill to moisten my throat, parched and burning like a
coal of fire!

If I had had an axe, with room to wield it, how I should have burst open
that huge cistern, and drank fiercely of its contents!  But I had no
axe, no weapon of any kind; and without one the thick oaken staves were
as impenetrable to me as if they had been solid iron.  Even had I
succeeded in reaching the bung or vent, how could I have got out the
stopper or vent-peg?  With my fingers it would plainly have been
impracticable; though in the eagerness of my first hope I had never
thought of this difficulty.

I believe that I once more sat or staggered down, and after a little
while rose up again, and made a fresh examination of the butt; but I am
not sure about what I did, for this new disappointment had quite
stupefied me, and I cannot exactly remember what followed for a good
while after.  I believe, however, that I performed these acts in a sort
of mechanical way; and also that I tried once more to move the box, and
pushed against it with all my strength; but, as before, to no purpose.

After this I must have lain down, and resigned myself to despair, that
again bound me in its hideous embrace.  How long I cannot tell; but its
spell was at length broken by a circumstance that once more put my
senses on the alert.



I had stretched myself lengthwise in my cell, and was lying upon my
right side, with my head resting upon my arm.  While thus placed, I felt
something pressing against my thigh, as though there was a protuberance
on the plank, or some piece of hard material under me.  It began to give
me pain, and I reached down my hand to remove it, at the same time
raising my body so that I might get at it.  I was a little surprised on
not finding anything, but the next moment I perceived that the hard
substance that annoyed me was not upon the planks, but inside the pocket
of my trousers!

What had I got there?  I remembered nothing, and might have supposed it
was some fragments of biscuit; but these I had deposited in the pockets
of my jacket, and they could not have got down to my trousers.  I felt
the article from the outside.  It was something very hard, and of a
longish shape; but I could not think what, for as yet I could remember
nothing that I had carried, with the exception of the biscuits and

I had to raise myself up in order to insert my hand into the pocket, and
not until I had done so was I made acquainted with the nature of its
contents.  The hard oblong thing that had thus attracted my attention
was the knife given me by the sailor, Waters; and which, having thrust
mechanically into my pocket at the moment of receiving it, I had quite

The discovery caused me no particular emotion at the moment.  Simply a
thought of the kindness of the sailor as contrasted with the brutality
of the mate--just the same thought that passed through my mind at the
time the gift was presented.  With this reflection I drew forth the
knife, and flinging it down beside me, so that it might be out of the
way, I lay down on my side as before.

But I had scarcely stretched myself, when an idea crossed my mind, that
prompted me to start up again, as suddenly as if I had lain down upon
red-hot iron.  Unlike the latter, however, it was not a feeling of pain
that caused this quick movement, but one of pleasure--of joyful hope.
It had just occurred to me that with the knife I might make a hole in
the side of the cask, and thus reach the water!

So practicable did the design appear, that I had not a doubt of being
able to accomplish it; and the certainty I now felt of getting at the
precious contents of the cask, produced a complete revulsion in my
feelings--another sudden transition from despair to hope.  I groped
eagerly about, and soon recovered the knife.  I had scarce looked at it,
on receiving it from the hands of the friendly sailor.  Now I examined
it carefully--by the touch, of course--I felt it all over; and as well
as I was able by such a test, calculated its strength and fitness for
the work I had designed for it.

It was what is termed a "jack-knife," with a buckhorn handle, and but
one blade--a sort in common use among sailors, who usually carry them on
a string passed around the neck, and to which the knife is attached by a
hole drilled in the haft.  The blade was a square one, drawn to an
angular point, and shaped somewhat like the blade of a razor.  Like the
latter, too, the back was thick and strong, as I could tell by the
"feel."  I was gratified at perceiving this, for I knew that it would
require a strong blade to hew a hole through the tough staves of oak.

The instrument I held in my hands was the very thing for the purpose,
almost as good as a chisel.  Haft and blade were nearly of equal length,
and when opened out, they measured about ten inches together.

I have been thus particular in describing this knife; and from me it
merits all that has been said, and far more, in praise of its good
qualities; since, but for it, I should not now be alive to give an
account of its wonderful performances.

Well, having opened the knife, and drawn my fingers along the blade, and
felt it over and over again, in order to get acquainted with its form
and fitness; and then, having examined the back-spring, and tried its
strength by various openings and shuttings: having done all this, I went
to work upon the hard oak.

You will wonder that I wanted to take all these precautions.  You will
fancy that, tortured as I was by thirst, I would scarce have had so much
patience, but would have set about making the hole at once, in order the
sooner to get relief by a draught of the water.  Certainly my patience
was greatly tempted; but I never was what is called a rash boy, and in
that dark hour I felt more than ever in my life the necessity of
prudence and caution.  I knew that death--a horrid death from thirst--
awaited me, if I did not succeed in getting at the contents of the cask;
and should any accident happen to the knife, should the blade break, or
even the point be snapped off, this death would surely be my fate.  No
wonder, then, I took the precaution to examine well my weapon and
ascertain its strength.  I might have acted with more recklessness had I
reflected more.  Even had I been certain of procuring the water, what
then?  It could only save me from dying of thirst.  But hunger?  How was
that to be relieved?  Water was drink, but not food.  Where was I to
find food?

Strange to say, I did not think of food at that moment.  I was not yet
hungry, and the agony of thirst had hitherto been my only apprehension,
precluding all thoughts of the kindred appetite.  The prospect of the
nearer danger--that of perishing from the want of water--had hindered my
mind from dwelling on that which was more remote; and, strange to say, I
had as yet scarce given a thought to what shortly after became my
exclusive apprehension--the danger of dying by hunger.

It is certain, therefore, that had I reflected on this, I should have
proceeded with less prudence.  Fortunately, I did not reflect; but set
about the accomplishment of my purpose with due method and caution.

I selected a spot in the side of the cask, where one of the staves
appeared to be a little chafed and damaged.  I chose it better than
half-way from the top.  The cask might be only half full, though that
was not likely.  If so, it would be necessary for me to make my tap
below the surface of the water, otherwise I should have to make it over
again.  A hole would have been of no use to me, unless it entered below
the water-line.

Having chosen the spot, I at once set to work, and in a short while had
the gratification to find that I was rapidly hollowing out a space in
the thick stave.  The knife behaved admirably, and hard as was the oak,
it had to yield to the harder steel of that beautiful blade.  Bit by
bit, and chip by chip, the wood was detached before its keen point; and
as each fresh fibre was loosened, I seized it with my fingers and pulled
it off, to make way for the blade.

For more than an hour I kept on, of course working in darkness.  I had
by this time grown so familiar with darkness, that I he longer
experienced the feeling of helplessness one always has when suddenly
plunged into it.  My sense of touch seemed to have become keener and
more delicate, as is well-known to be the case with those who are blind.
I felt no difficulty on the score of light; and as it would have
availed but little for the work in which I was engaged, I never even
thought of its absence.

I did not progress as fast as a carpenter would have done with his
mortising chisel, or a cooper with his breast-bit or auger; but I had
the gratification of knowing that I was progressing.  Though slowly, I
perceived that the hollow was getting deeper and deeper; the stave could
not be more than an inch in thickness: surely I should soon be through

I could have done the business in less time, had I been more reckless of
consequences; but I feared to strain too heavily upon the blade, and,
remembering the old adage, "The more haste the less speed," I handled
the precious tool with care.

It was more than an hour before I approached the inner surface of the
plank.  I knew that I was nearly through it from the depth to which I
had cut.

My hand now trembled as I worked.  My heart beat loudly against my ribs.
It was a moment of vivid emotion.  A fearful thought was in my mind--a
dread doubt was troubling me--a doubt that it was _water_!  This doubt
had occurred to me at an earlier period, but at no time did I feel it so
intensely as at that moment, just upon the eve of its solution.

Oh, heaven! should it not be water after all--should the contents of the
cask prove to be rum or brandy, or even wine!  I knew that none of these
would avail to quench my burning thirst.  For the moment they might, but
only for the moment; it would return fiercer and more craving than ever.
Oh! if it should be one, or any of them, then indeed was I lost--then
indeed might I yield up my last hope, and die as men have often died,
under the madness of intoxication!

I was close to the inner surface of the stave; moisture was already
oozing through the wood, where it had been penetrated by the point of
the blade.  I hesitated to make the last cut; I dreaded the result.

I hesitated but a short while.  The torture of my thirst impelled me on;
and plunging the blade deeply, I felt the last fibres yielding to its
point.  Almost at the same instant a cold spray rushed out, sprinkling
my hand upon the haft, and rushing far up my sleeve.

After giving the blade a twist, I drew it out, and then a jet shot
forth, as if forced from a syringe.  In another instant my lips covered
the vent, and I drank delicious draughts--not of spirits, not of wine--
but of water, cold and sweet as though it issued from a rock of



Oh! how I drank of that delicious water!  I thought I should never be
satisfied; but at length satiety was produced, and I thirsted no more.

The effect was not immediate--the first long draught did not relieve me,
or only for a time.  I longed again, and again placed my lips to the
spouting stream; and this I did repeatedly, until the longing returned
not, and the pangs of thirst were forgotten as if I had never felt them!

It is beyond the power of the imagination to form any idea of the agony
of thirst--mere fancy cannot realise it.  It must be experienced to be
known, but a proof of its intensity might be given by adducing the
horrible alternatives to which men have resorted when reduced to the
extremity of this torturing pain.  And yet, withal, as soon as the
craving is appeased, so soon as a sufficient quantity of water has
passed the lips, the pain exists no more, but ends with the suddenness
of a dream!  No other bodily ill can be so quickly healed.

My thirst was now gone, and I felt buoyant; but my habitual prudence did
not forsake me.  During the intervals when my lips were removed from the
vent, I had kept the water from running by pressing the end of my
fore-finger into the hole, and using it as a stopper.  Something
whispered me that it would be well not to waste the precious fluid, and
I resolved to obey the suggestion.  When I had finished drinking, I used
my finger as before; but after a little, I grew tired of making a
vent-peg of my finger, and looked about for something else.  I groped
all over the bottom timbers, but could find nothing--not the smallest
piece of stick within reach of my right hand.  It was the fore-finger of
my left that was playing vent-peg; and I dared not remove it, else the
water would have gushed forth in a tolerably thick, and therefore a
wasteful, jet.

I bethought me of a piece of cheese, and I drew what remained from my
pocket.  It was of too excellent a quality for the purpose, and crumbled
as I applied it to the aperture.  It was forced out of my fingers by the
strength of the spouting water.  A biscuit would have been equally
unserviceable.  What was I to do?

In answer to this interrogatory, it occurred to me that I might caulk
the hole with a rag from my jacket.  It was fustian, and would answer

No sooner thought of, than with my knife I cut a piece from the flap,
and placing it over the hole, and punching it well in with the blade, I
succeeded in stopping the run, though I could perceive that it yet
leaked a little.  This, however, would not signify.  I only intended the
piece of cloth for a temporary stopper, until I could cast around, and
contrive something better.

I was once more free to reflect, and I need not tell you that my
reflections soon guided me back to despair.  To what purpose had I been
saved from death by thirst?  It would only be a protraction of my
misery--a few hours more of wretched existence--for certainly I must
meet death by hunger.  There was no alternative.  My little stock was
almost consumed.  Two biscuits, and a handful of cheese-crumbs, were all
that remained.  I might make another meal upon them--a very slight one;
and then--ay, then--hunger, gnawing hunger--weakness--feebleness--

Strange to say that while suffering from thirst, I had not thought of
dying by hunger.  It would be more exact to say I had _scarce_ thought
of it.  At intervals, some glimpses of such a fate had been before my
mind's eye; but, as I have already stated, the stronger agony eclipsed
the weaker, and rendered it almost uncared for.

Now, however, that all fears of the former were removed, the dread of
the latter usurped its place.  The little interval of buoyant feeling
which I experienced, was merely the consequence of my unexpected relief
from a painful suffering, and only lasted until calm reflection
returned.  In a few minutes it was over, and my apprehension of death
became as acute as ever.  It is wrong to call it an apprehension, for it
was a positive certainty that stared me in the face.  I had not given
five minutes' thought to my situation, till I felt as certain of death
as I was that I still lived.  There was no hope of escape from my
prison--that I had given up long ago; and since I had nothing to eat,
and not the slightest hope of obtaining anything, how was I to live?  It
required no reasoning to find an answer to the question.

Perish I must, and by hunger--there was no alternative, unless I chose
to die by my own hand.  I was now aware that I possessed the means to
effect the latter, but strange to say, the madness that would have
prompted me to it, during the first throes of my despair, was gone; and
I could now contemplate death with a calmness that surprised me.

Three modes of dying were possible, and within my reach--thirst, hunger,
and suicide; and it may astonish you to know that the next thing I did
was to take into consideration which of the three it would be easiest to

This in reality was the leading idea in my mind as soon as I became
convinced that I _must_ die.  You need not be astonished.  Only imagine
yourselves in my situation, and you will perceive that such thoughts
were but natural.

The first of these three I rejected at once--it _could not be the
easiest_.  I had almost tried it, and my experience satisfied me that
existence could scarce be ended in a less gentle way.  Only upon the two
last, therefore, did my mind dwell; and for some time I sat coolly
weighing the one against the other.  Unfortunately, my young days had
been passed in a manner almost heathenish; and at that time I did not
even know that taking one's own life was a crime.  This consideration,
therefore, had no weight in the balance, and all I had to guide me was
the conjecture as to which of the two modes of death would be least

And I sat for a long while--coolly and calmly I sat--engaged in this
singular contemplation.

Good and evil must be instinctive.  Something within told me it would be
wrong to take away the life which God had given, even though the act
might save me from protracted pain.

This thought triumphed; and, mustering all my courage, I resolved to
await the event, whatever time it might please God to put a termination
to my misery.



Having resolved, then, not to die by my own hand, I at the same time
came to the resolution to live as long as I could.  Though my two
biscuits would not have served me for another good meal, I determined to
make at least four out of them, and also to make the intervals between
each two as long as possible--just as long as I could endure without

The desire of prolonging my existence had been gradually growing upon
me, ever since I had been relieved from the torture of thirst; and it
had now become as strong as at any period of my life.  The truth is, I
had a presentiment that I should still survive--that I was not going to
perish of hunger; and this presentiment--though ever so slight, and
entertained only at intervals--helped to sustain me with a sort of faint

I can hardly tell why I should have entertained it at all, so really
hopeless appeared my situation.  But then I remembered that, but a few
hours before, the prospect of obtaining water was equally hopeless, and
now I possessed enough to drown myself in.  Fanciful as it may seem,
this idea had occurred to me--that is, to drown myself!  But the moment
before, while contemplating the easiest means of death, that of drowning
had actually come before my mind.  I had often heard that it was about
the least painful mode of terminating one's existence.  Indeed I might
say that I had myself made trial of it.

When saved by Harry Blew I _was_ drowned to all intents and purposes--so
far as the suffering was concerned--and I am sure that had I been then
permitted to go to the bottom, I should never have felt another pang.  I
was satisfied, therefore, that drowning was not so very hard a death;
and I actually had it in consideration whether I should not cut my way
into the great butt, and in this way end my misery!  This was during my
moments of despair, when I seriously contemplated self-destruction; but
these moments had passed, and I again felt an unaccountable desire that
my life should be prolonged.

Perhaps this change in my sentiments is not so inexplicable.  The
strange circumstance of my finding the water, with the consequent escape
from death by thirst, had something in it of a nature almost miraculous:
something that suggested the hand of Providence stretched forth in my
favour.  That hand could equally aid me in other ways--could equally
save me from starvation by hunger; and though I knew not how, it might
yet deliver me from my fearful prison.

Perhaps some ideas of this kind were passing in my mind, and it was from
these I drew that indefinable presentiment that I should yet escape.

I ate my half biscuit, and again drank of the water, for my thirst kept
returning upon me, though it no longer gave me uneasiness.  I caulked up
the vent as before, and then sat down in silence.

I had no idea of making any exertion.  I had no hope that anything I
could do would in the least degree alter my situation.  What could I do?
My hope--if hope I may call it--rested only upon fate, upon chance, or
rather, I should say, upon God.  But how the hand of Providence could be
interposed on my behalf, I had not the slightest idea.

Those dark, silent hours were hard to endure.  It was only at intervals
that I was cheered by the presentiment I have described; but in the far
longer intervals between, I felt gloomy and despairing.

Nearly twelve hours must have passed before I ate my second half
biscuit.  I waited as long as I could, but at length I was obliged to
yield to the calls of hunger.  The little morsel produced no
satisfaction.  It rather appeared to render my appetite more keen and
craving.  I drank copiously, but although the water filled my stomach,
it had no effect in stifling the sensations of hunger.

In about six hours after, I made another meal--another half biscuit
gone.  I could not endure longer; and when the tiny crumb was swallowed,
I knew not that I had eaten.  I was as hungry as ever!

Scarce three hours was the next interval.  My brave resolution to make
the two biscuits last for as many days was to no purpose.  Not one day
had passed, and the last morsel had disappeared.

What next?  What should I eat next?  I was as hungry as ever.

_I thought of my shoes_.  I had read of men sustaining themselves for a
time by chewing up their boots, their belts, their gaiters, their
pouches and saddles; in short, anything that was made of leather.
Leather is an animal substance, and, even when tanned and manufactured,
still possesses nutriment, though only in a slight degree.  With these
memories, then, I thought of my shoes.

I was stooping down to unlace them, when I was startled by something
cold that struck me upon the back of the head.  It was a stream of
water.  The rag of fustian had been pressed out, and the water was
escaping.  The jet had fallen on the back of my head, just upon the bare
part of the neck, and its coldness, together with the suddenness of the
thing, caused me to start up in some surprise.

Of course, my astonishment ceased as soon as I perceived what it was
that had startled me.

I placed my finger in the aperture, and groping about for the rag, soon
found it, and recaulked the cask.

This had now happened more than once, and much water had been wasted.
The rag had become loosened by the action of the water, and was pressed
out.  It occurred to me that it might occur again while I was asleep,
and most of the water in the butt might run off, and thus get lost
altogether.  Some precaution, therefore, must be taken--I must find a
better stopper.

With this idea I went to work to contrive one.  I searched all around
the "floor" of my cabin in hopes of picking up some stray chip, but no
such thing was there.

I bethought me of cutting a splint from one of the great ribs of the
ship; and I made the attempt with my knife, but the wood was hard oak
and painted, and defied all my efforts to split off a piece large enough
for my purpose.  In the end, no doubt, I should have succeeded; but just
then it occurred to me that I could more easily get a supply from the
box.  This being a rough packing-case, was no doubt made of common deal;
and from the touch I was convinced that it was so.  Of course, being
much softer than the oak, and more easily split with a knife, I should
have a better chance of procuring what I wanted; and, moreover, a piece
of deal would do better for a stopper.

Shifting myself round, therefore, so as to face towards the box, I began
to feel all over it for the best place to use my knife upon.

At one of the corners I perceived the point of advantage, where one of
the boards slightly projected above the level of the top.  Into this
board I sunk my blade, pressing it downward, and causing it to act both
as a wedge and a chisel.  I had given but one push upon it, when I
perceived that the board was loose.  The nails which had fastened it had
either been broken off or drawn out, probably by the rough mauling it
had got while being stowed.  Whether or not, I felt that it was quite
loose, and moved under my touch.

I at once drew out the blade.  I saw that I could pull off the board
with my hands, and it would then be easier to split off the piece that I
wanted.  I laid the knife down, and applying my fingers to the
projecting end of the board, I seized it firmly, and pulled with all my

It yielded to my strength.  There was some creaking and crackling, as
the nails were drawn out or broken; and then a sound reached my ears
that caused me to desist and listen.  It was the sound of some hard
objects escaping from out the box and falling with a rattle upon the
timbers beneath.

I was curious to know what these objects were, and letting go my hold, I
stretched my hands downward, and groped for what had been spilled.  I
lifted two of similar shape and size, and as I ran my fingers over them,
I could not restrain myself from giving utterance to a shout of joy.

I have said that my touch had grown almost as delicate as that of a
blind man; but had it been ever so obtuse, I could have told at that
moment, what were the two flat round objects which I held between my
fingers.  There was no mistaking the "feel" of them.  They were



Yes, biscuits--each of them as large as a small plate, and nearly half
an inch in thickness, smooth and round and pleasant to the touch, and of
a rich brown colour--I could tell the colour, for I knew from the feel
that they were real _sea_ biscuits; or, as they are generally styled,
"sailor's biscuits," to distinguish them from the white "captain's
biscuits," to which, in my opinion, they are superior--far sweeter and
more wholesome.

How sweet they tasted at that moment! for on the very instant that I got
hold of them, did I raise one to my mouth, and bite a large piece out of
its smooth circumference.  Delicious morsel! a whole one was soon ground
into crumbs and swallowed, and then a second, and a third, and a fourth,
and a fifth, and perhaps still another! for I never thought of keeping
count, so long as hunger urged me to eat.  Of course, I washed them down
with copious libations from the butt.

I remember no meal eaten during all my life that I enjoyed with so much
relish, as this one of biscuits and water.  It was not simply from the
delight experienced by satisfying the cravings of a hungry stomach--
which of itself, as every one knows, is a high source of enjoyment--but
along with it, was the pleasure derived from my discovery--the
delightful consciousness, still fresh before my mind, that my life which
but the moment before I held as lost, was still to be spared me.  Beyond
a question, the hand of Providence _had_ interposed to save my life.

I had no doubt that this was so.  With such store both of food and
drink, I could live, despite the darkness of my dungeon, for weeks, for
months--until the voyage should come to an end, and the ship be emptied
of its cargo.

I felt sure of safety, as I made an inspection of my provision chest.
They came pouring forth, those precious cakes, spilling out at the
touch, and cracking together like castanets.

Their rattle was music to my ears.  I thrust my hands into the box,
delighting to bury my fingers amid the rich profusion of its contents;
as the miser joys to revel among his heaps of gold.  I thought I should
never tire groping among them, feeling how thick and large they were,
and drawing them out from the box, and putting them back into it, and
tumbling them about in every way.  I acted just like a child with its
drum and its ball, its top and its orange, rolling them from side to
side; and it was a long time before I grew tired of this childlike play.

Long--I am sure I must have gone on in this way for nearly an hour,
before the excitement into which the discovery had put me cooled down,
and I could act and think calmly.

It is difficult to describe the sensation one feels, when suddenly
rescued from the jaws of death.  Escape from an impending danger is
different, as one is not certain that the danger would end in death; for
there are few kinds of peril that produce the conviction that death must
be the event.  When this conviction once enters the mind, and after that
the self-expecting victim survives, the sudden reaction from despair to
joy is a feeling of such intense happiness, as almost to cause
bewilderment.  Men ere now have died of such joy, while others have gone

I neither died nor went mad; but could my behaviour have been observed
for some time after breaking open the biscuit-box, it might have been
_supposed_ that I was mad.

The first thing that restored me to calmer reflection, was the discovery
that the water was running from the cask, in a full jet.  The aperture
was quite open.  I was chagrined at making this observation--I may say,
terrified.  I knew not how long the waste had been going on; the _sough_
of the sea outside prevented me from hearing it, and the water, as soon
as it fell, filtered off under the timbers of the vessel.  Perhaps it
had been running ever since I last drank; for I had no recollection of
having put back the rag stopper.  My excitement had hindered me from
thinking of it.  If that were really the case, then there had been much
waste, and the thought filled me with dismay.

But an hour ago, I should have not so much regarded this loss of water.
Then I knew there would still be drink enough to outlast the food--to
last as long as I expected to live.  Now, however, my altered prospects
caused me to regard the circumstance with very different ideas.  I might
be months alive, and still cooped up behind the cask.  Every drop of its
contents might be required.  If it was to run short before the ship
reached her port, then I should be brought back to my original position,
and death by thirst would be my fate after all.  No wonder, I perceived
with dismay that the stopper was out, and the stream was flowing!

I lost not a moment in pressing my fingers into the hole, and cutting
off the run.  Then once more corking with the rag, I proceeded to carry
out my original design, of making a proper vent-peg of wood.

A piece was easily obtained from the board I had detached from the lid
of the box--for it was the lid that was towards me; and the soft deal,
yielding to the keen blade of my knife, was soon shaped into a conical
peg, that fitted exactly.

Brave sailor! how I blessed thee for thy gift!

I blamed myself much for this piece of negligence; and I felt regret,
too, that I had tapped the cask so low down.  However, the latter had
been itself a measure of precaution; and at the time it was done, I had
but one thought, and that was to allay my thirst as quickly as possible.

It was fortunate I noticed the jet as soon as I did.  Had it been
allowed to continue running, until it stopped of itself--in other words,
had the surface of the water sunk to the level of the tap-hole--then
would there have been but little left, scarce enough to have lasted me
for a week.

I endeavoured to ascertain what had been the amount of wastage, but I
could arrive at no satisfactory conclusion.  I sounded the cask, by
striking it in different places with the butt end of my knife, but I
derived little knowledge from this.  The creaking of the ship's timbers,
and the rush of the waves, prevented any observation of this kind from
being definite or accurate.  I fancied that the blows gave back a very
hollow sound, as if a large space within was empty.  If it were a fancy,
it was far from being a pleasant one; and I gave over my "soundings"
with a considerable feeling of uneasiness.  Fortunately the tap was a
very small hole, and the jet from it of no great thickness.  As near as
I could tell by the touch, and from the repeated application I had made
to it with my lips, this could not have been over the thickness of my
little finger, which at that time was not of much greater circumference
than a goose's quill.  I knew that such a tiny stream would be a long
while in spending the contents of so large a tank; and I endeavoured to
recall to mind how long it might have been since I last drank.  In this,
however, I was not successful.  It seemed but a short while to me, but
excited as I had been, and confused in my ideas, it might have been an
hour, or even more.  I was completely baffled in any calculation that I

I remained for a considerable time, pondering upon some scheme by which
I might determine the quantity of water that still remained in the cask,
for about this I was now most anxious.  Only one hour before, food had
been the source of my uneasiness; before that it had been drink; and now
once more drink was my trouble, for of meat I had a plenty.

I remembered having heard that brewers, coopers, and others whose
business lies among the great wine vaults of the docks, had a way of
telling pretty nearly the contents of a barrel of liquid, without
submitting them to actual measurement, but I had not heard how they
managed the matter.  I regretted not having been told.

I thought of a plan by which I could have ascertained, to a nicety; but
I lacked the proper instrument to put it in execution.  I understood
enough of hydraulics to know that water will rise to its own level if
guided by a pipe or tube; I knew, therefore, that if I had only
possessed a piece of hose, I could have attached it to the tap-hole, and
thus discovered how high the water stood in the cask.

But where was the hose or other pipe to be had?  Of course I could not
get at what I desired in this way, and I relinquished the idea without
giving it farther consideration.

Just at this moment a better plan suggested itself, and I proceeded to
put it in execution.  It was so simple, I wondered I had not thought of
it before.  It was neither more nor less than to cut another hole
through the staves, higher up, and if need be another, and so on, until
I reached a point where the water ceased to run.  This would give me the
knowledge I wanted.

Should I make my first hole too low, I could easily stop it with a peg,
and so with all the others.

It is true that I was laying out for myself a considerable amount of
work, but I rather liked this than otherwise.  While employed, I should
feel much happier, as my occupation would enable me the better to pass
the time, and keep me from thinking too much of my miserable situation.

But just as I was about to commence my experiments on the butt, it
occurred to me that I had better try the other one--that which stood at
the end of my little chamber.  Should this also prove to be a
water-cask, then I need be no longer uneasy, for surely two such great
vessels should contain enough to supply me during the longest voyage
that ever was made.

Without more ado, then, I turned upon the second cask, and commenced
drilling a hole in the end of it.  I was not so excited as before, for I
did not feel that so much depended upon the result.  For all that, it
caused me a good deal of disappointment, when, on getting the point of
my blade through to the inside, I discovered that the stream that came
jetting out was not water but pure brandy, which proved that it was a
brandy-cask I had tapped.

I again turned my attention to the water-butt; for I was now more
anxious than ever to ascertain how much it contained, since on this
depended my future safety.

Choosing a stave near the middle of the cask, I proceeded in the same
manner as I had done when making my first incision; and working
constantly for an hour or more, I felt the thin shell springing before
the point of my knife.  My apprehensions were acute, though not so much
as on the former occasion.  Then it was a matter of life or death,
almost upon the instant; now the contingency was more remote, and not
quite so definite or certain.  Withal I could not help a strong feeling
of anxiety, nor could I avoid uttering an exclamation of delight, when I
felt the cold spring of water gushing along the blade of my knife.  I
soon closed the slight aperture, and re-commenced my drilling process
upon the next stave higher up.

This I also penetrated in due time, and was again rewarded for my
patient labour by getting my fingers wet, from the inside.

Another step higher, with a result like.

Another, and the water came not.  No matter, I was now far up near the
top of the cask.  I had found water at the last boring but one.  It must
stand still higher within.  The cask, therefore, was more than three
parts full.  Thank Heaven!  There would be enough to last me for many

I felt satisfied with the result, and, sitting down, I ate another
biscuit with as much relish and contentment as if I had been dining upon
turtle and venison at the table of a Lord Mayor.



I was full of complacence.  There was nothing now to cause me
uneasiness.  The prospect of being cooped up for six months might have
been very unpleasant under other circumstances, but after the far more
terrible dread of horrid death from which I had just been delivered, it
appeared as nothing; and I resolved to bear my long imprisonment with
patience and resignation.

Six months I would have to endure this gloomy confinement--six months,
at the least.  There was but little probability of my being released
before the expiration of a half-year: a long term--long and hard to be
borne either by captive or criminal--hard even in a lighted chamber,
with bed and fire, and well-cooked food, in daily converse with human
beings, and the sound of human voices almost continually ringing in your
ears.  Even with these advantages, to be shut up for six months is a
painful experience.

How much more painful would mine be, cramped up in close quarters, where
I could neither stand erect nor lie at full length; neither couch, nor
fire, nor light to give me comfort; breathing foul air, reclining upon
the hardest of oak, living upon bread and water--the simplest diet upon
which a human being could exist, and that unvaried by the slightest
change, with no sound ever reaching my ear save the almost ceaseless
creaking of the ship's timbers, and the monotonous surging of the ocean
wave--certainly six months of such an existence was not a pleasant
prospect to contemplate.

Withal I regarded it not.  I was still too happy at my deliverance from
death, to be nice about the kind of life that was before me, though, as
time passed, most probably I should grow tired enough of such a dreary

Now I was all joy and confidence.  Not so confident, however, as to rely
upon conjecture--upon a mere guess as to the amount of my means of
existence.  Upon this point I was determined to be fully assured, and
that without further loss of time.  My stores, both of food and drink, I
resolved to submit to actual measurement, in order to be satisfied as to
whether they would be sufficient to last me till the end of the voyage.

Hitherto I had felt no apprehension upon this head.  Such a large box of
biscuit, and such an inexhaustible well of water, could never be
expended.  This was my first idea; but, after a little reflection, I
began to have doubts.  The constant drop will wear a hole in the hardest
stone, and will also empty the largest cistern, if time be allowed it;
and six months was a long time--nearly two hundred days--a very long

As I reflected thus, I grew a little uneasy as to the quantity both of
my food and drink; and to put an end to all doubt upon the subject, I
came to the above determination of measuring them.  I recognised the
prudence of such a course.  If it turned out that there were plenty of
both, and to spare, I should no longer be troubled with doubts; and if,
on the other hand, there was a danger of either running short, I should
then adopt the only precaution possible, and at once put myself on
_short rations_!

When I look back, and think of my cunning at this early age, I am now
astonished at it; but it is surprising what forethought even a child
will exhibit, when placed in circumstances where self-preservation calls
forth all its instincts and energies.

Without more ado, then, I proceeded to make my calculation.  I allowed
for time, the full six months; or in other terms, a period of 183 days.
I did not even subtract the time--about a week, since we had set sail.
That I set aside to my advantage, allowing the full period of 183 days,
lest I might err by making the time too short.  Surely, in six months,
the vessel would reach her port, and her cargo be discharged?  Surely, I
might depend upon this?

No, not surely.  I was far from being confident on this head.  I knew
that a voyage to Peru was usually reckoned a six months' voyage; but I
was not certain whether this was considered the average time; whether it
would be accounted a long voyage or a short one; and, therefore, I had
no confidence in basing my calculation on such uncertain data.

There was the danger of delay from calms in the tropical latitudes,
through which we should have to pass--from storms off Cape Horn,
renowned among mariners for the fickleness of its wind--other obstacles
might be encountered, and the voyage protracted far beyond the period
above mentioned.

I was not without such apprehensions, as I proceeded to examine my
resources.  To ascertain how long my stock of food would last, was
simple and easy.  I had only to count the biscuits, and find out their
number.  I knew their size, and that I could live on two a day, though I
was not likely to grow fat on the allowance.  Even one a day, or still
less than that, would sustain life; and I resolved to be as sparing of
them as I could.

I soon ascertained the exact number.  The box, as nearly as I could
guess, was about a yard long and two feet wide, by about one foot in
depth; for I noticed that it was a shallow one set upon its edge.  Had I
known its exact dimensions, I could have told the number of biscuits
without counting them.  Each was a little less than six inches in
diameter, and of an average thickness of three-fourths of an inch.
Therefore, packed as they had been, there would be exactly 32 dozen in
the case.

But counting them over one by one was no labour, on the contrary, it
afforded pleasure to me; and drawing them forth out of the box, I told
them off in dozens.  I found that 32 dozen was the number, wanting
eight; but the odd eight I was able to account for satisfactorily.  I
knew where _they_ had gone.

Thirty-two dozen would make 384 biscuits; and, now that I had eaten
eight of them, there remained exactly 376; which, at the rate of two per
diem, would last for 188 days.  True, 188 days would be a little over
six months, but as I had not a clear confidence about the length of the
voyage being only six months, I perceived that I must go on short
rations, of less than two biscuits a day.

What, thought I, if there should be another box of biscuits behind the
one I had emptied?  That would secure me against all chances, and make
my mind easy at once and for ever.  What if there should be another?
Was it unlikely?  No: the reverse.  In the stowage of a ship's hold,
there is not much order observed as regards the sort of goods that are
placed in juxta-position, but rather is regard paid to the size and
shape of the packages; and things of a miscellaneous kind are often
stowed together, according to convenience, as the particular piece--
whether box, bale, or barrel--may fit into a particular space.
Notwithstanding that I knew all this, still it was probable enough that
two boxes of biscuits had been placed side by side.

How was I to ascertain?  I could not get round the box, even now that I
had emptied it; for, as already stated, it blocked up the whole aperture
through which I had originally squeezed myself.  Neither could I get
over the top nor under it.

"Ha!"  I exclaimed, as a thought suddenly suggested itself, "I shall go
_through_ it."

The idea was feasible enough.  The board which I had already pulled off,
left an aperture wide enough to admit my body.  This had been part of
the top or lid.  I could, therefore, get my head and shoulders inside,
and with my knife cut a large hole in the bottom opposite.  That would
enable me to ascertain whether another biscuit-box was beyond.

I was not slow in putting my new design into execution.  I first widened
a little more the aperture in the top, so that I could work more
conveniently; and then I attacked the bottom with my knife.  The soft
deal yielded pretty freely, but I had not made much progress in this
way, when a better plan came into my head.  I perceived that the bottom
boards of the case were only nailed on--perhaps a little more securely
than those of the top, but still not fast enough to resist the blows of
a mallet or hammer.  I had neither one nor the other, but I thought of a
tolerable substitute--my heels.  Laying myself, therefore, in a
horizontal position, and placing my hands against the great rib to act
as a support, I thrust both my feet inside the box.  In this position I
was able to administer such a series of lusty kicks upon the bottom
boards, that one of them soon sprung its nails, and was pressed outward,
until I felt it could be driven no farther on account of some weighty
impediment beyond.

I now got back to my old position, and examined the progress I had made.
I saw that I had dislodged a wide board, so far as the nails were
concerned; but it still stood upright, and prevented me feeling what was
behind it.

Using all my strength, I succeeded in pressing it to one side and then
downward, until an aperture was obtained, through which I could thrust
my hands.  Sure enough, a box was on the other side--a rough
packing-case, resembling that I had just broken through--but whether of
like contents had yet to be determined.  It would not take long to tell
what it contained.  I once more exerted my strength, and succeeded in
pressing the loose board quite into a horizontal position, so that it no
longer obstructed me.  The other box was scarce two inches beyond; and
falling to upon it with my blade, I soon penetrated through its side.

Alas! my hopes of finding more biscuit were doomed to disappointment.
Some woollen substance--either coarse cloth or blankets closely-packed--
filled the inside, feeling as solid to the touch as a piece of timber.
There were no biscuits there; and I was now convinced I should have to
take to the short rations, and make the best of what I already



My next operation was to put all the biscuits back into the box, for
strewed loosely about as they were, they interfered seriously with the
accommodation of my cabin, which by their bulk was diminished more than
half.  In fact, I had scarce room to turn myself in, so long as they
remained outside the case, and I therefore lost no time in restoring
them to their former place of deposit.  To make the box hold them all, I
was obliged to pack them in regular rows, as they had been before; with
this difference, that the case having been tilted on its side, the
biscuits had been lying with their edges in a horizontal position,
whereas I now built them vertically--the proper mode of packing such
goods, and the way in which they had been placed when they came from the
stores of the baker.  Of course, it mattered not which way, as regards
the space they would take up.  On the flat side, or on their edges, it
was all the same; and when I counted in the thirty-one dozen and four
odd, the box was full, with only a little empty space in the corner,
which the eight missing biscuits had formerly occupied.

So, then, I had taken stock of my larder, and now knew the exact amount
of provision I had to depend upon.  With two biscuits _per diem_ I could
stand siege for a little better than six months.  It would not be high
living, yet I resolved to do with even less, for I could not feel
certain that six months would be the full period of my privations.  I
formed the resolution to make two a day the rule, and never to exceed
that number; and on such days as I felt best able to bear hunger, I
should stint my measure a quarter or half a biscuit, or even a whole
one, if I found it possible.  This economic purpose, if successfully
carried out, would throw forward the day of absolute want to a much
longer period than six months.

My food being thus rationed out, it appeared equally necessary that I
should know the quantity of water I might use each day.  To ascertain
this, at first appeared to be beyond my power.  Apparently I had no
means of measuring what remained in the butt.  It was an old wine or
spirit cask--for such are the vessels generally used on board ships to
carry water for their crews--but what kind of wine-cask I could not
tell, and therefore I could not even guess at the quantity it might have
contained when full.  Could I only have established this point, I should
then have been able to make a rough calculation as to what had been
already spent; rough, but perhaps sufficiently precise for my purpose.

I remembered well the _table of liquid measure_--I had good reason to
remember it--the most difficult of all the tables to commit to memory.
I had received many a smart rodding, before I was able to repeat it
over; but I at length succeeded in getting it _pit-pat_.

I knew that wine-casks are of very different dimensions, according to
the sort of wine they contain: that under the different names of
"pipes", "butts", "hogsheads", "puncheons", "tuns," and "pieces," they
hold more or less, from the hogshead of hock of thirty gallons to the
great tun of wine containing 252.  That the spirits--brandy, whiskey,
rum, gin; and the wines--sherry, Port, Madeira, Teneriffe, Malaga, and
many other sorts, are transported in casks of different capacity, but
usually containing about 100 gallons.  I even remembered the number of
gallons of each, so well had my teacher--a great statistician--drilled
me in "liquid measure;" and could I only have known what sort of wine
had once been carried inside of my water-butt, I could have told its
measure in a moment.  I fancied there was the "bouquet" of sherry about
it, and that would have made it a "pipe" of 108 gallons; but it might
have been a Madeira pipe, which holds only 92, or Cape, or Marsala,
which are about the same size.  It might have been Port, which would
have stretched its capacity to 115, or a puncheon of Scotch whiskey,
some of which contain 120 gallons.  I did not think it had been this
last, else I should have known the peculiar "twang" which Scotch whiskey
gives to water, however diluted it may be.  Certainly, there was a
perceptible flavour of some liquor, but I was too young to be
experienced in drinks, and I learnt nothing from this.  No doubt a
wine-taster could have told in an instant what sort had formerly filled
the barrel, for an old wine-cask will retain the particular "bouquet" of
the wine it had carried after performing several voyages as a

I drew out the stopper, and tasted the water.  I had not thought of
noticing its flavour before.  It appeared to me to be sherry; but as I
have said, it might be Madeira, which would make a difference of sixteen
gallons--an important item in a calculation such as I was desirous of
making.  I therefore could not trust to my judgment to make this the
basis of a computation, and I had to think of some other device.

Fortunately in my school arithmetic there were a few hints upon
mensuration, and the good master had instructed us in these.

I have often wondered that the simple but useful problems of this
branch, of science are so much neglected, while the most useless and
irrational rhymes are hammered into the heads of poor unfortunate boys.
I have no hesitation in giving my opinion, that a knowledge of simple
mensuration, which may be obtained in a week's study, is of more value
to an individual--or to the whole human race, if you will--than a
perfect scholarship in all the dead languages of the world.  Greek and
Latin!  These have been very barriers to the advancement of knowledge!

Well, I was saying that my old teacher had taught me a few simple
problems in mensuration; and fortunately I still held them in my memory.
I could tell the solid contents of a cube, of a parallelopipedon, of a
pyramid, of a globe (nearly), of a cylinder, and of a cone.  The last
was the figure that now interested me.

I knew that a barrel was a pair of cones--that is, truncated cones or
_frustums_--with the bases resting against each other.  Of course, when
I was taught how to measure a cone, I was also instructed to do the same
with the frustum of one.

To ascertain the capacity of my butt, therefore, it was only necessary
for me to know its length--or its half-length would do as well--its
circumference at either end, and also its circumference around the
thickest part or "swell."  These three measurements given me, I could
tell to a quart how much water would fill it--in other words, I could
calculate how many cubic inches of water it should contain.  Knowing
this, I should simply have to divide by 69 and a small fraction over,
and this would give me the number of quarts, which another simple
division of 4 would reduce to gallons, if I required to use this

I perceived, therefore, that if I could get the three measurements, I
could soon tell the capacity of my butt; but therein lay the difficulty.
How were these measurements to be obtained?

I might have obtained the length, for that was before me from end to
end; but how should I get the circumference either of the middle or of
either end?  I could not reach over the top, nor around the ends.  Both
directions were blocked up against me.

Another difficulty stared me in the face.  I had nothing wherewith to
measure them--neither rule nor tape--no standard by which I could
determine the number of feet or inches; so that even had all sides been
free to me, I should still have been in a dilemma.

I was determined, however, not to yield the point until I had given it a
good thinking.  The occupation would help me to pass the time; and, as I
have already hinted, this was a matter of primary importance.  Besides,
that faithful old schoolmaster had many a time impressed upon us the
valuable truth, that perseverance often finds success where success
appears impossible.  Remembering this bit of admonition, I resolved not
to regard the thing as impracticable, until I had exhausted all my
powers of contrivance.

I persevered, therefore, and in less time than I must take in describing
it, I hit upon a plan for "gauging" the butt.



The details of my plan suggested themselves in the following order:--

While examining the cask, to find if there was not some means of
ascertaining its different diameters, I discovered the very way itself.
All I wanted was a straight rod or stick, of sufficient length to reach
quite across the butt at its thickest part.  It was plain to me, that by
inserting such a stick into a hole in one side of the cask, and passing
it on till it touched the staves on the other side, at a point
diametrically opposite, I could thus obtain the exact measurement of the
diameter of that part of the vessel, since the portion of the rod
reaching from side to side would be the diameter itself.  The diameter
once obtained, it needed only to multiply by three to get the
circumference.  But in the calculation which I was desirous of making,
it was the diameter itself I wanted to find, and not the circumference.
I only thought of the latter, because, under ordinary circumstances,
when a cask is bunged up, it is easier to measure the circumference of
the swell than its diameter.  In no case does it signify which, as the
figure three will always reduce the one to the other, near enough for
most practical purposes, though not mathematically exact.

Now, it so chanced that one of the holes I had cut through the staves
had been made in the very middle of the swell, where the butt was
thickest.  Therefore a straight stick passed into this hole, and pushed
on till it touched the opposite side, would give the greatest diameter
of the cask.

You may imagine that this might have been obtained by simply planting
the stick in a vertical position _outside_ the butt, and notching it at
a point on a level with the top of the vessel.  True, this might have
been done had I been operating with a barrel lying upon a plain surface,
with nothing around it to obstruct me, and plenty of light to observe
the true level.  Even thus it would have been rough guess work, and not
to be depended on when a calculation was to be made involving life or
death in its consequences--for such it really did involve--at least, I
supposed so.  But the butt was so placed, resting upon the timbers of
the ship, with its swollen side sunk between them, that I could not have
measured it in this manner.  Even though I might have marked a rod on a
line with its top, I could not have planted the other end so as to be on
a level with its base.

There seemed no other way to get at the thing than by inserting a
straight stick into the hole, and thus measure the diameter; nor did I
trouble myself about any other, as this appeared to be the best plan I
could adopt.

Where was I to find my stick--my measuring-rule?  That is your question,
is it not?

It is easily answered.  The deal board that had formed part of the
biscuit-box would supply me with the material, and out of that I could
soon make one.  No sooner thought of than I set about it.

The board was but a little over two feet in length, and of course not
long enough to reach across the great cask, which at its thickest part
appeared four or five.  But a very little ingenuity sufficed to overcome
this obstacle.  I should only have to split off three thin pieces, and
by splicing their ends together, I should get a stick of length

I did so.  Fortunately, the deal was cut nicely with the grain of the
wood; and in splitting it, I guided the blade of my knife so as not to
let it run out at the edges.

I succeeded in getting three pieces of the thickness I wanted; and,
after shaving off their angles, and making them clean and trim, I cut
their ends with a slant for the splice.

The next thing was to obtain two pieces of string, and this was the
easiest thing in the world.  I wore upon my feet a pair of little
"buskins" that laced up to the very ankle.  The laces were thongs of
calfskin, each of them a full yard long.  They were just the thing; and,
drawing them out of the holes, I completed the splicing, and now held in
my hands a straight stick full five feet in length--quite long enough, I
conceived, to reach across the thickest part of the butt, and slender
enough to go into the hole--which I had already widened a little to
receive it.

"So far good," thought I; "I shall now insert the measuring-stick, and
find my diameter."

I rose to my feet to carry out this design, but I need not describe the
mortification I felt on perceiving that the first of these operations,
which would appear to be the simplest of all, could not be performed.
At the first trial I saw that it was quite impossible.  It was not
because the hole was too small, or the stick too large.  I had made no
mistake about this; but my miscalculation was in regard to the space in
which I had to work.  Lengthways my little chamber was nearly six feet,
but crossways little more than two; and up where the hole was--in which
I intended to insert the measuring-rod--it was still less.  Of course to
get the stiff piece of stick into the cask was plainly impossible--
without bending it, so that it must break--for the dry deal would have
snapped through like the shank of a clay pipe.

I was a good deal chagrined at not having thought of this before; but I
was still more vexed at the idea of being obliged to abandon the design
of making the measurement I had intended, for before reflecting I
believed that this was to be the result.  A little further
consideration, however, helped to a new plan, proving the importance of
not arriving too hastily at conclusions.  I discovered a way of getting
in the stick to its full length, without either breaking or bending it.

This could be effected by taking it to pieces again, then first
inserting one of the pieces, and holding it till the second could be
spliced on to its end, and then pushing both into the cask, and joining
the third piece in a similar fashion.

About this there appeared no difficulty, and the result proved there was
none; for in less than five minutes after conceiving it, I had carried
the design into execution, and the measuring-rod stood inside the
barrel, with one end projecting some inches on the outside.

Holding this end carefully in my hand, I caused the other to play about
on the opposite side, until I felt convinced that it touched the point
that was exactly _vis-a-vis_ with the aperture; and then steadying the
stick, I notched it with my knife, on a level with the outer surface of
the stave.  To calculate from this notch would not be correct, as it
would be more than the diameter of the cask--that is, in reference to
what it would contain--but I had no intention of doing so.  I should
make allowance for the thickness of the stave, and that would give me
the measurement I wanted.

Having made my mark, I drew forth my measuring-rod, piece by piece, as
it had been plunged in.  I took care as I did so to notch both the
splices, so that I might be able to put them together again in the exact
place where they had been while making the measurement.  All this
attention to such minute particulars was of importance, and I knew it to
be so, for the mistake of even a quarter of an inch in the length of my
diameter would cause a difference of many gallons in the result.  Most
certainly, then, was it of consequence that I should be precise in my

I now had the diameter of the swell; the next thing was to get that of
the head, or end.  About this there was less difficulty--in fact, not
any.  It was obtained in a few seconds.

Though I could not myself get round either of the ends of the butt, nor
even my arm, I could pass the rod around them, and in this way measure
them.  Even had there not been space to admit the measuring-stick, I
should have found a means--by simply drilling another hole with my
knife, close to either end, and gauging as before.  But this would have
occupied time, and it was not necessary to do so, since the stick passed
along the head of the butt without any obstruction, till its end rested
against the projecting rim on the opposite side.  I had nothing to do
but assure myself that its point was fair in the middle, and then make
my mark as before.

The length of the butt was yet to be ascertained; and this, though
apparently a simple operation, cost me a good deal of consideration,
before I could get at it with any degree of exactness.  You may fancy
that it would have been easy enough to get at the length, by just
placing the stick parallel to the cask, and notching it square with the
ends of the latter?  And so it might be easy enough, with plenty of
light around you to see when it _was_ square, and a level surface upon
which to rest your measure.  But as I had the advantage neither of light
nor level ground, I encountered great difficulty in this operation.  I
could not tell when the ends lay even with each other, merely by the
touch.  I had to pass my fingers from one to the other, and could not
grasp both at one time--that is, the rim of the cask and the end of the
rod--since they must needs be several inches apart.  The stick, too, lay
unsteady, and by the feel I could not be sure when its end was exactly
"flush" with the head of the cask.  The mistake of an inch--it might be
several--would falsify all my computations, and render them of no use.
It would not do to proceed upon such a conjectural basis, and for a
while I was puzzled, and had to pause.

This was an unexpected obstacle, for I had from the first regarded the
diameters as the only difficulty; about the possibility of obtaining the
length, I had never entertained a doubt.

But my wits again came to the rescue, and I soon discovered a plan that
would effect the end in view.  I had to make another rod--by splicing
two more lengths split from the board--and with this I was able to
determine the point.

I managed the matter thus: The old rod I pushed along the head of the
cask quite beyond its outer edge, so that it rested at both ends against
the projecting rim.  Thus placed, it was exactly parallel with the plane
of the barrel's head, while a foot or more projected outward and towards
me.  Holding the end of the second rod against this projecting part, and
at right angles, I gave it a direction along the side of the cask, and I
was able to mark the point, where the middle part of the swell came in
contact with the second rod.  This, of course, after deducting the depth
of the rim and the presumed thickness of the head, gave me half the
length of the interior of the cask, and that was all I wanted, since two
halves make one whole.

I was now in possession of the _data_ of my problem; it only remained
for me to seek the solution.



To find the cubic contents of the butt in feet or inches, and afterwards
reduce them to liquid measure--to gallons or quarts--would have been
easy enough, and only required a simple computation in figures.  I knew
that I was arithmetician enough to make this computation, even though I
possessed neither pen nor paper, slate nor pencil; and if I had, there
was no light by which I could have used them.  "Ciphering," therefore,
in the ordinary way, was out of the question; but I had often practised
myself in casting up accounts by a mental process, and I could add and
subtract, multiply or divide a considerable series of figures without
the aid of either pen or pencil.  The problem I had before me would
involve but a limited number of figures, and I felt satisfied I could
easily manage it, so far as that was concerned.

I have said that it _would have been_ a simple and easy computation to
find the contents of the cask in cubic feet or inches.  _Would have
been_ supposes that there was a difficulty--and there _was_ one.  An
important preliminary matter had to be settled before I could enter upon
any calculation--a very important one; and that was, that I had not yet
reduced my measurements--neither the diameters nor the length--to feet
and inches!  I had measured the cask with plain pieces of stick, and had
registered the dimensions in simple notches; but what of this?  I knew
not what distance these notches might be from the end, or from each
other--how many feet or inches!  I might make a rude guess, but that
would be of no service to me; so that after all my pains I had as yet no
_data_ to go upon, nor could I have any until I had first _measured my
measuring-rods themselves_!

Apparently, here was a difficulty not to be got over.  Considering that
I had no standard of measurement within reach--neither yard-stick, nor
foot rule, nor graduated scale of any kind--you will naturally conclude
that I must have abandoned the problem.  A computation founded on the
mere length of the stick would have been absurd, and could have given me
no information whatever upon the point about which I wanted to be
informed.  To find the cubic and liquid contents of the cask, I must
first have its length, with its largest and shortest diameters,
expressed in _standard_ terms--that is, either in feet or inches, or
some other divisions of a scale.

And how, I ask, was this to be ascertained, when I possessed no standard
of measurement about my person?  None whatever.  I could not make one;
for in order to do so, I should have required another for a guide.  Of
course, I could not _guess_ the length either of feet or inches.

How, then, was I to proceed?

Apparently, the difficulty was not to be got over.  The thing seemed

To you it may seem so, but it did not to me.  I had thought of this
before.  I should not have proceeded as far as I had done--taking so
much pains and trouble with the splitting and splicing of my sticks, and
making my measurements so exact--had I not foreseen this difficulty, and
thought of a way to surmount it.  All this had been prospectively
arranged.  I knew before-hand that I _could measure_ my sticks, and tell
their linear dimensions to the exactness of an inch.


Thus, then--

When I said just a little ago that I had no standard about my person, I
spoke the truth only literally.  Although not exactly _about_ my person,
I had one in my person--I was myself that standard!  You will now
remember my having submitted myself to a measurement, which showed me to
be four feet in length.  Of what value that knowledge now proved to me!

Knowing, then, my own height to be very nearly four feet, I could notch
off that measure upon one of the sticks, which would give me a
measuring-rule of four feet in length.

I proceeded to obtain this result without delay.  The process was simple
and easy.  Laying myself horizontally, I planted my feet against one of
the great ribs of the ship, and rested the end of the stick between
them.  I now stretched myself out at full length, and guiding the rod so
as to keep it parallel to the axis of my body, I brought it across my
forehead, and beyond.  With my fingers I could tell the point that was
opposite the crown of my head, and carefully marking this point, I
afterwards notched it with the knife.  I now possessed a four-foot rule,
exact enough for my purpose.

But there were difficulties yet to be encountered.  With a four-foot
rule, I was but little advanced towards my computation.  I might make a
nearer approach to the measurement of my diameters, but that would not
avail.  I must know them _exactly_.  I must know them in inches, and
even fractions of inches; for, as I have said, an error of half an inch
in some of my _data_ would make a difference of gallons in the result.
How, then, was I to divide a four-foot stick into inches, and register
the inches upon its edge?  How was this to be done?

It seems simple enough.  The half of my four feet--already ascertained--
would give me two feet; and the half of that again would reduce the
standard to a foot.  This again notched in the middle would make two
lengths of six inches each.  Then I could subdivide those into lengths
of three inches, which, if not small enough for my calculation, could be
still further subdivided into three equal parts, each of which would be
the desired minimum of an inch.

Yes, all this seems easy enough in theory, but how was it to be put in
practice upon a piece of plain straight stick, and in the midst of as
perfect darkness as that which surrounds a blind man?  How was I to find
the exact middle--for it must be exact--of even the four feet, much less
divide and subdivide till I got down to the inches?

I confess that I was puzzled for awhile, and had to pause and reflect.

Not very long, however; I was soon able to get over this trifling

The plan that first suggested itself was to cut a third piece of stick
of a little over two feet in length, which I could easily guess at
within a few inches.  This I could apply alongside of my four-foot rule,
beginning at the end, and proceeding as if I was measuring the latter
with the former.  Of course, on the first application, two lengths would
reach from the end of the rule to the notch that marked the four feet
length, and perhaps extend a little beyond.  I should then shorten the
measure and apply it again.  This time its end would have approached
nearer to the aforesaid notch.  Another bit cut off would bring it still
nearer; and the process being repeated, by shaving gradually from the
end of the stick, I should at last find that two lengths of it would
exactly correspond with the length of my four-foot rule.  I should then
have a piece exactly two feet in length, and by the help of this I could
find the middle part of the longer piece, and could mark it with a

By cutting the short piece into two nearly equal parts, I could then
take the larger of them, and, by a similar process, obtain the standard
of a foot, and mark it also upon my rule; and so on till I had succeeded
in arriving at the inches.

Of course, to do all this would require time, patience, and the nicest
precision; but I had plenty of time upon my hands, and it was my
interest to be both patient and precise.

Although I regarded not the time, just as I was about to carry out the
plan described, another suggested itself that promised to lead me sooner
to the issue; it would call for less patience, though an equal amount of

This new plan was a sort of corollary of the former one, the only
difference being, that instead of a _stick_ I should perform my
subdivision and graduation with a _string_.

The thongs of my buskins came into my mind--the very thing!

I could not have found a better string for the purpose.  They were
strips of best calfskin, cut with the grain, and could not have been
stretched the eighth part of an inch.  They would, therefore, measure as
accurately as a rule of boxwood or ivory.

One would not be long enough; so I knotted the two together, taking care
to make a neat, firm knot of it.  They made a string of over four feet,
and having laid it along the four-foot rule, I cut it with my knife to
that length exactly.  I was not satisfied till I had measured it over
and over again, each time pulling the thong with all my strength, lest
some "kink" might be lurking in it.  A slight error would derange my
intended scale, though there is less danger in graduating four feet down
to inches than in going from the less to the greater standard.  In the
former, each subdivision naturally lessens the error, while in the
latter it is continually doubled.

When convinced that I had got the thong to the precise length, I placed
its two ends together, and then drawing it with a firm pull through my
fingers, I creased it exactly in the middle.  Holding it taut upon the
blade of my knife, I cut through at the crease, and thus divided it into
two moieties of equal length, each two feet long.  The part with the
knot I laid aside as being no longer needed, and the remaining half I
again doubled, and cut into two.  This gave me two pieces each a foot in

One of these I next folded in triple, and creased for cutting as before.
This was a delicate operation, and required all the skill of my fingers
to accomplish, for it is much easier to divide a string into two equal
parts than into three.  I was a good long time before I could get it
trebled to my satisfaction; but I succeeded at length, and then severed
the parts.

My object in thus cutting into three, was to get the pieces in even
fractions of four inches each, in order that by two more doublings I
might arrive more accurately at the inch.

And in two more doublings I found it.

To make sure that I had committed no error, I took up the knotted piece,
which I had laid aside, and after placing the other fragments where they
could be got at, I reduced the second half of the string as I had done
the first.

To my gratification, the inch I obtained from both exactly corresponded.
There was not a hair's breadth of difference.

I was now in possession of a guide to the true graduation of my
measuring-stick.  I had pieces of one foot, of four inches, of two, and
of one; and by the help of these I proceeded to mark my rod after the
manner of a draper's yard-stick.

It occupied some time, for I worked with care and caution; but my
patience was rewarded by finding myself in possession of a measure upon
which I could rely, even in a calculation involving the question of my

I was not much longer in deciding the point.  The diameters were now
measured by feet and inches, and the _mean_ of the two taken.  This was
reduced to surface measure by the usual method of squaring the circle
(multiplying by eight, and dividing by ten).  This gave the base of the
hollow cylinder, which would be equal to the frustum of a cone of like
altitude; and another multiplication by the length produced the entire
cubic content.

Dividing by sixty-nine, I got the number of quarts, and so gallons.

The butt, when full, had contained somewhat above 100 gallons--as near
as I could calculate, about 108--and therefore it was in all likelihood
an old pipe that had once contained sherry.



The result of my calculation was of the most satisfactory nature.
Eighty gallons of water would give half a gallon each day for 160 days,
or a quart _per diem_ for 320 days--nearly a whole year!  Surely I could
subsist on a quart a day?--surely the voyage could not last for so long
a period as 320 days?  A ship might sail round the world in less time.
I remembered having been told so, and it was fortunate I remembered it,
for my mind was now at ease on the score of water.  For all that, I
resolved not to drink more than a quart a day, and on this allowance I
made no doubt that the supply would be sufficient.

There was more danger of running short of food; but, upon the whole, I
now felt very little apprehension, as I had fully resolved to diet
myself on the most economic scale.

So far, then, as food and drink were concerned, I felt no further
uneasiness.  It was well assured that I was not to die either of thirst
or starvation; and the very remarkable manner in which both food and
drink had been supplied--placed, as it were, before me--naturally led me
to the reflection that the hand of Providence had been extended to aid
me, and I was still further consoled with the hope that He who had thus
mercifully preserved me for the present, would not forsake me in the

In this state of feeling I continued for several days, and although it
was an irksome life--every hour seeming of itself a day--still I was
able to endure it.  Sometimes I endeavoured to kill time by counting not
only the hours, but even the minutes and seconds; and in this occupation
(for I could think of no other) I often passed several hours at a time.
My watch enabled me to amuse myself in this manner, and I found
companionship in its cheerful ticking.  I fancied that it beat louder
than I had ever before heard it, and most likely this was so, the sound
being magnified by the wooden walls that surrounded my cell.  I took
care never to let the watch go to the full length of its chain, lest it
might run down and derange my reckoning.  Not that I cared to know the
hour.  That was of no consequence.  I did not even know whether it was
night or day by the watch, nor would it have mattered had I not known
the one from the other, as the brightest sun could not have lent a ray
of his light to cheer my dungeon.  It chanced, however, that I _did_
know the night from the day.  No doubt you will wonder how I came by
this knowledge--since I had kept no time for the first hundred hours
after getting aboard, and there was then, in the complete darkness that
surrounded me, no means of distinguishing the one from the other.  I had
a means of telling, however, and it was this: During all my life I had
been trained to the habit of going to bed at a particular hour--ten
o'clock at night--and also of rising at six exactly.  This was a rule in
my father's house, as well as that of my uncle--in the latter, indeed, I
was compelled to observe it with a stern exactitude.  The consequence of
this habit was, that whenever the hour of ten drew nigh, I naturally
felt the inclination for sleep; and the habit had grown so fixed, that,
notwithstanding the change of circumstances, it still continued.  This I
was not slow to observe.  I felt the desire to sleep come upon me at
regular periods, and I concluded, therefore, that whenever I had this
feeling upon me it was about ten o'clock of the night.  I had
discovered, too, by registering the time with my watch, that I usually
slept about eight hours, and then I felt no desire to remain asleep any
longer.  When I awoke it would be six in the morning; and, in this
belief, I regulated my watch to that hour.  So convinced was I of these
facts, that I felt confident I could have counted the days without the
watch; but fearing that some change might occur in my habitual hours of
rest, in consequence of the altered circumstances in which I was placed,
I resolved always to keep the time-piece going.  Ever before lying down
to sleep, I took the precaution to wind it up to the full length of its
chain, and on awaking I repeated the operation, so that there might be
no danger of even a moment's stoppage.

Though satisfied that I could tell night from day, I have said that it
mattered little, or not at all.  It was of importance, however, that I
should know when each twenty-four hours had ended, for it was only by
that means I could have any knowledge of the progress of the voyage.  I
took especial care to count the hours; and whenever I perceived that the
hour-hand had completed two circuits around the dial, I cut a fresh
notch in a piece of stick, set aside for this especial purpose.  I need
not say that my registry was kept with the greatest care.  The only part
of it on which I could not depend was that referring to the first days
after my departure, when I had taken no notice whatever of the time that
had passed.  By guess I had put down four notches against those days and
nights, and I afterwards found that my memorandum was correct.

Thus for several days--nearly a week--passed I the hours--the long
hours--long, and dark, and irksome: ever more or less miserable, at
times sadly dejected, but never positively despairing.

Strange to say, my greatest misery arose from the absence of light.  I
had at first suffered from my cramped position, and also from lying upon
the hard oak timber; but I got used to these inconveniences.  Besides,
for the hardness of my bed I soon discovered a remedy.  I had observed
that the box which stood upon the other side of my biscuit-house
contained some sort of stuff that had the feel of woollen goods.  On
further examination, it proved to be broadcloth, closely-packed in large
webs as it had come from the manufactory.  This suggested an idea that
was likely to contribute to my comfort; and I set about putting it into
execution.  After removing the biscuits out of my way, I enlarged the
hole (which I had already made in the side of the cloth-box) to such an
extent that I was able--not without much labour, however--to detach one
of the pieces, and draw it out; and then with less trouble I pulled
forth another and another, until I had as much as would serve my
purpose.  I was two hours in completing this operation, but having got
possession of the cloth, and shaken it out of its hard foldings, I
procured both carpet and couch soft enough for a king to rest upon; and
perhaps as costly, too--for I could feel that I was handling an article
that was "superfine."  I did not use more of it than was absolutely
required to cover the hard oaken planks.  Its bulk would have
inconvenienced me had I taken much of it from the box; and before
spreading it out, I had to clear the way, by returning all the biscuits
to their old repository.

Having spread my costly couch, I lay down upon it, and felt a great deal
more comfortable than I had yet done.

But I still longed for light more than for anything else.  It is
difficult to conceive the misery of existence under complete darkness;
and I could now well comprehend the reason why the "dungeon" has always
been regarded as the most awful punishment which a prisoner can be made
to endure.  No wonder men's hair has turned grey, and their senses have
forsaken them, under such circumstances; for in truth darkness is as
hard to endure as if light were essential to our existence.

I thought that if I only had a light, I could have passed the time
without thinking it half so long.  The darkness appeared to me to double
the duration of the hours, as though it was something physical and
substantial that clogged the wheels of my watch, and hindered the motion
of time itself.  Amorphous darkness!  I fancied it gave me pain--a pain
that light would at once have alleviated; and sometimes I felt as I had
once done before, when laid upon a sick couch counting over the long
drear hours of the night, and anxiously watching for the day.  In this
way slowly, and far from pleasantly, did time pass on.



More than a week had I spent under this tedious monotony of existence.
The only sound that reached my ears was the hoarse rushing of the waves
_above_ me.  Above me--for I knew that I was far down amid their depths,
far below the surface of the sea.  At long intervals only, I could
distinguish other noises, like a thumping upon the decks as if some
heavy object was being moved about, and no doubt such was the cause of
it.  In calm weather I sometimes fancied I could hear the bell calling
the men upon their watches, but I was not sure of this.  At all events,
the sound appeared so distant and indistinct, that I could not
positively say it was a bell; and if so, it was only during the calmest
weather I could hear it.

I speak of calm weather, for I knew perfectly when there were changes.
I could tell the breeze, the gale, the storm--when they commenced and
when they ended--just as well as if I had been upon deck.  The rolling
of the ship, and the creaking of her timbers, were good indices as to
how the wind blew, or whether it was rough or mild weather.  On the
sixth day--that is, the tenth from departure, but the sixth of my
register--we encountered a regular storm.  It lasted for two days and a
night; and must have been a terribly severe one, as it shook the timbers
of the vessel as though it would have torn them asunder.  At times I
really thought that the great ship was going to pieces; and the noises
made by huge boxes and casks striking and grinding against each other,
or knocking violently upon the sides and bulwarks of the ship itself,
was sufficiently terrible.  At intervals, too; I could distinguish the
sound of big waves--"seas," as the sailors call them--breaking against
the vessel with awful crash, as if a huge trip-hammer or battering-ram
had been directed with full force against the timbers of the ship.

I had no doubt that the vessel was in danger of being wrecked; and under
this belief you may fancy my situation.  I need not tell you that I was
in fear.  When I thought that we should go to the bottom of the sea, and
I situated as I was--shut in on all sides as if in a coffin--with no
chance to move, not even to make, an effort to save myself by swimming,
how could it be otherwise with me than a time of great fear?  Had I been
upon deck and free, I am certain I should not have been half so
frightened at that storm.

To increase my misery, the sea-sickness had returned upon me, for this
is usually the case with those who go to sea on a first voyage.  A great
storm encountered brings a return of the nauseous malady, often as
disagreeably vigorous as that experienced during the first twenty-four
hours at sea.  This is accounted for very easily: it is simply the
consequence of the more violent rocking of the ship while buffeted by
the storm.

For nearly forty hours the gale continued, and then there succeeded a
perfect calm.  I knew this to be the case, because I no longer heard the
seething sound which usually betokens that the ship is moving through
the water.  But notwithstanding that the wind had ceased to blow, the
vessel kept tumbling about; and her timbers creaked, and boxes and
barrels rolled and knocked each other, as badly as ever.  This was
occasioned by the "swell" which always succeeds a heavy gale, and which
is sometimes as dangerous to vessels as the stormy weather itself.  In a
very heavy swell the masts are sometimes broken, and the ship thrown
upon her beam-ends--a catastrophe ever dreaded by sailors.

The swell gradually subsided, until, in about twenty-four hours after,
it had ceased altogether, and the vessel appeared to glide along more
smoothly than ever.  The nauseating sickness took its departure about
the same time, and I felt the reaction of health, which produced a
little cheerfulness within me.  As my fears had kept me awake during the
whole time the storm was raging, and as I had continued ill so long as
the violent rocking prevailed, I was quite worn out; so that the moment
things were smooth again, I fell off into a profound slumber.

I had dreams that were nearly as terrible as the realities through which
I had been passing.  In fact, I dreamt what but the hours before I had
been dreading.  I dreamt that I was being drowned, and just under the
circumstances in which I was--shut up in the hold without the chance of
swimming a stroke for my life.  Nay more, I dreamt that I actually _was_
drowned, and lying at the bottom of the sea--that I was dead, but not
unconscious.  On the contrary, I could see well around me, and
perceived, among other things, horrible green monsters--crabs or
lobsters--crawling towards me, as if with the design of tearing me with
their hideous claws, and feasting on my flesh!  One, in particular, drew
my attention, larger and more spiteful-looking than the rest, and closer
to me than any.  Each instant, too, he was drawing nearer and nearer.  I
thought he had reached my hand, and I could feel him crawling upon it.
I could feel the cold harsh touch as he dragged his unwieldy shape over
my fingers, but I could not move either hand or finger to cast him off.
On he came over my wrist and straight up my arm, which was lying
outstretched from my body.  He appeared as if determined to attack me in
the face or the throat.  I read his intention to do so from the
eagerness with which he advanced, but despite the horror I felt, I could
do nothing to repel him.  I could not move hand or arm--nor a muscle of
my body.  How could I, since I was drowned and dead?  "Ha! he is on my
breast--at my very throat--he will soon clutch me--ha!"

I awoke with a shriek, and started upward.  I would have risen to my
feet, had there been room to stand erect.  As it was, there was not
room; and a blow which I received by dashing my head against the great
oak rib of the vessel, brought me back to my couch, and, after some
moments, to a consciousness of my situation.



Notwithstanding that it was all a dream, and that no crab could possibly
have crept up my arm--notwithstanding that I was now awake, and knew I
had been only dreaming about it--I could not help fancying that a crab
_actually had been crawling over me_--a crab or some other creature.  I
felt that peculiar tingling sensation along my arm and upon my breast,
which was quite open and bare, that might be produced by the claws of
some small animal creeping over one, and I could not help thinking that
there had been _something_!

So convinced was I of this, that on awaking I flung out my arms
mechanically, and groped all over the spread broadcloth, and around the
edges of my lurking-place, expecting to lay them upon some _living

Half asleep, I still believed it _was_ a crab; but as my senses became
clearer, I reasoned upon the improbability of there being one in such a
place.  And yet, why not?  A crab might very well find lodgment in the
hold of a ship: it might have been brought aboard in some strange way--
among the ballast--or possibly carried aboard by some of the sailors,
out of curiosity; it may have been abandoned to its fate, and left to
hide itself among the numerous corners and crevices which are found
among the timbers of a vessel's hold?  It might procure sustenance in
the bilge-water, or in the ballast rubbish, or perhaps, like the
chameleon, crabs could exist on air?

I had such thoughts, but only for a few moments after awaking; and as I
reasoned further on the matter, I abandoned them.  It could only be my
dream that had made me think of crabs at all.  But for that, the thought
of such a creature would not have entered my mind.  There could have
been no crab, else I should have laid my hands upon it; for I had lost
no time in groping over the surface of my cloth carpeting--every inch of
it--and I found nothing there.  There were but two crevices leading out
of my cell, by which a crab of any considerable size could have entered
or escaped; and I had felt these places at the very first moment.  So
slow a traveller could not have passed through either of them in so
short a time!  No, there could have been no crab; and yet there _was
something_, certainly--something had crawled over me.  I could not be
convinced of the contrary.

I lay for a long time pondering over the subject of my dream.  The
unpleasant feeling which it had occasioned me soon passed away.  It was
very natural I should have dreamt what I did, since it was almost the
same thing I had been thinking of during the continuance of the storm.

On examining my watch, I found that I had considerably overslept myself,
having been unconscious for nearly sixteen hours!  This prolonged
slumber was the result of my having been kept so long awake by the
storm, and the sickness that it had occasioned me.

I now felt more hungry than I had done for days, and at once set about
satisfying that appetite.  Strive as I would, I could not resist the
temptation of eating more than my allotted ration, and I did not leave
off till I had eaten four of my precious biscuits.  I had been told that
nothing creates so keen an appetite as a turn of sea-sickness, and I
found this to be truth.  Indeed, I felt as if I could have consumed the
whole of my stock, and the four biscuits I ate scarcely took the edge
well off my hunger.  Nothing but the dread of running short hindered me
from eating three times as many.

I was also in great thirst, and swallowed far more than my allowance of
water; but I was not so careful of this, as I believed it would be quite
sure to last me to the end of the voyage.  One thing about the water
troubled me not a little.  Each time that I went to take a drink, a
considerable waste took place, in consequence of my having no vessel to
draw it in; and, moreover, to drink from the hole I had made was
altogether an unsatisfactory way of quenching my thirst.  As soon as the
peg was drawn out, a strong jet would shoot forth, to which I applied my
mouth.  But I could not swallow it as fast as it came, and it was sure--
after taking away my breath, and half choking me--to squirt all over my
face, wetting my clothes and everything else about me, before I could
get the stopper back into its place.

If I only had had a vessel to draw it in--a cup or anything?

I thought of using one of my buskins, for I had no need for them
otherwise; but I felt some qualms about making this use of them.

I should not have hesitated to have drunk out of them, or any other
vessel, when pressed by thirst previous to my having tapped the butt;
but now that I had water in plenty, the case was different.  Still, I
could get one of them sufficiently clean for the purpose.  Better,
thought I, to waste a little water in washing one of them, than lose a
large quantity every time I went to drink.

I was about to put this design into execution, when a better idea came
into my head--that was to make a drinking-cup out of a piece of
broadcloth.  This was altogether better.  I had already observed that
the cloth was waterproof--at least, the water that was spilt from the
butt appeared to lie upon it without passing through--for I had been
obliged to shake it off on each occasion.  A piece of the cloth,
therefore, formed into a cup shape, would be likely enough to serve my
purpose; and accordingly I resolved to make me such a vessel.

It needed only to cut a broad strip with my knife, roll it up, as if I
was intending it for a funnel--taking care to fold it of several
thicknesses of the cloth.  When rolled, I bound it in its place with a
fragment of the thong from my buskins, and I thus succeeded in making me
a drinking-vessel, which would, and _did_, serve me as well as if it had
been of best china or glass.  I was henceforth enabled to take a drink
more to my satisfaction, and without wasting the precious fluid upon
which my life depended.



As I had eaten so many biscuits for breakfast, I intended to make
breakfast serve me for that day; but, hungering as I was, I could not
carry out my good intent.  About mid-day, I found myself groping at the
box, and the result was, that I abstracted another biscuit.  I resolved,
however, to eat only half of it for dinner, and keep the other half for
supper.  Following out this resolution, I broke the biscuit across the
middle, and laid one half aside.  The other I ate, washing it down with
a little more water.

You may think it strange that I did not fancy a little brandy along with
it, which I might have had without any trouble, since there were at
least a hundred gallons of it within reach.  The brandy, however, was
nothing to me; and the great cask might as well have contained vitriol,
for aught I cared for it.  There were several reasons why I did not
meddle with it.  First, because I did not relish it; second, because it
made me feel sick, and nauseated both my palate and stomach.  I suppose
it had been of an inferior kind, intended, not as an article of
commerce, but for the use of the sailors, as casks of very bad brandy
and rum are carried in most ships for the use of the crew.  A third
reason why I kept clear of the brandy was, that I had already drunk of
it--only about one wine-glassful--and it had the effect of making me so
thirsty that I drank nearly half a gallon of water before I succeeded in
fully quenching my thirst again.  I reasoned, therefore, that if I
touched the brandy, it would cause me, either great suffering from
thirst, or that I should have to use more water than I could spare.
Therefore it was, that I determined to abstain altogether from this
alcoholic spirit.

When my watch warned me that it was my usual hour to go to sleep, I
resolved to eat the odd half biscuit, which I had reserved for supper;
and then "retire for the night."

This operation consisted simply in stretching myself in a new position,
and drawing a fold or two of the broadcloth over me, to keep me from
getting chilled while asleep.

For the first week after leaving port, I had found it very cold, for it
was the winter season when we left home.  The cloth, however, after it
was discovered, enabled me to wrap up snugly enough, and I no longer
cared for the cold.  After a time, however, I began to perceive that the
cold had quite taken its departure, and each day and night the
atmosphere in the hold of the ship appeared to be growing warmer.  On
the night after the storm had passed, it did not feel at all cold, and
the slightest covering sufficed.

At first, I was surprised by this sudden change in the state of the
atmosphere; but when I reflected a little, I was able to explain it to
my satisfaction.  "Beyond a doubt," thought I, "we have been all the
while sailing southward, and we are getting into the hot latitudes of
the torrid zone."

I knew but little of what that meant, but I had heard that the torrid
zone--or the tropics, as it was also called--lay to the south of
England; and that there the climate was hotter than the hottest summer
day at home.  I had also heard that Peru was a southern country, and
therefore we must be going in a southerly direction to reach it.

This was a very good explanation of the warm weather that had set in.
The ship had now been sailing for nearly two weeks; and allowing her to
have made two hundred miles a day (and ships, I knew, often go faster
than that), she would at this time be a long way from England, and in a
different climate altogether.

Thus reasoning with myself, I contrived to pass that afternoon and
evening, and as I felt the hands of my watch indicating the hour of ten,
I resolved, as already stated, to eat the half biscuit, and then go to

I first drew a cup of water, so that the biscuit might not be eaten dry;
and, this done, I stretched forth my hand for the bread.  I knew the
exact spot where it lay, for I had a little corner, just alongside the
great beam, where I kept my knife and cup, and wooden almanack--a sort
of little shelf, raised by a roll of the cloth above the common level of
my cell.  There I had placed the half biscuit, and there, of course, I
could lay my hand upon it as well without a light as with one.  So
perfectly had I become acquainted with every corner of my apartment, and
every crevice leading from it, that I could place my finger on any given
spot of the size of a crown-piece, without the slightest deviation.

I reached forth my hand, then, to clutch the precious morsel.  Judge my
astonishment when I touched the spot where I supposed it to be lying,
and found _it was not there_!

At first, I fancied I might be mistaken--that perhaps I had not left it
in the usual place on my shelf.  There it certainly was not.

I felt the cloth cup, for that was in my hand full of water.  The knife
was in its place--so, too, the little notched stick, and the pieces of
the string which I had used in measuring the butt--but no half biscuit!

Could I have put it anywhere else?  I thought not; and yet, to make
sure, I felt all over the bottom of my cell, and among the folds and
wrinkles of the cloth, and even in the pockets both of my jacket and
trousers.  I felt in my buskins too, for these were not upon my feet, as
I no longer needed them, but lying idle in a corner.  I left not an inch
of the place that I did not examine--and minutely too--yet still no half
biscuit could be found!

I looked carefully for it, not so much on account of its value; but that
its disappearance from the shelf was something rather strange--stranger
still that I could nowhere lay my hand upon it.

_Had I eaten it_?

I began to fancy that I had done so.  Perhaps, during a period of
absent-mindedness, I might have swallowed it up, without ever thinking
of what I was doing.  Certainly, I had no remembrance of having tasted
food since I ate its counterpart--the other half; and if I had eaten it
also, it must have done me very little good.  I had neither enjoyed the
meal, nor yet did my stomach appear to have received much benefit from
it, since I was just as hungry as if I had not tasted food that day.

I recollected perfectly having placed it alongside the knife and cup;
and how could it part from the place, unless it had been taken away by
my own hand?  I could not have thrown it accidentally from the little
shelf, for I did not remember making a movement in that direction.  But
even so, it would still have been somewhere about me?  It could not get
underneath the butt, for the crevice there was closed up, regularly
caulked with pieces of the cloth.  I had done this for the purpose of
making a level surface to rest upon.

Certainly the half biscuit was not to be found.  It was gone--whether
down my throat or in some other way, I could not decide--but if the
former, I thought to myself, what a pity I had eaten it without knowing
what I was about, for certainly my absence of mind had deprived me of
all enjoyment of the meal.

I wavered for a long while, as to whether I should take another biscuit
out of the box, or go to bed supperless.  But the dread of the future
decided me to abstain; and, summoning all my resolution, I drank off the
cold water, placed my cup upon the shelf, and laid myself down for the



For a long while I did not sleep, but lay thinking over the mysterious
disappearance of the half biscuit.  I say _mysterious_, for I was more
than half convinced that I had _not_ eaten it, but that it had gone in
some other way; though how, I could not even guess, since I was
perfectly alone, the only living thing, as I supposed, in that vessel's
hold which could have touched it.  Ah! now I thought of my dream--of the
crab!  Perhaps, after all, there might have been a crab?--and though it
was but a dream that I was drowned, yet the rest might be true enough,
and a crab might actually have crawled over me?  It might have eaten the

It would not be its natural food, I knew; but shut up in a ship's hold,
where it could have no choice, it would be likely enough to eat such a
thing rather than suffer starvation.  There might be a crab after all?

Partly by such a train of reflections, and partly by the hungry craving
of my stomach, I was kept awake for hours.  At length I found myself
going off, not into a regular sleep, but a half sleep or doze, from
which every two or three minutes I awoke again.

In one of these intervals, during which I lay awake, I fancied that I
heard a noise, different from the sounds that habitually fell upon my
ear.  The ship was running smoothly, and I could distinguish this
unusual sound above the soft sighing of the waves.  This last was now so
slight, that the ticking of my watch appeared louder and more distinct
than I had ever observed it.

The sound which had attracted my attention, and which was something new
to me, appeared like a gentle scratching.  It came from the corner where
my buskins lay empty and idle.  _Something was scratching at my

"The crab, to a certainty!"  I said to myself.  The thought at once
drove away all ideas of sleep; and I placed myself in an attitude to
listen, and, if possible, lay my hands on the thievish intruder; for I
now felt certain that, crab or no crab, whatever creature was making the
scratching noise was the same that had stolen my supper.

Once more I heard the scraping and scratching noise.  Certainly it
proceeded from my buskins?

Slowly and silently I raised myself into a half-upright position, so
that I could reach the buskins with a single effort, and in this
attitude I again listened for a repetition of the sound.

But though I remained patient for a considerable time, I did not hear it
again; and I then passed my hands over the buskins, and around the place
where they were lying, but felt nothing there.  They appeared to be just
as they had been left, and nothing amiss.  I also groped over all the
floor of my cell, but with like result.  Nothing was there that ought
not to have been.

I was not a little perplexed, and lay for a good while awake and
listening, without hearing anything more of the mysterious noise.  Sleep
once more began to steal upon me, and I dropped off into a series of
dozing fits as before.

Once again the scraping and scratching noise falling upon my ear
disturbed me, and caused me to lie listening.  Most surely it came from
the buskins; but when I moved to get within reach of them, the noise
instantly ceased, as if I had frightened the creature that was making
it; and, just as before, I groped everywhere and found nothing!

"Ha!" muttered I to myself, "I now know what has been causing all this
disturbance: no crab at all--for a crab could not possibly crawl so
quickly out of the way.  The intruder is a mouse.  Nothing more nor
less.  Strange I did not think of this before!  I might have guessed
that it was a mouse, and not have made myself so uneasy about it.  It
could only be a mouse; and, but for my dream, I should, perhaps, never
have thought of its being a crab."

With this reflection I lay down again, intending to go to sleep at once,
and not trouble myself any more about the mouse or its movements.

But I had scarcely settled my cheek upon the pillow, when the scratching
began afresh, and it now occurred to me that the mouse was gnawing at my
buskins, and probably doing them a serious damage.  Although they were
of no service to me just then, I could not permit them to be eaten up in
this way; and, raising myself once more, I made a dash to catch the

In this I was unsuccessful.  I did not even touch the animal; but I
thought I heard it scampering through the crevice that led out between
the brandy-cask and the timbers of the ship.

On handling the buskins, I discovered to my chagrin that half of the
upper leather of one of them was eaten away!  The mouse must have been
busy to have made so much ruin in so short a time, for it was but a few
hours before that I had had the buskins in my hands, and I had then
noticed nothing wrong with them.  Perhaps several mice had been at work?
This was likely enough.

Partly to save the buskins from total destruction, and partly to hinder
myself from being disturbed again, I took them out of the corner, and
placing them near my head, covered them up with a fold of the
broadcloth.  This done, I once more laid myself out for a sleep.

After awhile the dozing fit came on me, but I was again awakened by a
singular sensation, as of something crawling over me!  It appeared as if
some creature had just crept over my legs with great rapidity.

The feeling startled me into complete wakefulness, I did not move,
however, but lay quietly waiting to see if the thing should come again.

Of course, I concluded that it was still my mouse, now running about in
search of the buskins.  I was getting annoyed by its intrusion, and I
knew it would be no use to grope for it, as it would easily escape
through one of the crevices, as soon as it found me moving.  I
determined, therefore, to lie quite still, and let it again crawl upon
me as before, and I could then easily seize upon it.  It was not my
intention to kill the little creature; but I intended to give it a good
squeeze, or pinch its ear sharply, so that it would not come troubling
me any more.

I lay a long while without hearing or feeling it.  At last, however, my
patience was likely to be rewarded.  I could tell by a slight movement,
in the piece of cloth that covered my limbs, that something was running
upon it, and I even fancied that I heard the pattering of little feet.
Nearer still the cloth appeared to move, until I could distinctly feel a
creature crawling on my ankles, and then upward to my thighs.  It
appeared heavy for a mouse; but I did not stay to reflect about this,
for now or never was the time to seize upon it.

Down came my hands, with fingers outstretched to cover it; but, oh,
horror! what a mistake I had made.

Instead of the little tiny mouse, which I intended to clutch, my hand
rested upon the body of an animal almost as large as a kitten!  There
was no mistaking what it was.  _Beyond doubt, it was a great, horrid



The ugly animal left me no choice to doubt of its species.  The moment
my fingers touched its smooth coat, I recognised it by the "feel;" but I
felt the wicked creature in a double sense, for before I could disengage
my hand from the clutch I had so rashly taken, its sharp teeth had
pierced my thumb, until they nearly met through the flesh.  At the same
instant its screech sounded in my ears shrill and terrifying!

I withdrew my fingers as quickly as I could, and flinging myself to the
furthest corner of the chamber--that is, the one which I thought
furthest from my disagreeable visitor--there for some minutes I
crouched, listening to hear whether the hideous animal had left me.

I could hear nothing, and I concluded it had made a retreat to some
other part of the ship.  Most probably it was as badly scared as I--
though that could hardly have been--and in proof that I was the more
frightened of the two, the rat had the presence of mind to use its teeth
and bite me, while I was for the moment quite driven out of my senses.

In the brief encounter my antagonist had certainly proved victorious;
for in addition to the fright he had given me, he had inflicted a severe
and painful wound, that was every moment growing more painful.  I
perceived that my thumb was bleeding freely, for I could feel the blood
running over my fingers, and glueing them to the very tips.

I could have borne my discomfiture calmly enough, for what signified the
bite of a rat? but that was not the whole question.  The thought that
troubled me was, whether the creature had quite gone away, or whether it
was still near, and would return?

The thought of its coming back again, perhaps emboldened by having got
off without punishment, caused me very great annoyance.

You may wonder at this, but it was really the case.  During all my life
I have had a sort of instinctive antipathy to rats--I might even say a
_dread_ of them.  This feeling was stronger while I was only a boy; but,
although I have since encountered animals of a much more dangerous
character, and fought with some, I do not remember any that ever
inspired me with more fear than I have felt in coming in contact with
that common and ubiquitous creature--the _rat_.  It is a fear blended
with a feeling of disgust; and it is a fear not altogether unfounded--
for I know of many well-authenticated cases, in which rats have attacked
human beings, and not a few where children, and even men, wounded or
otherwise disabled, have actually been killed and devoured by these
hideous _omnivora_.

Many such stories had been told me while I was a boy; and it was but
natural I should remember them at that moment.  I _did_ remember them;
and under the influence of such memories, I felt a fear upon me very
much akin to terror.  The rat, too, was one of the largest I had ever
encountered, so large that for a moment I could scarce believe it to be
a rat.  It _felt_ as bulky as a half-grown cat.

As soon as I became a little composed, I tied up my thumb with a rag
torn from my shirt.  The wound in a few minutes' time had grown
exceedingly painful--for the tooth of a rat is almost as poisonous as
the bite of a scorpion--and small as was the scratch, I anticipated a
good deal of suffering from it.

I need not add that the incident had banished sleep, at least for a
time.  In reality I did not go to sleep again till nearly morning; and
then I awoke every minute or two with a start--from fearful dreams, in
which the vision was either a rat or a crab making to seize me by the

For hours before I slept at all, I lay listening to see if the brute
would return; but I did not note any signs of his presence for the
remainder of that night.  Perhaps the _squeeze_ I had given him--for I
had come down rather heavily upon him--had frightened him enough to
hinder a repetition of his visit.  With this hope I consoled myself,
else it might have been still longer before I should have slept.

Of course, the presence of the rat at once accounted for the
disappearance of my half biscuit, as well as for the damaged upper
leather of my buskin, which latter had been lying at the door of his
milder cousin the mouse.  The rat, then, must have been prowling around
me all the while, without my having known of it.

During the hours I lay listening, before falling asleep again, my mind
was busy with one particular thought--that was, how I should manage in
case the rat should return?  How was I to destroy--or, at all events,
get rid of--this most unwelcome intruder?  I would at that moment have
given a year of my life for the loan of a steel trap, or any trap that
would take rats; but since the loan of a trap was out of the question, I
set my brains to work to invent some contrivance that would enable me to
rid myself of my unpleasant neighbour: neighbour I might call him, for I
knew that his house was not far off--perhaps at that moment he had his
den not three feet from my face--likely enough, under the biscuit-box or
the cask of brandy.

Cudgel my brains as I might I could hit upon no plan to get hold of
him--at least, no plan to trap him with safety.  I felt pretty sure I
could lay my hands upon him, provided he came near enough, just as I had
done already; but I was in no humour to repeat that performance.  I knew
the crevice by which he had retreated.  It was the aperture between the
two great barrels--the brandy-cask and the water-butt.

I fancied he would return the same way, if he came back at all; and it
occurred to me that if I were to stop up all the other apertures except
that one--which I could easily do with pieces of cloth--let him come in,
and then suddenly cut off his retreat by caulking that one also, I
should have him in the trap.  But this would be placing myself in an
awkward situation.  I should be in the trap as well as he, and he no
nearer destruction than ever, unless I finished him by a hand-to-hand
tussle.  Of course, I knew I could conquer and kill the rat.  My
superior strength would enable me to squeeze him to death between my
hands, but not without getting a good many severe bites, and the one I
had got already hindered me from having any relish for another encounter
of the kind.

How, then, was I to manage without a trap?  That was the thought that
occupied me as I lay sleepless and in dread of the rat returning.

But I cogitated to no purpose.  It was well-nigh morning, when, worn
with watching and planning, I fell off into the half-dozing
half-dreaming State--of which I have already spoken--and still no
feasible plan had offered itself for entrapping the "vermin" that was
causing me so much annoyance and alarm.



After several hours spent in dozing and dreaming by "fits and starts," I
was again fairly awake, and could sleep no more for thinking of the
great rat.  Indeed, the pain I suffered was of itself sufficient to keep
me awake; for not only my thumb, but the whole hand was swollen, and
ached acutely.  I had no remedy but to bear it patiently; and knowing
that the inflammation would soon subside and relieve me, I made up my
mind to endure it with fortitude.  Greater evils absorb the less; and it
was so in my case.  My dread of the rat paying me another visit was a
far greater trouble to me than the pain of my wound, and as my attention
was wholly taken up with the former, I almost forgot that my thumb was

As soon as I was well awake, my thoughts returned to the subject of
trapping my tormentor.  I was quite sure he would return to trouble me,
for I already had some indications of his presence.  The weather still
continued calm, and I could hear any occasional sounds very distinctly.
I heard what resembled the pattering of little feet, as of the rat
running over the lid of an empty box; and once or twice I clearly
distinguished the short, shrill cricket-like "chirp" that rats are wont
to utter.  I can think of no more disagreeable sound than the voice of a
rat, and at that time it sounded doubly disagreeable.  You may smile at
my simple fears, but I could not help them.  I could not help a
presentiment that somehow or other my life was in danger from the
presence of this rat, and the presentiment was not a vain or idle one,
as you shall afterwards learn.

The fear that I had, then, was that the rat would attack me in my sleep.
So long as I might be awake, I was not much afraid that it could do me
any very great injury.  It might bite me, as it had done already, but
that signified little.  I should be able to destroy it somehow.  But
supposing I should fall into a deep sleep, and the spiteful creature
should then seize me by the throat?  Some such idea as this it was that
kept me in misery.  I could not always keep awake and on the _qui vive_.
The longer I did so, the more deeply would I slumber afterwards, and
then would be the time of danger.  I could not go to sleep again with
any feeling of security until that rat was destroyed; and therefore its
destruction was the end I now aimed at.

I remained cogitating as to how I should encompass it; but for the life
of me I could think of no other way than to gripe the creature in my
hands, and squeeze it to death.  If I could have made sure of getting a
proper hold of it--that is, with my fingers round its throat, so that it
could not turn its teeth upon me--then the thing would be easy enough.
But therein lay the difficulty.  I should have to seize it in the dark--
at random--and likely enough it would prove as quick as myself in
getting the advantage of the hold.  Moreover, my crippled thumb was in
such a condition, that in that hand--my right one, too--I was not sure I
could even hold the rat, much less crush the life out of it.

I bethought me of some means of protecting my fingers from its teeth.
If I had only been possessed of a pair of strong gloves; but then I was
not, and it was no use thinking of them.

Yes, it was of use: it proved so; for thinking of the gloves suggested
the idea of a substitute; and this substitute _was_ within my reach--_my
buskins_.  By inserting my hands into these, and covering them up to the
wrists, I should gain a protection against the sharp teeth of the rat,
and could I only get the animal under the soles, I would surely have
strength enough to squeeze the breath out of it.  A capital idea, and I
at once proceeded to carry it into execution.

Placing the buskins in readiness, I crouched near the crevice where the
rat should enter.  All the others, as already stated, I had carefully
plugged up, and I now determined, if the rat came in, to stuff my jacket
into the aperture before it could retreat, and thus have it at my mercy.
I should then speedily put on my gloves, and pound away till I had
finished the business.

It seemed as if the rat had either determined to brave the encounter, or
that fortune was against it.

I had scarcely set my house in order to receive my visitor, when the
pattering of feet upon the broadcloth, and a little squeak which I
heard, told me that the rat had passed through the crevice, and was
actually inside the enclosure.  I plainly heard it rushing about, as I
pushed the jacket into the aperture; and once or twice I felt it
coursing across my legs; but I took no heed of its movements until I had
made all secure against its retreat.  Then I planted my hands firmly in
the buskins, and commenced searching for the enemy.

As I was intimately acquainted with the shape of my little chamber, and
knew to the breadth of a hair where every corner lay, I was not long in
"feeling" it up.  My mode of proceeding was to raise the buskins, and
plant them down again, each time striking upon new ground.  I believed
that if I could only get one of them upon a portion of the rat's body, I
could hold it, until I might secure a safer hold with both, and then it
would only remain to press downward with all my might.  This was my
programme, but though well enough designed, I was unable to carry it

The affair ended in a very different way.  I succeeded in planting one
of the buskins upon the animal, but from the want of a firm floor
underneath, I was not able to hold it, and the soft cloth yielding
enabled it to get away.  It escaped from my hold with a loud screech,
and the next place I felt it was running up the leg of my trousers and

A feeling of horror ran through my veins; but I was now warmed to the
encounter; and, throwing aside the buskins, which were no longer of
service, I grasped the body of the rat, just as it had reached the
height of my knee.  I was able to hold it there, although it struggled
with a strength that quite astonished me, and its loud squealing was
terrible to hear.

I still held on, pressing the body with all my might, and quite
insensible to the pain in my thumb.  The cloth of my trousers protected
my fingers from being bitten, but I did not come off unscathed, for the
spiteful creature buried its teeth in my flesh, and kept them there as
long as it was able to move.  It was only after I had got my thumb round
its throat, and fairly _choked it to death_, that the teeth relaxed
their grasp, and I perceived that I had succeeded in putting a period to
its existence.

Having released the body from my hold, I shook it out of my trousers
quite lifeless and limp; and then, removing my jacket from the aperture,
I flung the dead rat out in the direction whence it had come.

I felt greatly relieved; and, confident that I should no longer be
troubled by Monsieur Rat, I betook myself to sleep, determined to make
up for what I had lost during the night.



My feeling of security proved to be a false one.  I could not have been
asleep more than a quarter of an hour, when I was suddenly awakened by
something running over my breast.  Was it another rat?  If not, it
certainly was some creature that behaved exactly like one.

I lay for some moments without stirring, and listened attentively; but I
could hear nothing.  Had I only dreamt that something ran over me?  Not
so; for just then I thought I could hear the pattering of little feet
over the loose cloth.  Right; I did hear the sound, and the moment after
felt the same feet upon my thigh.

Starting upward, and bringing my hand down upon the spot, I was again
horrified by feeling a large rat, that, as soon as I touched it, sprang
away, and I could hear it rattling off through the crevice between the

Surely it could not be the same I had just despatched?  No, cats _do_
come to life again after being supposed to be dead (sometimes after
being buried!) but I never heard of rats possessing this extraordinary
power of vitality.  I felt satisfied that I had quite killed the rat--in
fact, the handling I gave it might have taken nine lives, if it had had
that number to spare.  It was dead as a nail when I flung it out.  It
could not be that one.

And yet, absurd as it may seem, I fancied, half asleep as I was, that it
was the same rat returning to avenge itself.  This fancy, however,
forsook me as soon as I was fairly awake, and I knew it could not be the
same.  Most likely it was its mate, or partner, and a fit partner it
was, for I noticed as I passed my fingers over it, that this second one
was also a rat of very large size.

No doubt, thought I, this is the female of the one I have killed coming
in search of her mate.  But she had entered by the same crevice; she
must have passed where the dead one lay, and must know what had
occurred?  Was she going to avenge his death?

Sleep was again banished from my eyes.  How could I sleep, with such a
hideous animal prowling about, and perhaps with the fixed intention to
attack me?

Wearied as I had now grown with watching, I could not go to rest until I
should rid myself of this second intruder.

I was under the belief that this one would soon return again.  I had not
caught hold of it, but merely touched it with my fingers, and as I had
offered no particular violence to it, likely enough it would soon
venture back.

Under this conviction I placed myself as before, close to the crevice,
jacket in hand, and with my ear set close to the aperture, I listened

In a few minutes I distinctly heard the chirrup of a rat outside, and
almost continually the same scratching and pattering I had noticed

I think there was some loose board or hollow box by which the sound was
produced--for it was very loud to be caused by so small an animal.
These noises continued, and I fancied that I also heard the rat passing
into my chamber, but still the pattering and scratching were kept up
outside, and therefore the animal could not be in.

Once more I was sure I heard it passing me, but at the same time the
chirrup fell on my ear, and that certainly came from without.  Again and
again I fancied I was not the only tenant of the chamber, but I still
restrained myself from closing up the crevice, thinking I might be

At length, however, a loud squeal was uttered to the right of my
position, certainly within the enclosure; and, waiting no longer, I
stuffed the jacket into the aperture, and made all tight and sure.

I now turned to feel for the rat, taking the precaution, as before, to
insert my hands into the buskins.  I had taken still another precaution,
and that was to tie the legs of my trousers tight around my ankles, lest
this other rat should act as its predecessor had done.  Thus prepared, I
proceeded to grope around.

I had no liking for the encounter, but I was determined to rid myself of
the annoyance which I had been suffering, and get some sleep, without
being again disturbed; and I could think of no other way than to kill
the rat as I had done its companion.

So to work I again went.  Horror of horrors! fancy the terrible fears
that ran through me, when, instead of one rat, I discovered that a whole
swarm of these hideous brutes was enclosed in my apartment!  Not one,
but probably half a score of them!  The place appeared crowded with
them, and I could scarce put down the buskins without touching one.  I
felt them running all around me, over my legs, the backs of my hands--
everywhere--at the same time uttering their fierce cries as if they were
menacing me!

It is but truth to say, I was frightened nearly out of my senses.  I
thought no longer about killing them.  For some moments I scarcely knew
what I was doing; but I remember that I had the presence of mind to lay
hold of my jacket, and pull it out of the aperture.  Then swinging it
around, I continued to beat the floor in every direction, shouting all
the while at the top of my voice.

My shouts and the violence of my actions appeared to produce the desired
effect, for I heard the rats retreating through the crevice; and after a
time, on venturing to reconnoitre the floor with my naked hands, I
found, to my delight, they had taken their departure, one and all of



If I was uncomfortable before with the presence of a single rat, how
much more uneasy was I with the knowledge that a whole gang of these
disgusting animals was in my neighbourhood!  There must be a still
greater number than those I had just routed; for before closing up the
aperture with my jacket, I had still heard others squeaking and scraping
on the boards outside.  Like enough there were scores of them; for I had
heard that in many ships such vermin abound, finding a secure
hiding-place in the numerous crevices among the timbers of the hold.  I
had heard, moreover, that these ship-rats are the fiercest of their
kind, and when driven to extremes by hunger--which is not unfrequently
the case--will not hesitate to attack living creatures, and show but
little fear of either cat or dog.  They often commit extensive damage
upon articles of the cargo, and are thus a great nuisance in a ship,
especially when she has not been properly overhauled and cleaned out
before loading for a voyage.  These ship-rats are the sort known as
"Norway rats," on account of a belief that they were first brought to
England in Norwegian ships; but whether they originated in Norway or
elsewhere, it matters little, as they are now universally distributed
over the whole globe, and I believe there is no part of the earth, where
ships have touched, that Norway rats are not found in abundance.  If
Norway was in reality the country of their origin, then it follows that
all climes are alike to them, since they are especially abundant and
thriving in the hot tropical climates of America.  Seaport towns in the
West Indies and the continents of both North and South America are
infested with them; and so great a nuisance are they deemed in some of
these places, that a "rat-bounty" is usually offered by the municipal
authorities for their destruction.  Notwithstanding this premium for
killing them, they still exist in countless numbers, and the wooden
wharves of these American seaports appear to be their true _harbours of

The Norway rats are not individually large rats.  Occasionally very
large ones are found among them, but these are exceptional cases.  They
are in general less distinguished for size, than for a fierce and
spiteful disposition, combined with a great fecundity, which of course
renders them exceedingly numerous and troublesome.  It has been observed
that wherever they make their appearance, in a few years the rats of all
other species disappear; and it is therefore conjectured that the Norway
rats destroy the other kinds!  Weazels are no match for them--for what
they lack in individual strength is amply compensated for by their
numbers--and in these hot countries they outnumber their enemies in the
proportion of hundreds to one.  Even cats are afraid of them; and in
many parts of the world the cats will shy away from an encounter with
Norway rats, choosing for their prey some victim of a milder
disposition.  Even large dogs, unless specially set on, will prefer to
pass and give them a wide berth.

One fact about the Norway rat is peculiar: it appears to know when it
possesses the advantage.  Where they are but few and in danger of being
destroyed, they are timid enough; but in those countries where they are
allowed to increase, they become emboldened by impunity, and are much
less awed by the presence of man.  In the seaports of some tropical
countries they will scarce take the precaution to hide themselves; and
on moonlight nights, when they come out in great numbers, they hardly
deign to turn aside out of the way of the passenger.  They will just
creep a little to one side, and then close up behind the heels of any
one who may be passing along.  Such creatures are the Norway rats.

I was not acquainted with all these facts at the time of my adventure
with the rats in the ship _Inca_; but I knew enough, even then, from
sailors' yarns I had heard, to make me very uncomfortable at the
presence of so many of these ugly animals; and, after I had succeeded in
driving them out of my little chamber, I was far from being easy in my
mind.  I felt almost certain they would return again, and perhaps in
greater force than ever.  Perhaps they would become hungered during the
voyage, and consequently bolder and fiercer--bold enough to attack me.
Even then, I thought that they had appeared by no means afraid of me.
Though with my shouts and violent efforts I had forced them out, I could
still hear them near at hand, scampering about and squeaking to one
another.  What if they were already half famished and meditating an
attack upon me!  From facts that I had heard of, the thing was not very
improbable; and I need hardly say that the very suspicion of such a
probability made a most painful impression upon me.  The thought of
being killed and devoured by these horrid creatures, caused within me a
feeling of dread far greater than I had felt when I was anticipating
death by being drowned.  I should have preferred drowning to a death
like that; and when for a moment I dwelt upon the probability of such a
fate, the blood ran coldly through my veins, and the hair seemed to
stiffen upon my scalp.

For some minutes I sat, or rather knelt (for I was upon my knees while
striking around me with the jacket), not knowing what course to follow.
I still believed that the rats would not have the boldness to approach
me, so long as I remained awake and could defend myself.  But how would
it be were I to go to sleep again?  Then, indeed, they might be
encouraged to attack me, and once they had got their teeth into my
flesh, they might resemble the tiger, who, having tasted blood, is not
satisfied till he has destroyed his victim.  I dared not go to sleep.

And yet I could not always keep awake.  Sleep would in time overpower
me, and I should have to yield to it in the end.  The longer I struggled
against it, the deeper the sleep that would follow; and perhaps I might
fall into some profound slumber from which I might never awake--some
terrible "nightmare" that would bind me beyond the power of moving, and
thus render me an easy prey to the voracious monsters that surrounded

For a short while I suffered these painful apprehensions, but soon an
idea came into my mind that gave me relief; and that was, to replace my
jacket in the crevice through which the rats had entered, and thus shut
them out altogether.

It was certainly a very simple way of getting over the difficulty; and,
no doubt, it would have occurred to me sooner--that is, when the first
and second rats had been troubling me--but then I thought there were but
the two, and I might settle with them in a different way.  Now, however,
the case was different.  To destroy all the rats that were in the hold
of that ship would be a serious undertaking, if not an impossibility,
and I no longer thought of such a thing.  The best plan, therefore,
would be that which I had now hit upon: to stop up the main aperture,
and also every other through which a rat could possibly squeeze his
body, and thus be at once secured against either their intrusion or
their attacks.

Without further delay, I "plugged" up the crevice with my jacket; and,
wondering that I had not thought of this simple plan before, I laid me
down--this time with a full confidence that I might sleep undisturbed,
as long as I should feel the necessity or inclination.



So wearied had I become with fears and long waking, that my cheek had
scarce touched my pillow, before I was off into the land of dreams.  And
not the _land_ of dreams either, for it was the _sea_ of which I dreamt;
and, just as before, that I was at its bottom, and surrounded by horrid
crab-like monsters who threatened to eat me up.

Now and then, however, these crab-like creatures assumed the form of
rats; and then my dream more resembled reality.  I dreamt that they were
in vast numbers around me, and menaced me from every side; that I had
only my jacket to keep them off, and that I was sweeping it from side to
side for that purpose.  I thought they grew bolder and bolder as they
saw how little damage I was able to do them with such a weapon; and that
a very large rat, much bigger than any of the others, was encouraging
them on to the attack.  This was not a real rat, but the ghost of one--
of that one I had killed!  He was leading the swarm of my assailants,
and counselling them to avenge his murder!  Such was the fancy of my

I thought that, for a long time, I was successful in keeping them at
bay; but my strength was fast failing me, and unless succour arrived, I
would be overpowered.  I looked around and called loudly for help, but
no one appeared to be near me.

My assailants at length perceived that my strength was gone; and, at a
signal given by their ghost leader, made a simultaneous rush upon me.
They came from the front, from behind, from both sides, and although I
struck around me in a last despairing effort, it was to no purpose.
Dozens of them I had flung backward, tumbling upon their backs and over
one another, but their places were instantly filled up again by others
that came from behind.

I could struggle no longer.  Resistance was idle.  I felt them crawling
up my legs, my thighs, my back.  They clung to me all over, their bodies
covering mine like a swarm of bees upon a branch; and before they had
time to inflict a wound upon my flesh, their very weight caused me to
stagger, and fall heavily to the earth!

The fall appeared to save me; for as soon as I touched ground, the rats
let go their hold and ran scampering off, as if frightened at the effect
they had produced!

I was pleasantly surprised at this _denouement_, and for some moments
was unable to explain it; but my senses soon became clearer; and I was
rejoiced to find that the horror I had been experiencing was only the
illusion of a dream; and the fall which I had suffered, was the breaking
up of the vision that had awakened me!

In the next instant, however, I changed my mind; and my new-sprung joy
departed as suddenly as it had arisen.  It was not all a dream.  _Rats
had been upon me, and rats were at that moment in my chamber_!  I heard
them scampering about.  I heard their ugly screeches; and before I could
raise myself, one of them ran over my face!

This was a new source of terror.  How had they got in?  The very mystery
of their being inside was of itself enough to give me a shock.  How had
they got there?  Had they pushed out the jacket?  Mechanically, I felt
for it.  No.  It was there in its place, just as I had left it!  I drew
it out for the purpose of striking around me, to drive the vermin off.
I struck with it and shouted as I had done before, and succeeded in
clearing them off; but I was now in greater terror than ever, for I
could not explain how they were able thus to reach me, notwithstanding
all my precautions.

For a time, I was sorely perplexed, but I found the explanation at
length.  It was not through the crevice, I had stopped with the jacket,
they had sought entrance; but by another aperture, which I had caulked
with a piece of cloth.  The cloth was too small--it had been loose, and
the rats had actually torn it out with their teeth!

This accounted for their gaining an entrance; but, at the same time, it
by no means removed my alarm.  On the contrary, it furnished me cause
for increased anxiety.  Why were those creatures thus pertinacious,
returning again and again?  What wanted they in my hiding-place, more
than in any other part of the ship?  What could they want, but _to kill
and eat me_?

Verily, I could think of no other reason why I was thus assailed.

The fear of such a consequence now aroused all my energies.  I had not
been asleep more than an hour, as I knew by my watch; but I could not go
to sleep again, until I had fully secured myself; and for this purpose,
I set about putting my fortress in a more proper state of defence.  I
removed the former stuffings from the apertures, one by one, and
replaced them more firmly.  I even went through the labour of taking all
the biscuits out of the box, and drawing forth two or three fresh pieces
of cloth to help me in my "caulking."  I then restored the biscuits to
their places, and closed up every aperture that existed.  I had the
greatest difficulty upon that side where the box stood, for around it
there were many ill-shaped crevices; but I got over the difficulty, by
means of a large web of cloth, which, when placed upon its end, exactly
fitted the open space--through which I had squeezed my own carcass on
that occasion, when I was so unfortunate as to set my foot aboard the
ship.  On this side, the piece of cloth left no more caulking to be
done, as it fitted just tight enough to prevent any living creature from
passing beside it.  The only disadvantage it offered was, that it
hindered me from getting conveniently at my store of biscuits, for it
covered the opening in the box; but I thought of this before pushing it
into its place, and carried a supply of the biscuits inside--enough to
last me for a week or two.  When these should be eaten, I could remove
the web; and, before any rats could come in to trouble me, provide
myself for another week.

It occupied me full two hours, in completing all these arrangements, for
I worked with great care to make my fortress walls secure.  It was no
play I was performing.  It was a matter that possessed the serious
interest of my life's safety.

When I had made all tight to my perfect satisfaction, I lay down to
sleep again--this time _quite certain_ that I should get something more
than a mere "cat-nap."



I was not disappointed.  I slept for a period of twelve hours'
duration--not without many fearful dreams--terrible encounters with
crabs and rats.  So far as the comfort of the thing was concerned, I
might almost as well have been awake, and actually engaged in such
conflicts.  My sleep was far from refreshing, notwithstanding its long
continuance; but it was pleasant on awaking to find that my unwelcome
visitors had not been back again, and that no breach had been made in my
defences.  I groped all around, and found that everything was just as I
had left it.

For several days, I felt comparatively at my ease.  I had no longer any
apprehension of danger from the rats, though I knew they were still
close to me.  When the weather was calm (and it continued so for a long
while), I could hear the animals outside, busy at whatever they had to
do, rattling about among the packages of merchandise, and occasionally
uttering spiteful shrieks, as if they were engaged in combats with each
other.  But their voices no longer terrified me, as I was pretty sure
they could not get nearer me.  Whenever, for any purpose, I removed one
of the cloth pieces with which my little cabin was "chinked," I took
good care to return it to its place again, before any of the animals
could know that the aperture was open.

I experienced a good deal of discomfort from being thus shut up.  The
weather was exceedingly warm; and as not a breath of air could reach me,
or circulate through the apartment, it felt at times as hot as the
inside of a baker's oven.  Very likely we were sailing under the line,
or, at all events, in some part of the tropical latitudes; and this
would account for the calmness of the atmosphere, since, in these
latitudes, stormy weather is much more rare than in either of the
so-called temperate zones.  Once, indeed, during this time, we
experienced a very sharp gale, which lasted for a day and night.  It was
succeeded as usual by a heavy swell, during which the ship tumbled
about, as if she would turn bottom upwards.

I was not sea-sick on this occasion; but, as I had nothing to hold on
by, I was sadly rolled about in my little cabin, now pitching head
foremost against the butt, now falling backward upon the side of the
ship, till every bone in my body was as sore as if I had been cudgelled!
The rocking of the vessel, too, occasionally caused the boxes and
barrels to move a little; and this had the effect of loosening the cloth
caulking, and causing it to drop out.  Still apprehensive of an inroad
from the rats, I was kept busy, all the time the gale lasted, in
plugging the crevices afresh.

Upon the whole, I think that this employment was pleasanter than doing
nothing.  It rather helped me to pass the time; and the two days during
which the gale and swell kept me so occupied, seemed shorter than any
other two.  By far the bitterest hours were those in which I could find
nothing at all to do--absolutely nothing to engage my thoughts.  Then I
would remain for long hours together--sometimes without making a motion,
or changing the attitude in which I lay--sometimes without even having a
thought; and thus dark, and lonely, and longing, I feared that my reason
would forsake me, and that I should go mad!

In this way, two more weeks had passed over, as I knew by the notches on
my stick.  Otherwise they might have been months--ay, years--so long did
the time appear.  With the exception of the hours in which we
experienced the gale, all the rest was complete monotony; and not one
fact or occurrence transpired to make an impression on my memory.

During all this time, I had strictly adhered to my regulations regarding
food and drink.  Notwithstanding that I often hungered, and could have
eaten up a week's allowance at a single meal, I had not exceeded the
prescribed ration.  Many a time it cost me an effort to deny myself; and
often the half biscuit, which was to serve for another meal, was put
aside with most tardy reluctance, and seemed to cling to my fingers, as
I placed it on the little shelf.  But I congratulated myself that up to
this time--with the exception of that day upon which I had eaten the
four biscuits at a meal--I had been able to keep my resolve, and contend
bravely against the craving appetite of hunger.

Thirsty I never was.  I had no uneasiness on this score.  My ration of
water was quite enough for me, and more than enough.  On most days I
used far short of the allowance, and could drink as much as I wanted.

The supply of biscuits I had brought inside, when shutting myself up
against the rats, was at length exhausted.  I was glad of this.  It
proved that time was passing away--two weeks must have elapsed, as I had
counted the biscuits at the commencement of this period, and found that
they were just the allowance for so long.  The time, then, had come
round for me to go back to my larder, and procure a fresh supply.

As I proceeded to do so, a singular apprehension arose in my mind.  It
came suddenly, as if an arrow had been shot into my heart.  It was the
presentiment, of a great misfortune; or not exactly a presentiment, but
a fear caused by something I had noticed only the minute before.  I had
heard a noise outside, which as usual I attributed to my neighbours the
rats.  Often, indeed almost continually, similar noises had proceeded
from without, but none that impressed me like this, for it appeared to
reach me from a new direction--the direction of the biscuit-box.

My fingers trembled as I removed the web; and still more as I thrust my
hands into the box.  Merciful heavens! _the box was empty_!

No, not empty.  As I plunged my hand deeper, it rested upon something
soft and smooth--a rat.  The animal sprang suddenly aside as it felt my
touch, and I drew back my hand with a like rapid movement.  Mechanically
I felt in another place, only to touch another rat, and then another,
and another!  The box appeared half full of them, side by side, as close
as they could sit.  They leaped about and scattered off in different
directions, some even jumping against my breast, as they shot out by the
aperture, and others striking the sides of the box, and uttering loud

I succeeded in routing them.  But, alas! when they were gone, and I
proceeded to examine my store, I found, to my chagrin, that nearly the
whole of my biscuits were gone too!  All of them that were left were
broken to pieces, and nothing remained in the box, but a pile of crumbs
covering the bottom, upon which the rats had been feeding at the moment
I surprised them.

This was an evil of the grandest magnitude; and I was so overwhelmed
upon the discovery of it, that for a time I scarce knew what I was

The consequences were plain enough.  My provisions were gone--starvation
stared me in the face.  Nay, starvation was no longer a matter of doubt.
It was now certain.  The mumbled crumbs which the hideous robbers had
left (and which they would also have eaten up in another hour, had I not
surprised them) would not keep the life in me for a week; and what then?
ay, what then!  Starvation--death by hunger!

There was no alternative.  So reasoned I, and how could it be otherwise?

For awhile, I felt reckless and despairing--almost reckless enough to
refrain from taking any steps to hinder the rats from returning to the
box.  It was my belief, that I must in the end succumb to this
misfortune--_must starve_--and it was no use procrastinating my fate.  I
might as well die at once, as at the end of the week.  To live for days,
knowing that death was certain, would be a terrible state of endurance--
worse than death itself; and here again returned to me those dark
suicidal thoughts, that had once before passed through my mind.

They troubled me only for a moment.  The remembrance that I had had them
before, and that then I had been delivered from them--as it were
miraculously--that although I could not see how it was to be found,
there might still be a way of escape--the hand of Providence, as it had
done already, might still be held over me, and point out that way--these
reflections and remembrances came back into my mind, and once more a ray
of hope shone upon my future.  True, there was no definite hope, but
just enough to arouse me to fresh energy, and save me from absolute
despair.  The presence of the rats, too, had an effect in quickening my
actions.  I perceived that they were still close at hand, threatening to
re-enter the box and finish their work of demolition.  In truth, I could
now only keep them out by making the most violent demonstrations.

I found that the place where they had got in was not the aperture which
I myself used.  That was closed up with the web, and they could not pass
through there.  They had entered on the opposite side, from the box of
cloth, into which they had been able to make their way, since I had
myself removed one of the boards out of its side.  It had all been done
recently; or, more likely, to cut through the thick plank had employed
them for some time, and so delayed the execution of their design.  But
for this, they might have reached the inside sooner, and then not a
morsel would have been left.  No doubt it was for the purpose of getting
at the biscuits that they had swarmed once or twice into my chamber--for
that gave them free access to the box.

I now deeply regretted my negligence in not securing my store in a safe
way.  I had already thought of doing so, but I never imagined these
creatures could make an entry from behind, and I knew that the web of
cloth completely shut them out on the inside.

Alas! it was now too late; regrets were idle; and, following out that
instinct which prompts us to preserve life as long as we can, I
transferred the fragments from the box to my little shelf inside; and
then, making all tight as before, I lay down to reflect upon my
situation, rendered gloomier than ever by this unexpected misfortune.



For many hours I remained brooding over the altered state of my affairs,
with no thought arising to cheer me.  I felt so hopeless that I did not
even take stock of the biscuits, or rather the crumbs that were left.  I
guessed roughly by the size of the little heap that it might sustain
life--keeping up the very small ration I had been hitherto using--for
about ten days--not more.  Ten days, then, or at most a fortnight, had I
to live, with the prospect of certain death at the end of that time--and
a death that experience told me must be slow and painful.  I had already
suffered the extreme of hunger, almost to death, and I dreaded to try it
again; but there appeared no hope of escaping from such a doom--at
least, none appeared at the moment.

The shock that followed the discovery of my loss rendered me for a long
time unable to think clearly.  My mind was dejected and pusillanimous--
my brain, as it were, paralysed--so that whenever I took to thinking, my
thoughts only wandered, or centred on the terrible doom that waited me.

In time a reaction arrived, and I was better able to reflect on the
circumstances in which I was now placed.  Gradually hope dawned again,
though it was only, of an indistinct and very indefinite character--
literally but a "ray."  The thought that occurred to me was simply this:
that as I had found one box of biscuits, why might there not be a
second?  If not immediately beside the first, it might be near.  As
stated already, I believed that in the stowage of a ship, goods of the
same kind are not always placed together, but miscellaneously--just as
the different packages may fit to the shape of the hold and to each
other.  I had proof that this was the usual arrangement, since around
me, and in juxta-position, were articles of very different kinds--
biscuits, broadcloth, brandy, and the butt of water.  Although there was
no second box of biscuits immediately adjoining the one already emptied,
there might be another _not far off_--perhaps just on the other side of
the cloth-box, or in some place where I might be able to _get at it_.

This, then, was the thought that inspired me with new hope.

As soon as I had conceived it, all my energies returned, and I set about
reflecting on what course I should take to ascertain whether there was
another biscuit-box that it was possible for me to reach.

The plan of reaching it was already shaped out in my mind.  In fact,
there was but one way--with my knife.  No other means were within my
reach, and therefore I thought of none.  To cut a way with my knife
through such packages--boxes, bales, or barrels--as might lie between my
chamber and the desired biscuits, was the idea that had entered my mind,
and it seemed more feasible and practicable the longer I reflected upon
it.  Deeds that would appear difficult, if not impossible, under
ordinary circumstances, present a different aspect to one whose life is
in danger, and who knows it may be saved by accomplishing them.  The
direst hardships, and severest privations, become light trials when life
and death are on the issue.

It was from this point of view that I was compelled to contemplate the
feat I now intended to perform; and I thought but lightly of the time
and trouble, so long as there was a prospect of their saving me from
horrid death by starvation.

I resolved, therefore, to hew a way with my knife among the packages of
merchandise, in hopes of coming to one that contained food.  If
successful, then I should live; if not, I must die.  Another thought had
some effect in encouraging me to the attempt.  It would be better for me
to pass my time still hoping, than to yield to despair and remain idle.
To live for two weeks in the certain anticipation of death, would have
been a thousand times more painful than death itself.

Far better to struggle on, nourishing hope with the exertions I should
be making for my safety.  The very labour itself would help me to pass
the time, and hinder me from brooding too keenly on my doubtful fate.

Thus ran my reflections, as I became once more roused to the energy that
for awhile had forsaken me.

I was on my knees, knife in hand, resolved and ready.  That precious
piece of steel, how prized at the moment!  I would not have exchanged it
for the full of the ship of red gold!

I have said that I was upon my knees.  I could not have stood erect, had
I wished it.  There was not room.  The ceiling of my cabin was too low.

Was it my peculiar attitude that suggested the thought?  Perhaps it had
some influence.  I cannot now remember; but I well remember that before
proceeding farther in my design, I offered up a prayer--humble and
earnest--to God, who had already, as I firmly believed, stretched forth
his hand to succour me.  I prayed for guidance, for strength, for
success.  I need not add that my prayer was heard, else I should not now
have been living to record it.

My intention was first to work through the cloth-box, and discover what
was behind it.  That which had contained the biscuits was now empty, and
I could get through it without trouble.  It will be remembered that I
had already been inside the biscuit-box while searching for another, and
also while procuring the pieces of cloth; and so far my way was clear.
But to get across the one in which the broadcloth was packed, it would
be necessary to pull out several more pieces, to give me room to work on
to the next.  My knife, therefore, would not be needed at first
starting; and putting it aside, where I could easily lay my hands upon
it again, I ducked my head and crawled into the empty box.  In another
minute I was pulling and tugging away at the stiff rolls of broadcloth--
all my strength being exerted, and all my energies employed in detaching
them from their places.



This was a work that cost me both time and labour much more than you
might imagine.  No doubt the cloth had been packed with the idea of
economising space, and the pieces were wedged as tightly together as if
done by a steam-press.  Those opposite the opening I had made, came out
easily enough; but with the others I had more trouble.  It took all my
strength to detach many of them from their places.  When a few were
removed, the work became easier.  There were several rolls larger than
the rest.  They were larger, because they were of coarser cloth.  They
were too big to pass through the apertures I had made, either the one in
the cloth-case, or that in the side of the biscuit-box.  I was puzzled
how to deal with them.  I could not enlarge the openings without a great
deal of labour.  On account of the situation of the two boxes, it was
not possible to knock off another board.  I should have to cut the hole
wider with my knife; and this, for the same reason, would have been

A better plan suggested itself--apparently a better, but which in the
end proved a mistake.  I managed the matter by cutting off the
fastenings of each piece, and, laying hold of the end of the web,
unrolled it.  I then drew out the loose cloth until the web became small
enough to pass through.  In this way I succeeded in emptying the case,
but the work kept me employed for several hours.

I was delayed, moreover, by a more serious interruption.  On returning
to my chamber, with the first piece of cloth which I had drawn out of
the box, I found, to my consternation, that it was already occupied by
other tenants--a score of them: the rats were in possession!

I dropped the piece of cloth; and, dashing into their midst, succeeded
in routing them; but, as I had anticipated from their presence, I found
that another portion of my wretched store of provisions was eaten or
carried off.  Not a great deal, however, appeared to have been taken.
Fortunately, I had been absent only for a short while.  Had I been gone
for but another twenty minutes, the robbers would have quite cleared me
out, and left me not a crumb to live upon.

The consequence of this would have been fatal; and once more deploring
my negligence, I resolved to take better care for the future.  I spread
out a large piece of the cloth, and depositing the fragments upon it, I
wrapped them up into a sort of bag-like bundle, which I tied as firmly
as I could with a strip of list torn from the cloth itself.  This, I
fancied, would keep all safe; and placing it in a corner, I proceeded
with my work.

As I passed to and fro upon my hands and knees--now empty-handed, now
dragging with me a piece of the cloth--I might have been likened to an
ant crawling upon its track, and laying in its stores for the winter;
and during many hours I was kept as busy as an ant might be.  The
weather still continued calm, but the atmosphere appeared hotter than I
had yet felt it, and the perspiration ran from every pore of my skin.  I
was often obliged to use a loose piece of the broadcloth to wipe the
drops from my forehead and out of my eyes; and at times it appeared as
if the heat would suffocate me.  But with such a motive as I had for
perseverance, I continued to toil on, without thought of resting for a

All the while I was conscious of the presence of the rats.  They
appeared to be everywhere around me--in the crevices between the casks
and boxes, which they used as so many ways and paths.  They met me in my
own particular gallery, crossing or running before me, and sometimes I
felt them behind me coursing over my legs.  Singular enough, I was less
afraid of them than formerly.  This partially arose from my observance
of the fact, that it was the biscuit-box that had brought them in such
numbers into my chamber, and not _me_.  At first I was under the
impression that they had come there to assail myself, but I now thought
differently, and felt less apprehension of their attacking me.  I no
longer dreaded them while awake; but for all that, I could not have gone
to sleep--nor did I intend to do so again--without first securing myself
against their attacks.

Another reason there was why I feared them less.  My situation had grown
more desperate, and the necessity for action so apparent, that all
lesser dangers had given way to the greater one that threatened me--the
danger of starvation.

Having finished emptying the cloth-case of its contents, I resolved to
rest a bit, and refresh myself with a scanty ration of crumbs and a cup
of water.  During the whole time I was engaged in unpacking I had not
left off, even to take a drink, and I was now thirsty enough to drink
quarts.  As I had no fear that my water supply would run short, I now
opened the tap and drank to my satisfaction.  I must have lowered the
water-line very considerably, before I could drag myself away from the
butt.  The precious fluid seemed sweeter than honey itself; and after
drinking, I felt as though it had re-invigorated me to the tips of my

I now turned to my stock of food, but another cry of chagrin escaped me
as I laid my hands upon the bundle.  The rats again!  Yes; I found, to
my astonishment, that these persevering robbers had been back again, had
gnawed a hole through the cloth, and abstracted another portion from my
now greatly reduced store!  A pound at least of the precious crumbs had
been taken, and this must have been done within a few minutes' time;
for, only a few minutes before, I had occasion to move the bundle, and I
had then observed that there was nothing amiss.

The discovery of this new misfortune caused me fresh misery and
vexation.  I saw that if I left the biscuit-bag behind me, even for the
shortest space of time, I might expect on my return to find every crumb
gone out of it.

Already I had lost nearly half of what I had taken from the box, and
which I had calculated might keep me alive for a period of ten or twelve
days.  This calculation included everything, even to the dust, which I
had carefully gathered up from the boards; and now, on re-examining what
remained, I perceived that there was not enough to sustain me for a

This discovery added to the gloom of my situation; but I did not suffer
it to bring despair.  I resolved to proceed with my design, as if no new
misfortune had happened; for the further reduction of my stores rendered
both energy and perseverance more necessary than ever.

I could not think of any way of securing my crumbs, except by taking the
bag along with me and keeping it by my side.  I might have folded more
cloth around them, but I was impressed with the belief that these vermin
would have gnawed their way to my crumbs had I placed them in a box of

To make safe, therefore, I tied up the hole that had been cut in the
cloth; and, dragging the bundle after me, I took it into the cloth-case,
determined to defend it against all comers.

Having deposited it between my knees, I once more set to work with my
knife to tunnel through the side of the adjacent box.



Before proceeding to use the knife, I had endeavoured to burst one of
the boards outward, first by pressing upon it with my hands.  Finding I
could not move it in this way, I lay down upon my back, and tried it
with my heels.  I even put on my old buskins in hopes of being able to
_kick_ it out; but, after thumping at it for a considerable time, I saw
it would not do.  It was too securely nailed, and, as I found out
afterwards, it was still more strongly secured with strips of iron
hooping, which would have resisted a stronger effort than any I could
make.  My kicks and thumps, therefore, were all given to no purpose; and
as soon as I became convinced of this, I went to work with my knife.

I designed cutting across one of the boards near the end--and only at
one end, as I could then force the piece out, no matter how securely it
might be clasped at the other.

The timber was not very hard, being only common spruce deal, and I could
soon have made a cross-cut of the whole piece, even with no better tool
than my knife, if I had been in a proper attitude, with the box fairly
before me.  But instead of that, I was obliged to operate in a
constrained position, that was both disadvantageous and fatiguing.
Moreover, my hand was still painful from the bite of the rat, the scar
not yet being closed up.  The troubles I had been enduring had kept my
blood in a constant fever, and this I suppose, had prevented the healing
of the wound.  Unfortunately, it was my right hand that had been bitten;
and, being right-handed, I could not manage the knife with my left.  I
tried it at times, to relieve the other, but could make little progress
at left-hand work.

For these reasons, then, I was several hours in cutting across a piece
of nine-inch deal of only an inch in thickness; but I got through at
last, and then, placing myself once more on my back, and setting my
heels to the plank, I had the satisfaction to feel it yielding.

It did not move a great way, and I could perceive that there was
something hindering it behind--either another box or a barrel--but this
was exactly what I had expected.  Only two or three inches of empty
space were between the two, and it required a good deal of kicking, and
twisting backward and forward, and upward and downward, before I could
detach the piece from its fastenings of iron.

Before I had got it quite out of my way, I knew what was behind, for I
had passed my fingers through to ascertain.  It was another
packing-case, and, alas! too similar to the one I was crouching in.  The
same kind of timber, if my touch was true--and this one of my senses had
of late become wonderfully acute.

I felt its outline, as much of it as I could reach: the same size it
appeared to be--the same rough, unplaned plank, just like that I had
been cutting at--and both, as I now perceived, iron hooped at the ends.
Beyond doubt, it was "another of the same."

I came to this conclusion without proceeding further, and it was a
conclusion that filled me with chagrin and disappointment.  But although
I felt too bitterly satisfied that it was another cloth-box, I deemed it
worth while to put the matter beyond any doubt.  To effect this, I
proceeded to take out one of the pieces of the second box, just as I had
done with the other--by making a clear cut across--and then prising it
out, and drawing it towards me.  It cost me even more labour than the
first, for I could not get at it so well; besides, I had to widen the
aperture in the other, before I could reach the joining between two
pieces.  The widening was not so difficult, as the soft plank split off
readily under the blade of my knife.

I worked cheerlessly at this second box, as I worked without hope.  I
might have spared myself the pains; for during the operation the blade
of my knife frequently came in contact with what was inside, and I knew
from the soft dull object which resisted the steel with elastic silence,
that I was coming upon _cloth_.  I might have spared myself any further
labour, but a kind of involuntary curiosity influenced me to go on--that
curiosity which refuses to be satisfied until demonstration is complete
and certain; and, thus impelled, I hewed away mechanically, till I had
reached the completion of the task.

The result was as I had expected--the contents were cloth!

The knife dropped from my grasp; and, overcome, as much by fatigue as by
the faintness produced by disappointment, I fell backward, and lay for
some minutes in a state of partial insensibility.

This lethargy of despair continued upon me for some time--I noted not
how long; but I was at length aroused from it by an acute pain, which I
felt in the tip of my middle finger.  It was sudden as acute, and
resembled the pricking of a needle, or a sharp cut with the blade of a

I started suddenly up, thinking I had caught hold of my knife--while
half conscious of what I was doing--for I remembered that I had thrown
it with open blade beside me.

In a second or two, however, I was convinced that it was not that which
had caused me the pain.  It was not a wound made with cold steel, but
with the venomous tooth of a living creature.  I had been bitten by a

My lethargic indifference to my situation soon passed away, and was
succeeded by a keen sense of fear.  I was now convinced, more than ever,
that my life was in danger from these hideous animals; for this was the
first actual attempt they had made upon my person _without provocation_.
Although my sudden movement, and the loud cries I involuntarily
uttered, had once more driven them off, I felt satisfied they would
become bolder anon, and take no heed of such idle demonstrations.  I had
threatened them too often, without making them feel my power to punish

Clearly it would not do to go to sleep again, with my person exposed to
their attacks; for although my hopes of ultimate deliverance were now
sadly diminished, and in all likelihood starvation was to be my fate,
still this kind of death was preferable to being eaten up by rats.  The
very thought of such a fate filled me with horror, and determined me to
do all in my power to save myself from so fearful a doom.

I was now very tired, and required rest.  The box was large enough for
me to have slept within it, stretched at full length; but I thought I
could more easily defend myself against the encroachments of the rats in
my old quarters; and, taking up my knife and bundle, I crawled back
behind the butt.

My little chamber was now of much smaller dimensions, for in it I had
stowed the cloth taken from the box.  In fact, there was just room
enough for my body and the bag of crumbs--so that it was more like a
nest than an apartment.

With the pieces of cloth piled in one end against the brandy-cask, I was
well defended in that quarter, and it only remained to close up the
other end as I had done before.  This I accomplished; and then, after
eating my slender supper, and washing it down with copious libations, I
sought the repose, both of body and mind, of which I stood in such need.



My sleep was neither very sweet nor very sound.  In addition to my
gloomy prospects, I was rendered uncomfortable by the hot atmosphere,
now closer than ever, in consequence of the stoppage of every aperture.
No current of air, that might otherwise have cooled me, was permitted to
reach my prison, and I might almost as well have been inside a heated
oven.  I got a little sleep, however, and with that little I was under
the necessity of being satisfied.

When fairly awake again, I treated myself to a meal, which might be
called my breakfast; but it was certainly the lightest of all
breakfasts, and did not deserve the name.  Of water I again drank
freely, for I was thirsty with the fever that was in my blood, and my
head ached as if it would split open.

All this did not deter me from returning to my work.  If two boxes
contained broadcloth, it did not follow that all the cargo was of this
sort of merchandise, and I resolved to persevere.  I had made up my mind
to try in a new direction--that is, to tunnel through the end of the
packing-case as I had done through its side--the end which was turned
towards the outside--for I knew that the other rested against the side
of the ship, and it would be no use searching in that direction.

Taking my bread-bag with me as before, I went to work with renewed hope,
and after long and severe labour--severe on account of the crouching
attitude I had to keep, as also from the pain caused by my wounded
thumb--I succeeded in detaching one of the end pieces from its place.

Something _soft_ lay beyond.  There was encouragement even in this.  At
all events, it was not another case of broadcloth; but what it was, I
could not guess until I had laid bare the full breadth of the board.
Then my hands were eagerly passed through the aperture, and with
trembling fingers I examined this new object of interest.  Coarse canvas
it appeared to the touch; but that was only the covering.  What was
there inside?

Until I had taken up my knife again, and cut off a portion of the
canvas, I knew not what it was; but then, to my bitter disappointment,
the real nature of the package was revealed.

It proved to be _linen_--a bale of fine linen, packed in pieces, just as
the cloth had been; but so tight that if I had used all my strength I
could not have detached one piece from the bale.

The discovery of what it was, caused me greater chagrin than if it had
proved to be broadcloth.  This I could take out with less difficulty,
and make way to try farther on; but with the linen I could do nothing,
for, after several attempts, I was unable to move any of the pieces, and
as to cutting a way through them, a wall of adamant would scarce have
been more impervious to the blade of my knife.  It would have been the
work of a week at least.  My provision would not keep me alive till I
had reached the other side.  But I did not speculate on such a
performance.  It was too manifestly impossible, and I turned away from
it without giving it another thought.

For a little while I remained inactive, considering what should be my
next movement.  I did not rest long.  Time was too precious to be wasted
in mere reflection.  Action alone could save me; and, spurred on by this
thought, I was soon at work again.

My new design was simply to clear out the cloth from the second box, cut
through its farther side, and find out what lay in that direction.

As I had already made a way into the box, the first thing was to remove
the cloth.  For the time my knife was laid aside, and I commenced
pulling out the pieces.  It was no light labour, getting out the first
three or four.  Unfortunately, the ends of the webs were towards me, and
this rendered it more difficult to separate them; but I continued to tug
and pull until I had extracted a few; and then the work became easier.

Just as in the other case, I found large coarse pieces that would not
pass through the aperture I had made; and not liking to take the pains
to make a wider opening in the wood, I adopted the same plan I had tried
before; that is, to cut the cloth loose from its fastenings, unroll it,
and draw it out by the yard.

This was easier, I thought; but, alas! it proved the source of a new and
unexpected dilemma, as I had occasion soon after to perceive.

I was getting on well enough, and had succeeded in clearing out a space
almost large enough to work in, when I was suddenly brought to a stop,
by finding that I had no room for any more cloth _behind me_!  The whole
of the open space--including my little apartment, the biscuit-box, and
the other case--was quite full, for I had filled each in succession as I
went along.  There was not a foot of space left--not so much as would
hold another web!

This discovery did not create an immediate alarm; for I did not at first
perceive the full consequence of it.  It was only after a little
reflection, that I recognised the difficulty; and then I saw that it was
indeed a difficulty--a very dangerous dilemma.

It was plain that I could proceed no farther in my work without clearing
off the "back-water" that I had so thoughtlessly accumulated; and how
was this to be done?  I could not destroy the cloth by burning, nor in
any other way that I could think of.  I could not lessen its bulk, for I
had already pressed it together as closely as I had strength.  How,
then, was it to be disposed of?

I now perceived the imprudence I had committed in unrolling the webs.
This was the cause of its having increased so in bulk though not
altogether, for the very taking out of the pieces--on account of the
tight pressure they had originally undergone while being packed in the
cases--of itself greatly enlarged their mass.  To restore them to the
state in which I had found them, was no longer possible.  They were
littered through and through in the most complete confusion, and I had
no room to work in, even to refold them again, since I could scarce move
about in the constrained quarters and attitude I was compelled to
assume.  Even had I had ample space to work in, I could not easily have
got the stuff back to a suitable bulk; for the coarser material, elastic
as it was, would have required a screw-press to bring it to its former
size.  I felt quite disheartened as I thought the thing over--more than
disheartened, again almost despairing.

But, no! it had not yet reached the point of despair with me.  By
getting enough space for another piece or two, I should have room to cut
a hole through the opposite side of the box, and there was still hope
beyond.  If, indeed, another case of broadcloth, or another bale of
linen, should be found there, it would then be time to yield myself up
to despair.

But hope in the human breast is hard to destroy, and it was so in mine.
So long as there is life, thought I, let there be hope; and, inspired
with the old proverb, I renewed my exertions.

After awhile, I succeeded in stowing away two more pieces; and this gave
me just room to creep inside the now nearly empty box, and go to work
again with my knife.

This time I had to cut the board across the middle, as the cloth on both
sides would not permit me to get at either end.  It made little
difference, however; and when I had finished carving at the wood, I was
able to push out both sections, and make an aperture sufficient for my
purpose.  I say sufficient for my purpose, for it only needed a hole
large enough to admit my hand; and, once protruding my fingers, I was
satisfied, as before, with a most melancholy result.  _Another bale of

Fatigued and faint, I could have fallen, had it been possible to fall
lower; but I was already upon my face, alike prostrate in body and soul!



It was some time before I recovered strength or spirit to arouse myself.
But for hunger, I might have remained longer in the sort of torpid
lethargy into which I had fallen; but nature craved loudly for
sustenance.  I could have eaten my crumbs where I lay, and would have
done so, but that thirst carried me back to my old quarters.  It made
little difference where I slept, as I could have fenced myself against
the rats within either of the boxes; but it was necessary to be near the
water-butt, and this alone influenced me in the choice of my

It was not such an easy matter getting back to my former position.  Many
pieces of cloth had to be lifted out of the way and drawn behind me.
They had to be placed carefully, else on reaching the entrance to my
chamber, I should not be able to clear a space large enough to contain
my body.

I succeeded, however, in effecting my purpose; and having eaten my
morsel, and quenched my feverish thirst, I fell back upon the mass of
cloth, and was asleep in the twinkling of an eye.

I had taken the usual precaution to close the gates of my fortress, and
this time I slept my sleep out, undisturbed by the rats.

In the morning--or rather, I should say, in the hour of my awaking--I
again ate and drank.  I know not whether it was morning; for, in
consequence of my watch having once or twice run down, I could no longer
tell night from day; and my sleep, now not regular as formerly, failed
to inform me of the hours.  What I ate failed to satisfy hunger.  All
the food that was left me would not have sufficed for that; and not the
least difficult part I had to perform, was the restraining myself from
eating out my whole stock at a meal.  I could easily have done it, and
it required all my resolution to refrain.  But my resolution was backed
by the too certain knowledge that such a meal would be my last, and my
abstinence was strengthened simply by the fear of starvation.

Having breakfasted, then, as sparingly as possible, and filled my
stomach with water instead of food, I once more worked my way into the
second cloth-box, determined to continue my search as long as strength
was left me.  There was not much left now.  I knew that what I ate was
barely sufficient to sustain life, and I felt that I was fast wasting
away.  My ribs projected like those of a skeleton, and it was as much as
I could do to move the heavier pieces of the cloth.

One end of all the boxes, as already stated, was placed against the side
of the ship.  Of course, it was of no use tunnelling in that direction;
but the end of the second case, which faced inwards, I had not yet
tried.  This was now my task.

I need not detail the particulars of the work.  It resembled that I had
executed already, and lasted for several successive hours.  The result
was, once again, a painful disappointment.  Another bale of linen!  I
could go no farther in that direction.  And now no farther in any

Boxes of broadcloth and bales of linen were all around me.  I could not
penetrate beyond.  I could not make a way through them.  There was no
room for further progress.

This was the melancholy conclusion at which I had arrived, and I was
once more thrown back into my despairing mood.

Fortunately, this did not last long, for shortly after a train of
thought came into my mind that prompted me to further action.  It was
memory that came to my aid.  I remembered having read a book, which
described very beautifully the struggles of a boy, amidst great
difficulties--how he bravely refused to yield to each new
disappointment; but, by dint of courage and perseverance, overcame every
obstacle, and at last obtained success.  I remembered, too, that this
boy had adopted for his motto, the Latin word "Excelsior," which was
explained to mean "_higher_" or "_upward_."

On reflecting upon the struggles which this boy had undergone, and how
he had succeeded in surmounting so many difficulties--some even as great
as those that surrounded myself--I was nerved to make a new effort.

But I believe it was this peculiar word, "Excelsior," that guided me in
my after proceedings, for by its most literal sense was I directed.
_Upward_, thought I; I might search upward.  Why did it not occur to me
before?  There might be food in this direction, as likely as in any
other, and certainly I had no choice, as every other direction had been
tried.  I resolved, then, to search _upward_.

In another minute I was upon my back, knife in hand.  I propped myself
with pieces of cloth, so that I might work more conveniently, and after
groping out one of the divisions of the lid, I commenced notching it

The board at length gave way to my exertions.  I dragged it downwards.
Oh, heavens! were my hopes again destined to suffer defeat and mockery?

Alas! it was even so.  The coarse, hard-grained canvas, with the dull
sodden mass behind it, answered me with a sad affirmative.

There yet remained the upper side of the other case, and then that of
the biscuit-box.  Both should be tried as a last effort, and that before
I could again sleep.

And both _were_ tried, with like evil fortune.  Upon the former rested a
case of the cloth, while another bale of linen completely covered the
top of the latter.

"Merciful God! am I forsaken?"

Such was my exclamation as I sank back into an attitude of complete



Sleep followed, brought on by weariness and long exertion; and when I
awoke, I felt my strength greatly restored.  Singular enough, my spirits
were a good deal lighter, and I was far less despairing than I had been
before.  It seemed as if some supernatural influence sustained me--
perhaps an inspiration given by the great Creator himself, to enable me
to persevere.  Notwithstanding that my disappointments had been many and
oft-repeated, I bore up under the infliction as meekly as I could, and
never yet had I felt in my heart a rebellious feeling against God.

I still continued to offer up prayers for my success, and to place
reliance upon the hope that His mercy would yet be extended to me.  This
feeling it was--I am sure it was--that upheld me, and kept me from
falling into utter despondency.

On awaking again, as I have said, my spirits felt lighter, though I know
not why, unless it was that I was cheered by some influence from above.
I can only account for it in this way, since there was no change in the
circumstances that surrounded me--at least none for the better--nor had
I conceived any new hope or plan.

It was certain that I could penetrate no further through the boxes of
cloth and bales of linen, as I had no place to stow their contents
behind me.  That side, therefore, was now no longer the object of my

There were still two other directions in which I might search--the one
directly in front, and that toward the left, which last I knew to be in
the direction of the bows of the ship.

In front, the space was taken up by the great water-butt, and of course
I did not think of cutting a way through this.  It would lead to the
loss of my supply of water.  I did for a moment imagine that I might
make a hole high up above the water-line, through which I might squeeze
my body, and then get through to the opposite side by making a second
hole.  I knew that the butt was now scarce half full, as the heat had
kept me almost continually athirst, and, confident in my supply, I had
drunk large quantities.  But it occurred to me that if I made this great
opening, I might lose all my water in a single night.  A sudden squall
might arise--for several had been encountered already--and set the ship
a-rolling.  In that case, if the vessel, crank as she was, came near
getting upon her beam-ends, which she often did, my butt would be turned
half over, and the water of course would all escape--the precious water
that had hitherto stood my friend, and but for which I should have long
ago miserably perished.

Another consideration influenced me not to touch the butt: there was an
easier direction to proceed in, and that was _through the brandy-cask_.

This stood end towards me, and, as already stated, shut me in upon the
left.  Its head or bottom--I could not say which--lay quite up against
the end of the water-butt; but for some reason it had been cleated
closer up to the side timbers of the ship, so that there was hardly any
vacant space behind it.  For this reason, nearly one half of its
diameter overlapped the end of the water-butt--the other half completing
the enclosure of my cabin.

Through this last half I resolved to cut my way, and then, creeping
inside the cask, to make another hole that would let me through its
opposite side.

Perhaps, beyond the brandy-cask I might find food and safety?  It was
only blind guessing on my part; but I again prayed for success.

Making an incision across the thick oak plank that formed the bottom
staves, was a very different affair from cutting through soft spruce
deal, and I progressed but slowly.  A beginning had already been made,
however, where I had formerly tapped the cask; and entering my blade at
this same hole, I worked away until I had cut one of the pieces clear
across.  I then put on my buskins, and, getting upon my back, kicked
upon the stave with all my might, using my heels as a trip-hammer.  It
was a stiff job; for the piece, being jointed into the others on both
sides, refused for a long time to yield.  But the constant hammering at
length loosened it, by breaking off one of the joinings, and I had the
satisfaction to find that it was giving way.  A few more strong
finishing blows did the business, and the stave was at length forced

The immediate result was a gush of brandy that completely overwhelmed
me.  It rushed over me, not in a jet but in a grand volume as thick as
my body; and before I could raise myself into an erect position, it was
all over and around me, so that I had a fear I was going to be drowned
in it!  The whole space I occupied was filled up, and it was only by
holding my head close up to the ship's timbers that I could keep my
mouth clear of being filled.  At the first gush, a quantity had got into
my throat, and eyes as well, and well-nigh choked and blinded me; and it
was some time before I got over the fit of coughing and sneezing which
it had suddenly brought on.

I was in no mood to be merry at the time; yet strange enough, I could
not help thinking of the Duke of Clarence and his odd fancy of being
drowned in the butt of malmsey.

The singular flood subsided almost as rapidly as it had risen.  There
was plenty of space for it down below; and in a few seconds' time it had
all gone down to mix among the bilge-water, and jabble about during the
remainder of the voyage.  The only traces it had left were in my wet
clothes, and the strong alcoholic smell that filled the atmosphere
around me, and almost hindered me from getting breath.

As the ship's head rose upon the waves, the cask was tilted upwards, and
this movement in ten minutes emptied it so completely that not a single
pint remained inside.

But I had not waited for this.  The stave I had kicked out left an
aperture large enough to admit my body--it did not need to be very large
for that--and as soon as my coughing fit had ended, I squeezed myself
through to the inside of the cask.

I groped around for the bung, believing that this would be the best
place to cut across one of the staves.  The hole, usually a large one,
would admit the blade of my knife, and would be so much of my work done
to hand.  I found the place easily enough, and fortunately it was not on
the top, where I fancied it might be, but on the side, and just at a
convenient height.  Closing the blade of my knife, I hammered on the
wooden plug with the half.  After a few strokes, I succeeded in forcing
it outwards, and then set to work to make the cross-cut of the stave.

I had not made a dozen notches, before I felt my strength wonderfully
increased.  I had been weak before, but now it appeared to me as if I
could push out the staves without cutting them.  I felt in a measure
cheerful, as if I had been merely working for the play of the thing, and
it was of but little consequence whether I succeeded or not.  I have
some recollection that I both whistled and sang as I worked.  The idea
that I was in any danger of losing my life quite forsook me, and all the
hardships through which I had been passing appeared to have been only
imaginary--a chimera of my brain, or, at most, only a dream.

Just then I was seized with a terrible fit of thirst, and I remember
making a struggle to get out of the brandy-cask for the purpose of
having a drink from the water-butt.  I must have succeeded in getting
out of the cask, but whether I actually did drink at the time, I could
never be certain; for after that I remembered nothing more, but was for
a long while as completely unconscious as if I had been dead!



I remained in this state of insensibility for several hours, and was not
even troubled, as was usual when I slept, with painful dreams.  I did
not dream at all; but, on awaking to consciousness, I had a dread
feeling upon me, just as if I had been cast from off the earth into
infinite space, and was rapidly floating onwards, or falling from some
great height, without ever reaching a point of rest.  It was a feeling
of a most unpleasant kind--in fact, a feeling of horror.

Fortunately, it did not continue long; and as I endeavoured to rouse
myself it became less painful, and at length passed away.  In its stead,
however, I felt sick at the stomach, and my head ached as though it
would split.  Surely it was not the sea that had made me sick?  No, it
could not be that.  I was long since hardened against sea-sickness.
Even another storm would not have brought it on; but there was no
particular roughness.  The ship was sailing under breezy but not stormy

Was it fever that had suddenly attacked me in a violent manner? or had I
fainted from want of strength?  No; I had experienced both calamities,
but this new sensation resembled neither.

I was in reality at a loss to account for what was ailing me.  In a
short time, however, my thoughts became clearer, and then the truth
dawned upon my mind.  I had been in a _state of intoxication_!

Intoxication it must have been, though wine I had not tasted, nor brandy
neither--not a mouthful.  I disliked it _too_ much for that; and
although there was plenty of it--or had been, for it was now all gone--
enough to have drowned myself in, I was not conscious of having drunk a
drop of it.  True, a drop had passed into my mouth--a drop, or maybe a
spoonful, had gone down my throat when the torrent gushed over me; but
surely this small quantity could not have produced intoxication, even if
it had been liquor ever so much _above proof_?  Impossible; it could not
have been that that produced intoxication!

And what, then?  Something had made me _drunk_.  Although I had never
been so in my life, yet I guessed the symptoms to mean only this.

As I continued to reflect--that is, as I grew more _sober_--the mystery
was cleared up, and I discovered the cause of my intoxication.  It was
not brandy, but the "fumes" of brandy, that had done it--this, and
nothing else.

Even before entering the cask, I had noticed a decided change in my
feelings, for the fumes of the liquor, even outside, were strong enough
to make me sneeze; but this was nothing to the effluvia which I
encountered inside the vessel.  At first I could scarcely breathe, but
by little and little I became accustomed to it, and rather liked it.  No
wonder, since it was making me feel so strong and happy!

On cogitating further on this singular incident, I remembered how I came
to be outside the cask--how thirst had influenced me to come out; and I
now perceived how fortunate it was that I had followed the guidance of
this appetite.  I have said that I did not know whether I had actually
quenched my thirst.  I had no remembrance of going to the butt, or of
drawing a cup of water.  I think I did not get so far.  Had I done so,
in all probability I should have left out the vent-peg, and then a large
quantity of water would have been spilled.  The water-line would have
been down to a level with the vent; and this, on examination, I gladly
perceived was not the case.  Moreover, my drinking-cup felt too dry to
have been used lately.  I had not drunk, then, and this was a fortunate
circumstance, though far more fortunate was the circumstance that I had
thirsted.  Had it not been for this, I should no doubt have remained
inside the cask, and the consequence must have been disastrous indeed.
I cannot say what, but certainly some fatal result would have followed.
In all likelihood, I should have remained in a state of intoxication--
how was I ever to get sober?--every moment getting worse, until when?
Until death!  Who knows?

A mere accidental circumstance, then, had once more saved my life; but
perhaps it was not accidental.  It may have been the hand of Providence,
and I believed so at the time.  If prayers express gratitude, mine were
given, and with all the fervour of my soul.

Whether I had allayed my thirst or not, certain it was that the
quenching had been but temporary; for I now felt as if I could drink the
butt dry.  I lost no time in groping for my cup, and I am sure I did not
leave off till I had drunk nearly half a gallon of water.

The water removed a good deal of the sickness, and also cleared my
brains, as if it had washed them.  Being once more restored to my proper
senses, I returned to the consideration of the perils by which I was

My first thought was about continuing the work I had so abruptly left
off, and only now did it occur to me that I might not be able to go on
with it.  What if I was to get into the same state as before--what if my
senses again became stupefied, and I should not have presence of mind or
resolution to come out of the cask?

Perhaps I might labour away for awhile without getting into the same
state, and if I felt it coming on me I could hasten out?  Perhaps!  But
should it be otherwise?  If the intoxication should come suddenly upon
me, how then?  How long had it been before I felt it on the former
occasion?  I tried to remember, but could not.

I remembered how this strange influence had stolen over me--how
soothingly and sweetly it came, wrapping my senses as if in a delightful
dream.  How it had made me reckless of consequences, forgetful even of
my appalling situation!

Supposing that all was to be repeated--the same scene to be enacted over
again--and only one incident to be left out: that is, the thirst which
brought me forth from the cask--supposing all this?  And why might it
not be just what would take place?  I could not answer the question one
way or the other; but so strong were my apprehensions of the probability
that it might, that I hesitated _to re-enter the cask_!

There was no help for it, however.  I must either do so, or die where I
lay.  If death in the end was to be my fate, better far, thought I, to
die by this apparently easy mode; for I felt convinced, from the
experience I had had, that such death would be without a pang.

The reflection emboldened me, as well as the knowledge that I had no
alternative, no choice of plan; and again pronouncing a prayer, I
crawled back into the brandy-cask.



On entering, I groped about for my knife.  I had quite forgotten how or
where I had laid it down.  I had already searched for it outside, but
without success; and I concluded that I must have left it behind me in
the cask.  I was surprised at not laying my hand upon it at once, for
although I ran my fingers all around the under-side of the vessel,
nothing like a knife did I touch.

I was beginning to feel alarmed about it.  It might be lost, and if so,
all hopes of deliverance would be at an end.  Without the knife, I could
proceed no farther in any direction, but might lie down inactive to
abide my fate.  Where could the knife be?  Was it likely that the rats
had carried it off?

I again backed out of the cask, and made a new search outside; but not
finding what I was looking for, I once more crept into the barrel, and
once more felt it all over--that is, every part of it where a knife
could lie.

I was very near going out again, when it occurred to me to raise my
hands a little higher, and examine the bung-hole, at which I had been
working when I last had the knife in my hands.  It may be there, thought
I; and to my joy it _was_ there, sticking in the notch I had been
cutting with it.

I set to work, without further delay, to widen the hole crossways; but
the blade, from so much use, had become "dull as a beetle," and my
progress through the hard oaken stave was as slow as if I had been
cutting through a stone.  I carved away for a quarter of an hour,
without making the notch the eighth part of an inch deeper; and I almost
despaired of ever getting through the stave.

I now felt the singular influence again coming over me, and could have
remained without much fear, for such is the effect of intoxication; but
I had promised myself that the moment I became aware of any change, I
should retreat from the dangerous spot.  Fortunately, I had resolution,
and barely enough, to keep my promise; and, before it was too late, I
dragged myself back to the rear of the water-butt.

It was well I did so at the very time, for had I remained in the
brandy-cask but ten minutes longer, beyond doubt I should have been
hopelessly insensible.  As it was, I already felt quite "happy," and
remained so for some time.

But as the alcoholic influence departed, I grew more miserable than
ever; for I now perceived that this unexpected obstacle to my progress
was about to ruin all my hopes.  I believed that I could return at
intervals, and go on with the work; but only at long intervals, and now
that the blade of my knife had grown so blunt, I could make but little
progress.  It would be days before I should get through the side of the
cask; and days were denied me.  The small store of crumbs were sadly
reduced; in fact, I was on my last handful.  I had not enough to keep me
alive for three days!  The chances of saving my life were growing
narrower with every fresh move, and I was fast giving way to despair.
Had I been sure that after cutting through the cask, I should have found
relief on the other side, I might have contemplated the enterprise with
more eagerness and energy; but this was worse than doubtful.  There were
ten chances to one against my finding a box of biscuits, or anything
that was eatable.

One advantage had arisen from my breaking into the brandy-cask, which
now occurred to me in full force.  It had given me a large empty space;
and therefore, if I could only get beyond--even though there should not
be a package containing food--still it might be something which I could
remove into the inside of the cask, and thus make way for further

This was certainly a fresh phase which my situation had assumed; but a
still better idea succeeded, that lent a new and joyous aspect to my
thoughts.  It was this: if I could so easily cut my way from box to box,
as I had already proved, _why might I not tunnel upwards, and reach the

The thought startled me.  It was quite new.  It had not occurred to me
before--strangely enough it had not--and I can only explain its tardy
conception by the fact of the confused state of mind in which I had all
along been, and which might have led me to deem such an enterprise an

No doubt there were numberless packages heaped over me, one upon
another.  No doubt the hold was quite full of them, and I knew that I
was near the bottom of all.  I remembered, too--what had _puzzled_ me at
the time--that the stowage had continued for a long time after I came
aboard; that for two days and nights the work seemed to be going on, and
therefore the whole cargo must have been placed above me.  Still,
withal, a dozen large boxes would reach to the top, or, maybe, not half
so many would fill up to the deck.  Allowing a day to the cutting
through each one, I might be able to reach the top in about a week or
ten days!

Though a joyful thought, it would have been far more welcome at an
earlier period, but it now came accompanied by the wildest regrets.
Perhaps it had come too late to save me?  Had I begun aright, when I had
my full box of biscuits, I might easily have carried the plan into
execution; but now, alas! scarce a morsel remained; and it seemed
hopeless to attempt what I had conceived.

Still, I could not surrender up this alluring prospect of life and
freedom; and, stifling all idle regrets, I gave my mind to its further

Time, of course, was now the important matter, and that which caused me
the greatest anxiety.  I feared that even before I could accomplish an
opening on the farther side of the empty barrel, my food would be all
consumed, and my strength quite exhausted.  Perhaps I should die in the
middle of my work--literally "in the breach."

While pondering thus, another new thought came uppermost in my mind.  It
was also a good idea, however horrid it may seem to those who do not
hunger.  But hunger and the dread of starvation have the effect of
simplifying the choice of a man's appetite, and under such circumstances
the stomach ceases to be dainty.

Mine had long since lost all niceness; and was no longer squeamish as to
the sort of food I might swallow.  In fact, _I could have eaten anything
that was eatable_.  And now for the new idea.



For some time I have said nothing of the _rats_.  Do not fancy, from
this silence about them, that they had gone away and left me to myself!
They had done no such thing.  They were around and about me, as brisk as
ever, and as troublesome.  Bolder they could not have been, unless they
had positively assailed me; and no doubt such would have been the case,
had I exposed myself to their attack.

But, whenever I moved, my first care had been to close them out, by
means of walls, which I constructed with pieces of cloth, and thus only
had I kept them at bay.  Now and then, when I had passed from place to
place, I could hear and feel them all around me; and twice or three
times had I been bitten by one or another.  It was only by exercising
extreme vigilance and caution, that I was enabled to keep them from
attacking me.

This parenthesis will, no doubt, lead you to anticipate what I am coming
to, and enable you to guess what was the idea that had taken possession
of my mind.  It had occurred to me, then, that instead of letting the
rats eat me, _I should eat them_.  That was it exactly.

I felt no disgust at the thought of such food; nor would you, if placed
in a situation similar to mine.  On the contrary, I hailed the idea as a
welcome one, since it promised to enable me to carry out my plan of
cutting my way up to the deck--in other words, of _saving my life_.
Indeed, as soon as I had conceived it, I felt as if I was actually
saved.  It only remained to carry out the intention.

I knew there were many rats--too many, I had thought before--but now I
cared not how plentiful they were.  At all events, there were enough of
them to "ration" me for a long while--I hoped long enough for my
purpose.  The question was, how should I capture them?

I could think of no other way but by feeling for them with my hands, and
boldly grasping them, one at a time, and so squeezing the life out of
them.  I had already given my attention to trapping them, without
success.  I had, as you know, killed one, by the only ingenuity I could
think of, and likely enough I might get one or two more in the same way,
but it was just as likely I might not; or even if I succeeded in killing
one or two, the rest might become shy of me, and then the supply would
stop.  Better, therefore, to consider some plan for capturing a large
number of them at once, and so have a larder that would last me for ten
or twelve days.  Perhaps by that time I might be within reach of more
palatable food.  This would be wiser, as well as safer; and I remained
for a long while considering how I should make a wholesale capture.

Necessity is the parent of invention; and I suppose, by the help of
this, more than from any real genius I possessed for contriving, I at
last succeeded in sketching out the plan of a rat-trap.  It was
certainly of the simplest kind, but I felt pretty sure it would be
effective.  I should make me a large bag out of the broadcloth, which I
could easily do, by cutting a piece of the proper length, and sewing up
the two sides with a string.  Strings I had in plenty for the rolls of
cloth had been tied with strong pieces of twine, and of course these
were at hand.  I should use the blade of my knife for a needle, and by
the same instrument I should be enabled to reeve round the mouth of the
bag a strong piece of the twine, to act as a draw-string.

I not only _should_ do all this, but _did_ it without further delay; for
in less than an hour I had my bag (net, I called it) quite finished,
draw-string rove around the mouth, and all complete for action.



I now proceeded to the further carrying out of my design, which had all
been matured while I was working at the bag.  The next step was the
"setting of the net," and this was done as follows:--

I first cleared away the loose bundles so as to make a large space--in
fact, the whole of my original apartment.  This I was able to accomplish
by means of the empty brandy-cask, which I had now filled with
broadcloth.  I also stopped up every aperture and crevice as before,
leaving only one large one--that which I knew the rats were accustomed
to use as their principal entrance.

Right in front of this I placed my bag, with its opened mouth covering
the whole aperture, and with the remainder kept in a state of extension
by means of several props of sticks, which I had cut for the purpose to
a proper length.  Then placing myself on my knees by the mouth of the
bag, I held it wide open, and also kept the draw-string ready between my
fingers.  In this attitude I awaited the coming of the rats.

I knew they would enter the bag, for I had there placed a bait for them.
This bait consisted of some crumbs of biscuit--the very last I had--as
sailors would say, the "last shot in the locker."  I was risking all
upon the cast; and should the rats eat all up and then escape, I should
not have a scrap left me for another meal.

I knew some of them would come, but I was in doubt whether they might
arrive in numbers sufficient to make a good haul.  I feared they might
come one at a time, and thus carry off the bait piece-meal; and to
prevent this, I had ground the crumbs to very dust.  This, I thought,
would delay the first comers until a large assemblage had got into the
bag, and then it was my intention to cut off their retreat by drawing
the string upon them.

Fortune favoured me.  I had not been upon my knees more than a minute,
when I heard the pattering of the little paws of the rats outside, and
also the occasional "queek-queek" of their sharp voices.  In another
second or two, I felt the bag moving between my fingers, and knew that
my victims were creeping inside.  The shaking of the cloth became more
violent, and I was able to perceive that large numbers were crowding in,
eager to get part of the powdered biscuits.  I could feel them
scrambling about, leaping over one another, and squealing as they

This was my cue for drawing the string; and in the next instant I had it
pulled all taut, and the mouth of the bag gathered close and firmly

Not a rat that had entered got out again; and I had the satisfaction to
find that the bag was about half full of these savage creatures.

I lost no time in taming them, however; and this I effected in a
somewhat original manner.

There was one part of the floor of my apartment that was level and firm.
By removing the cloth off it, it was quite hard, being the oak timbers
of the ship itself.  Upon this I deposited the bag of rats, and then,
laying a large piece of deal board on the top, I mounted on this board,
upon my knees, and then pressed it downward with all my weight and

For awhile the bag underneath felt as elastic as a spring mattress, and
heaved upward with a tendency to roll from under the board, but I
replaced the latter with my hands, and then pounced upon it as before.
There was, no doubt, a deal of kicking, and scrambling, and biting
within the bag, and I am sure there was plenty of squealing, for that I
heard.  I gave no heed to such demonstrations, but kept churning on till
every motion had ceased, and all was silence underneath.

I now ventured to take up the bag, and examine its contents.  I was
gratified at the wholesale slaughter I had committed.  There was
evidently a large number of rats within the trap, and every one of them
dead as a door-nail!

At all events, none of them seemed to be stirring, for when I held the
bag up by its mouth, it hung down perfectly still, and there was neither
kick nor squeak inside; and therefore I took it for granted that I had
killed them all.

Notwithstanding this belief, when I proceeded to count them, I inserted
my hand with great caution, and drew them one by one out of the bag.
There were ten of them!

"Ha! ha!" exclaimed I, apostrophising the dead rats, "I've got you at
last, you ugly brutes! and this serves you right for the trouble you
have put me to.  If one good turn deserves another, I suppose so does
one evil one.  Had you let me and mine alone, this ill fortune might not
have befallen you.  But you left me no alternative.  You ate my
biscuits, and, to save myself from starving, I am compelled to eat you!"

This apostrophe ended, I commenced skinning one of the rats, with the
intention of dining upon him.

You may fancy that I anticipated the meal with a feeling of disgust, but
in this you would be greatly mistaken.  Hunger had cured me of all
daintiness.  I had not the slightest repugnance for the food of which I
was about to partake.  On the contrary, I longed to be at it, as much as
you might do for a dinner of the most delicate viands.

So keen was my hunger, that I could hardly wait till I had stripped off
the skin; and five minutes after this operation was finished, I had
bolted the rat raw--body, bones, and all!

If you are anxious to know how it tasted I can only tell you that I
observed nothing disagreeable about it, no more than if it had been the
leg of a fowl or a slice off the most delicate mutton.  It was the first
flesh-meat I had eaten for weeks, and this may have added to my zest for
such food.  Certainly I thought, at the time, that a sweeter morsel had
never gone down my throat, and no longer felt wonder at what books had
told me about the rat-eating Laplanders.



The aspect of my affairs had now undergone a complete change for the
better.  My larder was replenished with store enough to last me for ten
days, at the least; for I made a sort of resolution that my future
ration should be one rat per diem.  In ten days what might I not effect?
Surely I should be able to accomplish the great feat which I ought to
have attempted at the first, but which, as ill fortune would have it, I
had hitherto considered impossible--that is, to cut my way to the deck.

A rat a day, reflected I, will not only keep me alive, but restore some
of my spent strength; and labouring constantly for ten days, I should be
almost certain to reach the topmost tier of the cargo.  Perhaps in less
time?  If less, all the better; but certainly in ten days I might get
through them all, even though there should be ten tiers of boxes between
me and the upper deck.

Such were the new hopes with which the successful rat-catching had
inspired me, and my mind was restored to a state of confidence and
equanimity that had long been stranger to it.

I had one apprehension that still slightly troubled me, and that was
about getting through the cask.  It was not the fear of the time it
might take, for I no longer believed that I should be pinched for time;
but I was still in dread lest the fumes of the brandy (which inside the
cask were as strong as ever) might again overcome my senses, despite all
my resolution to guard against a too long exposure to them.  Even when I
had entered the cask on the second occasion, it was as much as I could
do to drag myself out of it again.

I resolved, however, to steel myself against the seductions of the
potent spirit that dwelt within the great barrel, and retreat before I
felt its influence too strong to be resisted.

Notwithstanding that I was now more confident as regarded time, I had no
thought of wasting it in idleness; and as soon as my dinner was washed
down by a copious libation from the water-butt, I possessed myself once
more of my knife, and proceeded towards the empty cask, to take a new
spell at enlarging the bung-hole.

Ha! the cask was not empty.  It was full of cloth.  In the excitement of
trapping the "vermin," I had forgotten the circumstance of my having
placed the cloth within the empty barrel.

Of course, thought I, I must remove it again, in order to make room for
my work; and laying aside the knife, I commenced pulling out the pieces.

While thus engaged, a new reflection arose, and I asked myself some
questions, to the following effect:--

Why am I removing the cloth from the brandy-cask?  Why not let it remain
there?  Why try to go through the cask at all?

Certainly there was no reason why I should proceed in that direction.
There _had been_, at an earlier period--while I was only searching for
food, and not thinking of the object I now desired and hoped to
accomplish--but for my newly-conceived enterprise there was no necessity
to cut through the cask at all.  On the contrary, it would be the worst
direction I could take.  It did not lie in the line which would lead to
the hatchway, and that was the line in which my tunnel ought to point.
I was pretty certain as to the direction of the hatch, for I remembered
how I passed from it to the water-butt when I first came into the hold.

I had struck sharply to the right, and gone in a nearly direct line for
the end of the butt.  All these little points I distinctly remembered,
and I was confident that my position was somewhere near the middle of
the ship, on the side which sailors would call the "starboard beam."  To
go through the cask, therefore, would lead me too far aft of the
main-hatchway, which was that by which I had come down.  Moreover, there
was still the difficulty of broaching the side of the cask--greatly
exaggerated, of course, by the dangerous atmosphere I should be
compelled to breathe while effecting it.

Why, then, should I attempt it at all?  Why not return, and proceed once
more in the direction of the boxes?  Circumstances were changed since I
was last there.  I could now find vent for my "back-water," since the
empty cask would serve for that, in one case as well as the other.
Besides, it would be much easier to cut through the deal board than the
hard oak; and, moreover, I had made some progress in that--the right--
direction already.  Therefore, considering all things--the danger as
well as the difficulty--I came to the conclusion that, by tunnelling
through the cask, I would be heading the wrong way; and, in this belief,
I turned right about, determined to take the other.

Before proceeding to the boxes, I repacked the cloth into the cask, and
added more, placing it piece by piece, with sufficient care, and
afterwards wedging it in as tightly as my strength would permit.

I was considerate, also, to return my nine rats to the bag, and draw the
string; for I suspected that I had not killed all the rats in the ship,
and I feared that the comrades of the defunct nine might take a fancy to
eat their old shipmates.  This I had been told was not an uncommon habit
of the hideous brutes, and I determined to guard against it, so far as
my victims were concerned.

When these arrangements were completed, I swallowed a fresh cup of
water, and crawled once more into one of the empty boxes.



It was into the cloth-case which I had entered--that one which lay
contiguous to the box that had contained the biscuits.  It was from it I
determined to start with my new tunnel; and I had two reasons for making
it my terminus: first, because I believed that it was situated almost in
a direct line with the main-hatchway.  For that matter, so too was the
biscuit-box; but the latter was smaller than the cloth-case, and
therefore would not afford me so much room to carry on my work.

The second reason, however, which influenced my choice, was of more
importance.  I had already ascertained that another cloth-case stood on
the top of this one, whereas the biscuit-box had bales of linen--both on
the top, and at that end through which I should have to make way.  Now,
I was convinced that I could much more easily remove the pieces of cloth
than the hard rolls of linen--indeed I was not certain that these could
be stirred at all--and therefore it was that I made choice of the

Once inside it, you will suppose that I went immediately to work; but
no.  I remained for a considerable time without moving either hand or
arm.  I was not idle, however, for all that, but busy with all the
faculties of my mind in full action.

In fact, the plan I had just conceived, had awakened in me a sort of new
energy; and the hopes of safety that now presented themselves were as
strong, and stronger, than any I had entertained since the first hour of
my captivity.  The prospect, too, was far brighter.  Even after my
discovery of the butt of water and box of biscuits--even when I believed
there would be a sufficient quantity of both to last out the voyage,
there was still the long imprisonment before me--months of silent and
wretched solitude to be endured.

Now it was different.  In a few days, if fortune favoured me, I should
once more gaze upon the bright sky--once more breathe the free air of
heaven--once more look upon the faces of men, and listen to the sweetest
of all sounds--the voices of my fellow-creatures.

I felt like one long lost in the desert, who beholds afar off upon the
horizon some signs of the habitation of civilised men.  Perhaps the dark
outlines of trees--perhaps the blue smoke rising over some distant
fire--but something that produces within him a hope that he will soon be
restored to the association of his fellow-men.

Just such a hope had sprung up within me, every moment becoming
stronger, till it amounted almost to a feeling of certainty.

It was perhaps this very confidence that kept me from rushing too
hastily towards the execution of my plan.  It was a matter of too much
importance to be trifled with--an enterprise too grand either to be
commenced or carried through in a reckless or hurried manner.  Some
unforeseen object might become an obstacle--some accident might arise,
which would lead to failure and ruin.

To avoid all chances of this, therefore, I resolved to proceed with as
much caution as I could command; and before making any commencement of
the work designed, to consider it in all its bearings.  For this
purpose, I sat down within the cloth-case, and yielded up my whole power
of thought to an examination of my intended task.

One thing appeared very clear to me--that the task would be one of very
considerable magnitude.  As already stated, I knew that I was near the
bottom of the hold; and I was not ignorant of the great depth of the
hold of a large ship.  I remembered that in slipping down the
rope-tackle, it was as much as I could do to hold on till I had reached
the bottom; and a glance upward after I had reached it, showed the
hatchway a vast height above me.  I reasoned, then, that if all that
space was filled with merchandise quite up to the hatch--and no doubt it
was--then I should have a long tunnel to make.

Besides, I should not only have to cut upwards, but also in a direction
leading towards the hatchway--that is, nearly half across the breadth of
the ship.  This last did not trouble me so much; for I was pretty sure I
would not be able to go in a direct line, on account of the nature of
the packages I should encounter.  A bale of linen, for instance, or some
like unwieldy substance, would have to be got round; and, at each stage,
I should have a choice either to proceed upward or in a horizontal
direction--whichever might appear the easiest.

In this way I should rise by steps, as it were, obliquing always in the
direction of the hatchway.

Neither the number of the packages I might have to burrow through, nor
the distance, troubled me so much as the materials which they might
contain.  It was this thought which gave me the most concern; for the
difficulty would be greater or less according to the materials I should
have to remove out of my way.  Should many of the articles prove to be
of that kind, that, when taken out of the cases, would become more
bulky, and could not be compressed again, then I should have to dread
the "back-water;" and in reality this was one of the worst of my
apprehensions.  I had experienced already what a misfortune it would be,
since, but for the lucky circumstance of the brandy-cask, the plan I was
now about to attempt would have been altogether impracticable.

Linen I dreaded more than any other material.  It would be more
difficult to get through, and when removed from its close-pressed bales,
could not possibly be repacked in so small a space.  I could only hope,
therefore, that the cargo contained a very small quantity of this
beautiful and useful fabric.

I thought over many things which might be comprised in that great wooden
chamber.  I even tried to remember what sort of a country Peru was, and
what articles of commerce would be most likely to be carried there from
England.  But I could make very little of this train of reasoning, so
ignorant was I of commercial geography.  One thing was certain: it was
what is called an "assorted cargo," for such are the cargoes usually
sent to the seaports of the Pacific.  I might, therefore, expect to
encounter a little of this, and a little of that--in short, everything
produced in our great manufacturing cities.

After I had spent nearly half an hour in this sort of conjecturing.  I
began to perceive that it could serve no purpose.  It would be only
guesswork, at best, and it was evident I could not tell what quality of
metal the mine contained, until I had first sunk my shaft.

The moment to commence that labour had arrived; and, throwing reflection
for the time behind me, I betook myself to the task.



It will be remembered that in my former expedition into the two boxes of
cloth--while in hopes of finding more biscuits, or something else that
was eatable--I had ascertained the sort of packages that surrounded
them, as well as those that were placed above.  It will be remembered,
also, that on that end of the first cloth-case which lay towards the
hatchway I had found a bale of linen; but on the top of the same case
rested another of cloth, apparently similar to itself.  Into this one on
the top I had already effected an entrance; and therefore I could now
count upon having made so much way _upward_.  By emptying the upper case
of its contents, I should thus have gained one clear stage in the right
direction; and considering the time and trouble it took to hew my way
through the side of one box, and then through the adjacent side of
another, this portion of my work already accomplished was a matter of
congratulation.  I say already accomplished, for it only remained to
drag down the pieces of cloth contained in the upper box, and stow them
away to the rear.

To do this, then, was the first act of my new enterprise, and I
proceeded to its execution without further delay.

After all, it did not prove a very easy task.  I experienced the same
difficulty as before, in detaching the pieces of cloth from one another,
and drawing them forth from their tightly-fitting places.  How-ever, I
succeeded in getting them clear; and then taking them, one at a time, I
carried, or rather pushed them before me, until I had got them to the
very farthest corner of my quarters, by the end of the old brandy-cask.
There I arranged them, not in any loose or negligent manner, but with
the greatest precision and care; packing them into the smallest bulk,
and leaving no empty corners, between them and the timbers, big enough
to have given room to a rat.

Not that I cared about rats sheltering themselves there.  I no longer
troubled my head about them; and although I had reason to know that
there were still some of them in the neighbourhood, my late sanguinary
_razzia_ among them had evidently rendered them afraid to come within
reach of me.  The terrible screeching which their companions had
uttered, while I was pounding the life out of them, had rung loudly all
through the hold of the ship, and had acted upon those of the survivors,
that had heard it, as a salutary warning.  No doubt they were greatly
frightened by what they had heard; and perceiving that I was a dangerous
fellow-passenger, would be likely to give me a "wide berth" during the
remainder of the voyage.

It was not any thought about the rats, then, that caused me to caulk up
every corner so closely, but simply with the view of economising space;
for, as I have already said, this was the point about which I had the
greatest apprehensions.

Proceeding, then, in this vigorous but careful manner, I at length
emptied the upper box, and finished by stowing away its contents behind
me.  I had managed the latter to my entire satisfaction, and I was under
the belief that I had repacked the pieces of cloth in such a manner as
to lose scarcely the bulk of one of them of my valuable space.

The result had an encouraging effect upon me, and produced a
cheerfulness of spirits to which I had long been a stranger.  In this
pleasant mood I mounted into the upper box--the one which I had just
cleared--and after placing one of the loose boards across the bottom,
which had been partially removed, I sat down upon it, leaving my legs to
hang over into the empty space below.  In this attitude, which was
entirely new to me, and in which I had plenty of room to sit upright and
at my ease, I found a new source of gratification.  Confined so long
within a chamber whose greatest height was little over three feet, while
my own was four, I had been compelled to stoop in a crouching attitude
whenever I attempted to stand; and I was even obliged to sit with my
legs bent, and my knees on a level with my chin.  These inconveniences
are but slight, when one has only to suffer them for a short while; but
under long endurance, they become irksome and even painful.  It was,
therefore, not only a release, but a great luxury to me, to find that I
had room enough to sit upright, and with my legs at full stretch.
Better still, I could also _stand_ erect, for the two boxes now
communicated with each other, and it was full six feet from the bottom
of the one to the top of the other.  Of course my own height being only
four, left two feet of space between the crown of my head and the
ceiling of my new apartment, which I could not even touch with the tips
of my fingers.

Perceiving my advantages, I did not remain long seated.  I had gone into
the upper box, chiefly for the purpose of making a survey of its
dimensions, and also to ascertain whether I had quite cleared out its
contents; and then I had sat down as described.  But I was not long in
this attitude, when it occurred to me that I could enjoy a "stand up"
still better; and with this idea I slipped back again till my feet
rested on the bottom of the lower case, while my head, neck, and
shoulders remained within the compartment of the upper.  This gave me an
attitude perfectly erect, and I was not slow in perceiving that this was
for me the true position of rest.  Contrary to the usual habit of human
bipeds, standing was to me easier than sitting; but there was nothing
odd about the thing, when it is remembered how many long days and nights
I had spent either seated or on my knees; and I now longed to assume
that proud attitude which distinguishes mankind from the rest of
creation.  In truth, I felt it to be a positive luxury to be permitted
once more to stand at full height; and for a long while I remained in
this attitude without moving a limb.

I was not idle, however.  My mind was active as ever; and the subject
with which it was occupied was the direction in which I should next
carry my tunnel--whether still upward, through the lid of the
newly-emptied case, or whether through the end that lay toward the
hatchway?  The choice lay between a _horizontal_ and a _vertical_
direction.  There were reasons in favour of each--and reasons also that
influenced me against one and the other--and to weigh these reasons, and
finally determine upon which direction I should take, was a matter of so
much importance that it was a good while before I could bring my plans
to a satisfactory conclusion.



There was one reason that would have influenced me to cut upward through
the lid.  It was, that by taking that direction, I should arrive the
sooner at the top of all the packages; and once there, I might find a
vacant space between them and the timbers of the deck, through which I
could crawl at once to the hatchway.  This would give me less tunnelling
to do, since the vertical line would be shorter than that passing
diagonally to the hatch.  In fact, every foot gained in a horizontal
direction would appear to be no gain at all, since there would still be
the same height to be reached vertically.

It was highly probable there was a space between the cargo and the
under-side of the deck timbers; and in the hope that this might be so, I
made up my mind not to proceed in the horizontal direction unless when I
should be forced out of the other by some obstacle that I could not
remove.  For all this, I resolved to make my first cut _horizontally_;
and three reasons guided me to this resolve.  The first was, that the
end-boards of the case appeared somewhat loose, as if they could be
easily got out of the way.  The second was, that in thrusting the blade
of my knife through the slits of the lid, it touched against a soft but
stiff substance, which had all the "feel" of one of those dreaded
packages which had hitherto proved so often an obstacle, and which I had
already most bitterly anathematised.

I tried the slit in several places, and still touched what appeared to
be a bale of linen.  At the end of the case I made trial also, but there
it was wood that resisted the point of my blade.  It appeared to be
deal, and the same as the other boxes were made of; but even had it
proved to be timber of the hardest kind, it would be easier to cut a
hole through it than through a bale of linen.

This reason would have been of itself sufficient to have influenced me
to choose the horizontal direction; but there was still a third that
offered itself to my view.

This third reason will not be so easily understood by those who are
unacquainted with the interior of the hold of a ship, particularly such
ships as were built in the time of which I am speaking, which you will
remember was a great many years ago.  In ships of the proper shape, such
as the Americans have taught us to build, the reason I am about to give
would not have any application.

But I shall enter into particulars, so that you may comprehend it; and,
at the same time, in this trifling digression from the thread of my
narrative, I hope, young friends, to teach you a lesson of political
wisdom that may benefit both you and your country when you are old
enough to practise it.

I hold the doctrine, or, I should rather say, I have long been aware of
the fact (for there is no "doctrine" about it), that the study which is
usually styled Political Science, is the most important study that ever
occupied the attention of men.  It embraces and influences all other
existences in the social world.  Every art, science, or manufacture
hinges upon this, and depends upon it for success or failure.  Even
morality itself is but a corollary of the political state, and crime a
consequence of its bad organisation.  The political _status_ of a
country is the _main_ cause of its happiness or its misery.  In no case
has government reached anything approaching to justice; hence, there is
no people who ever has, as a whole, enjoyed ordinary happiness.
Poverty, misery, crime, degradation, are the lot of the _majority_ in
every land, except one, and in that one there is yet nothing near
perfection in government, only a step in advance.

As I have said, then, the _laws_ of a country--in other words, its
_political_ condition--influence almost everything: the ship we set sail
in, the carriage we ride in, the implements of our labour, the utensils
we employ in our dwellings, even the comfort of our dwellings
themselves.  Nay more, and of still greater importance, they influence
_ourselves_--the shape of our bodies, and the disposition of our souls.
The dash of a despot's pen, or a foolish act passed in Parliament, which
might appear to have no personal application to any one, may exert a
secret and invisible influence, that, in one single generation, will
make a whole people wicked in soul and ignoble in person.

I could prove what I state with the certainty of a geometric truth, but
I have no time now.  Enough if I give you an illustration.  Hear it,

Many years ago a law was passed in the British Parliament for the
taxation of ships, for they, like everything else, must pay for their
existence.  There was a difficulty how to proportion this tax.  It would
scarcely be just to make the owner of a poor little schooner pay the
enormous sum required from him who is the proprietor of a grand ship of
two thousand tons.  It would at once eat up the profits of the lesser
craft, and _swamp_ her altogether.  How, then, was this difficulty to be
got over?  A reasonable solution appeared.  Tax each vessel in
proportion to her tonnage.

The scheme was adopted; but then another difficulty presented itself.
How was this proportion to be obtained?  It was by _bulk_ that the ships
were to be taxed; but tonnage is _weight_, not bulk.  How, then, was
this new difficulty to be got over?  Simply by taking some standard size
as the weight of a ton, and then ascertaining how many of these _sizes_
the vessel would contain.  In fact, after all, it came to _measurement_,
not weight.

Next came the idea as to how the measurement was to be made, so that it
would exhibit the relative proportions of ships; and that was very
fittingly done by ascertaining in each the length of keel, the breadth
of beam, and the depth of the hold.  These three, when multiplied
together, will give relative sizes of ships, _if these skips be properly

A law was thus obtained sufficiently just for taxation purposes, and you
would think (if you are a superficial thinker) that this law could in no
way exert any bad influence, except on those who had the tax to pay.

Not so; that simple, unsuspicious-looking law has caused more evil to
the human race, more waste of time and loss of life, more consumption of
human means, than would buy up at the present moment all the slavery
existing in the world!

How has it done this?  You will ask the question with surprise, I have
no doubt.

Simply, then, by its not only having retarded the progress of
improvement in ship-building--one of the most important arts in the
possession of man--but actually by its having thrown the art _backward_
by hundreds of years.  And thus came the evil to pass: the owner--or he
who was to be the owner--of a new ship, seeing no means of avoiding the
heavy tax, was desirous of reducing it as much as possible, for
dishonesty of this kind is the certain and natural result of
over-taxation.  He goes to the ship-builder; he orders him to build a
vessel with such and such measurements of keel, beam and depth of hold--
in other words, of such tonnage as will be required to pay a certain
amount of tax.  But he does not stop there: he desires the builder, if
possible, to make the vessel otherwise of such capacity that she will
actually contain a third more of measured tonnage than that for which
the tax is to be paid.  This will lighten his tax upon the whole, and
thus enable him to _cheat the government_ that has put such a grievous
impost upon his enterprise.

Is it possible to build a ship of the kind he requires?  Quite so; and
the ship-builder knows he can accomplish it by swelling out the vessel
at the bows, and bellying her out at the sides, and broadening her at
the stern, and altogether making her of such a ridiculous shape, that
she will move slowly, and become the grave of many a hapless mariner.
The ship-builder not only knows that this can be done; but, complying
with the wishes of the merchant-owner, he does it, and has done it for
so long a period that he has grown to believe that this clumsy structure
is the true shape of a ship, and would not, and could not, build any
other.  Nay, still more lamentable to state: this awkward form has so
grown into his thoughts, and become part of his belief, that after the
foolish law is repealed, it will take long, long years to eradicate the
deception from his mind.  In fact, a new generation of ship-builders
will have to be waited for, before ships will appear of a proper and
convenient form.  Fortunately, that new generation has already sprung up
beyond the Atlantic, and by their aid we shall get out of this hundred
years' dilemma a little sooner.  Even they have been half a century in
arriving at what is yet far from perfection in the art; but, unsaddled
by the incubus of the tax, they have been looking at the fishes in the
sea, and drawing a few ideas from the mechanism of nature; and hence
their present superiority.

Now you will better understand what I mean by the assertion that
_political science is the most important study that can occupy the minds
of men_.



The good ship _Inca_, then, was like most others built to the merchants'
order.  She was "pigeon-breasted," and bulged out along the sides in
such a fashion, that her hold was far wider than her beam; and, looking
up from the bottom of the hold, the sides appeared to curve towards each
other, and converge over you like a roof.  I knew that this was the
shape of the _Inca_, for it was then the universal shape of merchant
vessels, and I was somewhat used to noticing ships of all kinds that
came into our bay.

I have said that, while trying through the slits of the top of the box
with my knife, I felt something soft, which I took to be a bale of
linen; but I had also noticed that it did not extend over the whole lid.
On the contrary, there was about a foot at the end--that end contiguous
to the ship's timbers--where I could feel nothing.  There were two
slits, and I had run my blade through each without touching any
substance, either hard or soft.  I concluded, therefore, that there was
nothing there, and that about a foot of space behind the bale of linen
was empty.

This was easily explained.  The bale standing on the two large
cloth-cases, was at that height where the side of the ship began to
curve inwards; and as its top would lie in contact with the timbers
higher up, the bottom angle would evidently be thrown out from them to
the distance of a foot or so, thus leaving a three-cornered space quite
empty, being only large enough to hold small packages of goods.

I reasoned, therefore, that if I were to proceed vertically upward, I
should soon come in contact with the side timbers of the ship,
constantly curving inward as high as the deck itself, and that I should
meet with many obstacles, such as small packages, which I knew would be
more difficult to deal with than large cases and boxes.  For this
reason, then, but more for the others already assigned, I came to the
determination to make my next move in a horizontal direction.

You will perhaps wonder that I should have taken so much pains to
determine this point; but when you reflect upon the time and labour
which it required to cut through the side of a box, and then through the
adjacent side of the next--in short, to make a "stage" in advance--when
you reflect that a _whole day_ might be so occupied, you will then
perceive how important it was not to act rashly, but, if possible, to
proceed in the right direction.

After all, I was not quite so long in choosing which way to go, as I
have here been in narrating my reflections about it.  It only required a
few minutes for me to make up my mind; but I was so pleased at being
once more on my legs, that I remained standing for nearly half an hour.

When sufficiently rested by this, I placed my arms inside the upper
case; and then, drawing myself up, prepared to go on with my work.

I experienced a thrill of joy as I found myself in this upper box.  I
was now in the _second tier_ of the packages, and more than six feet
from the bottom of the hold.  I was full three feet higher than I had
yet been; three feet nearer to the deck and the sky--to my
fellow-creatures--to liberty!

On minutely examining the end of the case through which I intended to
make an aperture, I was further joyed to find that this part of my work
would not be difficult.  One board was already loose--the looseness
having been caused by my tearing out the large piece at the bottom.
Moreover, the blade of my knife told me that the object that was beyond,
did not stand close up to the case, but was several inches from it.  In
fact, I could only just reach it with the tip of the blade.  This was a
manifest advantage.  I should be able, by a strong push or kick, to
start the board outward, and then dispose of it on one side or the other
between the two packages.

And this I finally succeeded in doing.  Booted for the purpose, I laid
myself back, and then commenced beating a tattoo with my heels.

In a short while the "scranching" sound announced that the hoops and
nails were giving way; and after another kick or two the board flew out,
and slipped down between the boxes quite out of my reach.

I was not slow in thrusting my hands through the aperture thus made, and
endeavouring to ascertain what sort of an article was to come next; but
though I could feel a broad surface of rough plank, I was unable to make
out what sort of a package it was.

I knocked out another piece from the end of the cloth-case, and then a
third--which was all there was of it--so that I had now the whole end
open before me.

This gave me a fine opportunity to explore beyond, and I continued my
examination.  To my surprise, I found that the broad surface of rough
deal extended in every direction beyond my reach.  It rose vertically,
like a wall, not only covering the whole end of the cloth-case, but
stretching beyond it, upward and on both sides--how far I could not
tell, but so far that, after thrusting my arms up to the elbows, I could
feel neither edge nor corner.

This, then, was certainly a case of different shape and size from any I
had yet encountered; but what kind of goods it contained, I had not the
slightest idea.  Cloth it was not likely to be, else it would have
resembled the other cases; nor yet linen--and there was some
gratification in knowing it could not be this.

In order to ascertain what it really was, I inserted my blade through
the slits of the rough deal.  I felt something like paper; but I could
perceive that this was only an outside covering, for immediately under
it a hard substance resisted the point of my blade, almost as hard and
smooth as marble.  By pressing the knife forcibly, however, I could feel
that it was not stone, but wood, some kind that was very hard, and that
appeared to be polished finely on the surface.  When I struck suddenly
against it, it gave out an odd echo--a sort of ringing sound, or
"twang," but for all this, I could not imagine what it was.

There was no help for it but to cut into the case, and then perhaps I
should become better acquainted with the contents.

I followed a plan I had tried already.  I selected one of the boards, of
which the great case was made, and with my knife cut it across the
middle.  It was nearly twelve inches in width, and the work occupied me
for many long hours.  My knife had become as "dull as a beetle," and
this added to the difficulty of the task.

The section was completed, at length; and, laying aside the knife, I
contrived to draw one end of the cut plank outwards.  The space between
the two cases gave me room to move the board upward and downward, till
at length the nails at the end were twisted out, and the board fell down
along with the others.

The second half was displaced in a similar manner; and I had now made an
opening in the great case, large enough to enable me to examine its

There were sheets of paper spread over the surface of something hard and
smooth.  These I dragged outwards, and laid the surface bare; and then I
ran my fingers over it.  I perceived that it was some kind of wood, but
polished till it was as slippery as glass.  It felt to the touch just
like the surface of a mahogany table; and I might have mistaken it for
one, but on rapping it with my knuckles, it gave forth that same ringing
hollow sound I had already noticed.  Striking it with still greater
violence, I could hear a prolonged musical vibration, that reminded me
of an Eolian harp.

But I had now become aware of the nature of this huge object.  It was a
_Pianoforte_.  I had seen one like it before.  One used to stand in the
corner of our little parlour, upon which my mother often made most
beautiful music.  Yes, the object whose broad smooth surface now barred
my way, was neither more nor less than a _Piano_.



It was with unpleasant feelings I arrived at this knowledge.  Beyond
doubt, the piano would be a difficult obstacle, if not a complete
barrier, to my further progress in that direction.  It was evidently one
of the grandest of "grand pianos," far larger than the one I remembered
to have stood in my mother's cottage parlour.  Its upper side, or table,
was towards me, for it had been placed upon its edge; and I could tell
by the echo given back to my blows that this table was a piece of
mahogany of an inch or more in thickness.  It appeared, moreover, to
consist of one solid board, for I could feel no crack or joining over
its whole extent; and to get through this board, therefore, a hole would
have to be made by sheer cutting and carving.

With such a tool as I handled, to make a hole big enough to creep
through, even had it been common deal, would have been a work of no
ordinary magnitude; but through a solid plank of mahogany doubly
hardened by a process of staining and polishing, was a task that
appalled me.

Besides, even could I succeed in doing so--even could I cut through the
table-top--which, though a severe and tedious labour, would not have
been impossible--what then?  There were all the inside works to be got
out.  I knew little of the arrangement of the interior.  I only
remembered having observed a great many pieces of black and white ivory;
and vast numbers of strong wire strings.  There were shelves too, and
pieces that ran lengthwise, and upright pieces, and then the pedals--all
of which would be very difficult to detach from their places.  Beyond
these, again, there would be a bottom of hard mahogany, to say nothing
of the case on the other side, and through these another aperture would
have to be made to let me out.

Still, other difficulties stared me in the face.  Even should I succeed
in getting the works loose, and drawing them out, and disposing of them
behind me, would I then find room enough within the shell of the
instrument to enable me to cut through its opposite side and also the
case, and, still more, to make an entrance into whatever case or box lay
beyond?  This was a doubtful point, though not very doubtful.  It was
rather too certain that I could not do so.

Still, I might work upwards once I had cleared out the shell; but the
clearing out the shell was of itself the most doubtful point; for that I
feared I should not be able to effect at all.

On the whole, the difficulty of this enterprise quite dismayed me; and
the more I thought about it, the less inclination I felt to attempt it.
After considering it in all its bearings, I abandoned the idea
altogether; and instead of trying to make a breach through the great
wall of mahogany, I resolved upon "turning" it.

I was considerably chagrined at being forced into this resolution, the
more so that I had lost half a day's labour in hewing through the
outside case; and all this, as well as the opening of the end of the
cloth-box, now counted for nothing.  But it could not be helped.  I had
no time to spend in idle regrets; and, like a besieging general, I
commenced a fresh _reconnaissance_ of the ground, in order to discover
what would be my best route to _outflank_ the fortress.

I was still under the belief that it was a bale of linen that lay on the
top, and this quite hindered me from thinking of going upward.  My
attention was turned, therefore, to the right and the left.

I knew that by tunnelling either way I should gain no advantage.  It
would not bring me an inch nearer the desired goal; and even after I
should have made a stage in either direction, I should still be only in
the "second tier."  This was discouraging enough--more loss of labour
and time--but I dreaded that horrid bale of linen!

One advantage I had gained by knocking out the whole end of the
cloth-case.  I have already said there was a space of several inches
between it and the great _coffin_ that contained the piano.  Into this
space I could insert my arm beyond the elbow, and ascertain something
about the sort of goods that lay right and left of me.

I did so.  I was able to perceive that on each side was a box or case--
both of which, as near as I could guess, were similar to that in which I
was--that is, both were cloth-cases.  This would do well enough.  I had
now obtained such practice in breaking open these chests, and rifling
them of their contents, that I considered it a mere bagatelle; and I
should not have desired anything better than that the cargo had
consisted entirely of those goods, for which the West of England has
long been so famous.

While groping along the sides of these cases, it occurred to me to raise
my hand upward, and just ascertain how far the bale of linen projected
over the empty cloth-case.  To my astonishment it did not project at
all!  I say to my astonishment, for those bales I had already examined
were as near as possible of the same size as the cases of broadcloth;
and as this one wanted quite a foot of being "flush" with the inner end
of the case, I concluded I should find it that much over at the other
end.  But it was not--not an inch over; and therefore, thought I, it
must be a smaller package than the others.

While making this reflection something suggested that I should
scrutinise the bale more closely.  I did so, both with my fingers and
the blade of my knife, and was now agreeably surprised to find that it
was not a _bale_ at all, but a wooden box.  It was covered all over with
a soft thick substance--a piece of rush matting--and this it was that
had led to my mistake.

The possibility of tunnelling in a vertical direction was now apparent.
I could easily hew off the rush matting and then deal with the box as I
had done with the others.

Of course, I thought no longer of taking the roundabout way by the right
or the left; but at once changed my intention, and determined to travel

I need hardly describe how I made my entry into this mat-covered box.
Suffice it to say, that I began by cutting one of the lid boards of the
empty cloth-case, and then drawing it downwards till I pulled it out.
The open space by the side of the ship proved an advantage to me while
making the cross-section, as it allowed me to ply my blade freely
through the planks.

Having succeeded with one board, I was enabled to detach another without
any more hewing; and this gave me enough space to work on the bottom of
the covered case.

By dint of cutting and tearing I soon got the rushes out of the way, and
then the wood was revealed to my touch; and by this delicate sense I
perceived that, like the others, it was a case of common deal.

I only rested a moment before beginning my attack upon it.  As it lay
twelve inches from the timbers of the ship, one of its angles was quite
within my reach; and on running my hand along it, I could feel the heads
of the nails, that did not appear to be either numerous or very firmly
driven.  This gave me satisfaction, and still more was I rejoiced to
find that there was no hooping upon it.  I should, perhaps, be enabled
to prise off one of the boards, and this would save me the long,
wearisome task of cutting it crossways.

At the moment this appeared a fortunate circumstance, and I
congratulated myself upon it.  Alas! it proved the cause of a sad
misfortune, that in five minutes had plunged me once more into the
deepest misery.

Half-a-dozen words will explain.

I had inserted the blade of my knife under the board, and was trying if
it felt loose.  Not that I believed I could prize it off with this; but
rather to ascertain what resistance there was, in order to look out for
some more proper lever.

To my sorrow, I leant too heavily upon the piece of steel; for a short,
sharp crack, startling me worse than a shot would have done, announced
that _the blade was broken_!



Yes, the blade was broken quite through, and remained sticking between
the pieces of wood.  The haft came away in my hand; and as I passed my
thumb over the end of it, I could perceive that the blade had snapped
off close to the end of the back-spring, so that not even the tenth of
an inch of it was left in the handle.

I cannot describe the chagrin which this incident caused me.  I at once
recognised it as a misfortune of the very gravest kind, for without the
knife what could I do?

Without it I was, as might be said, _unarmed and helpless_.  I could
make no further progress with my tunnel; I should have to abandon the
enterprise so lately conceived, and upon which I had built such hopes of
success; in other words, I might now renounce my design of proceeding
farther, and resign myself to the miserable fate that once more stared
me in the face.

There was something awful in this reaction of my spirits.  It was
painful in the extreme.  The very suddenness of the change rendered the
shock more acute.  But the moment before, I was full of confidence,
making fair progress in my enterprise, and cheered with partial success.
This unexpected misfortune had interrupted all, and plunged me back
again into the gloomy gulf of despair.

For a long while I remained wavering and undecided.  I could not make up
my mind to do anything.  What could I do?  I could not continue my work:
I had no tool to work with!

My mind seemed to wander.  Several times I passed my thumb along the
handle of my knife, till it rested upon the short stump of the broken
blade, or rather upon the neck, for the blade was all gone.  I did this
in a sort of mechanical way, to assure myself that it was really broken
off; for so sudden had been the misfortune, that I could yet hardly
believe in its reality.  In truth, it had quite bewildered my senses,
and in this state they remained for several minutes.

When the first shock was over, my self-possession slowly and gradually
returned.  Assured at length of the sad reality, and knowing the worst,
I began to reflect whether something might not still be done with the
broken weapon.

The words of a great poet, which I had heard at school, came into my
mind: "_Men better do their broken weapons use, than their bare hands_;"
and the suggestion that this wise saying afforded, I now took to myself.
It occurred to me, then, to examine the blade.  The haft I held in my
hand, but the blade still remained in the angle of the box, where it had
broken off.

I drew it out, and passed my finger over it.  It was still entire, and
as much of a blade as ever; but, alas! without the handle, what use
could I make of it?

I grasped it round the thick end, and made trial whether I could still
cut with it.  It was some satisfaction to find that I could--a little.
The blade was a good long one, and this was a fortunate circumstance.
By wrapping a piece of rag around the thick end, I might yet make it
available; though, of course, any cutting I might hereafter do with it,
would be a slow and painful operation.

The idea of setting the blade in the haft again was out of the question.
It is true I entertained it at first, but I soon discovered a
difficulty not to be got over; and that was the removal of the

Could I only have got this out of the way, the haft would still have
served for a handle.  I could easily have inserted the broken end of the
blade between the scales; and as I had plenty of good string, I might
have tied it firmly there.  But I had nothing to draw the well-riveted
nail, and the back-spring resisted all my efforts to detach it.

The haft, therefore, was of no more use than an ordinary piece of
stick--indeed, not so much, for just then it occurred to me that a piece
of stick might serve my purpose better.  Out of a proper piece, I might
be able to make some sort of a handle that would serve to hold the
blade, so that I might still cut with it.

The encouragement which this idea gave me, once more roused my mind to
new activity, and I set to thinking how I might make a new haft for the
broken blade.

Necessity sharpened my ingenuity; and I was not long in conceiving my
design, nor a great while either about the execution of it; for in about
an hour's time I held in my hand a knife with a complete handle.  It was
but a rude one at best; but I felt satisfied it would serve my purpose
nearly as well as that which I had lost; and this belief once more
restored me to confidence and cheerfulness.

The new haft I had made in the following fashion:--Having procured a
piece of wood from one of the thick boards, I first whittled it to the
proper shape and size.  This I was enabled to do with the blade, which,
although without a handle, served well enough for light work like that.
I then contrived to make a cleft in the stick, to the depth of two
inches from its end; and into this cleft I inserted the broken end of
the blade.  To lap this tightly with a string, was my next idea; but I
perceived at once that this would not do.  The string would be stretched
by the action of the blade, and the latter would soon get loose.  If the
sharp edge only came against the twine, while the blade was being worked
backwards and forwards, it would instantly sever it, and then the blade
would pull out, perhaps drop down among the boxes, and so get lost.
Such an accident would be fatal to my prospects; and, if possible, I
must not risk it.

What could I find that would fasten the blade more securely in the
cleft?  If I could have obtained a yard or two of wire, it would have
been just the thing; but there was no wire near me.  What! thought I, no
wire near me?  The piano! the strings! surely _they_ are of wire?

Once more the piano became the object of my attention; and if I could at
that moment have reached the inside of it, I should certainly have
robbed it of one of its strings.  But, then, to get at the string?--that
was a difficulty I had not thought of, but which the next moment came up
before me.  Of course, with my knife in its present condition, to cut my
way into the piano would be a sheer impossibility, and I was forced to
abandon the idea.

But in that instant I thought of another expedient--I thought of the
iron hooping, of which there was plenty within my reach.  The very
thing.  A piece of this would serve my purpose equally as well as wire.
It was thin and pliable, and one or two turns of it around the haft, by
the neck of the blade, would hold the latter in its place admirably, and
prevent it from budging either backwards or forwards.  A string, lapped
tightly over all, would keep the hoop from getting loose, and thus I
should have a complete handle.

No sooner thought of than done.  The piece of hoop was at once searched
for and found.  It was neatly wound round the neck of the blade and
haft; and having been firmly tied with strong twine, I found myself once
more in possession of a knife.  The blade was of course much shorter
than before, but I believed it would still be long enough for cutting
through the thickest planks I should encounter; and with this belief I
felt satisfied.

The different operations I have detailed must have occupied me for
twenty hours at least.  I was worn and wearied, and should have sought
rest much sooner; but after the breaking of the blade, I could not think
of resting.  It would have been of no use attempting to sleep: my misery
would have kept me awake.

The new knife, however, had restored my confidence; and I could no
longer resist the desire to take that repose which, both in mind and
body, I so much stood in need of.

I need hardly add that hunger compelled me to resort once more to my
miserable larder; but, strange as it may appear to you--and as it does
now to me--I felt no hardship in the kind of diet; but, on the contrary,
ate my _rat-supper_ with as much relish as I should now do the choicest
of dishes!



I passed the night--I should rather say the hours of rest--in my old
apartment, behind the water-butt.  Whether it was night or day, I no
longer knew nor cared.  On this occasion I slept well, and awoke
refreshed and strengthened.  My new diet, no doubt, aided in producing
this effect; for, however repugnant it might be to a dainty palate, it
served well enough for a famished stomach.

I was not loath to make my breakfast upon it, which I did the moment
after awaking; and that finished, I again crawled back through my
"gallery," and entered the empty box, where I had already spent nearly
the whole of a day and night.

As I climbed into the same place, I could not help thinking how little
way I had made during my last spell of twenty hours; but some secret
thought inspired me with the hope, that on this occasion I should be
more fortunate.

My intention was to continue the work which had been interrupted by the
breaking of my knife.  Before that unlucky accident befell me, I had
noticed that the board was not very firmly nailed on.  It could be
started easily enough with a proper tool; I fancied that even a good
piece of stick would do it.

I was careful not to make any more rash experiments with the blade of my
knife.  Now, more than ever, did I value this precious weapon; for I was
fully sensible that my life depended on its endurance.

"If I only had a piece of some hard wood!" thought I.

I remembered that in making an entrance into the brandy-cask I had cut
large pieces from the oaken staves.  Perhaps one of these would do?

With the thought, I hurried back to the little chamber where I knew they
were lying.

After removing some pieces of cloth, I found them; and having groped
among the cuttings, I possessed myself of a piece that appeared as if it
would suit my purpose.

Getting back to the box, I even shaped out a little crowbar, by giving
the stick a wedge end with my knife; and this thin end I inserted under
the plank, and drove it inward as far as I could, by striking it with a
heavy piece of board.

It soon took hold; and then grasping it by the end, and jerking it
downwards, I had the gratification to hear the creaking of the nails as
they started outward.  My fingers now took the place of the little
lever; and the board came "skreeking" out of the bottom of the box.

That contiguous to it was more easily detached; and the two left me an
aperture large enough to get out the contents, whatever they might be.

They were oblong packages, shaped like pieces of cloth or linen, but
they felt lighter and more elastic than either.  Better still, they
could be pulled out more easily, and without the necessity of being
taken out of their envelopes.

I had no curiosity to know what they were, since I could tell they were
nothing eatable, and perhaps I should not have known till this day, but
that in drawing out one more tightly wedged than the rest, its wrapper
was torn off; and as I passed my fingers between the folds of the soft
light fabric, I guessed from their smooth silken surface that I was
dealing with the finest of _velvet_.

The box was soon emptied, and its contents carefully stowed in the most
convenient space behind me; and then, with a joyous heart, I mounted
into the space I had cleared out.  One more stage nearer to liberty!

I had been less than two hours in accomplishing this great advance.
Such success was ominous of future good fortune.  It was a day well
begun; and I resolved not to throw away a minute of time, since the
fates appeared so propitious.

After going down to refresh myself with a grand draught of water, I
returned to the _ci-devant_ depository of the velvet, and there entered
upon a new series of explorations.  As in the case of the cloth-box, I
saw that the end of this, which also abutted against the pianoforte,
could be easily _kicked out_; and without waiting to ascertain farther,
I set my heels against it, and began playing my old _tattoo_.

This time I did not finish it so soon.  I was pinched for want of room,
the velvet-box being much smaller than that which contained the cloth;
but I effected my purpose at length, and out went the end-boards, one
after another, dropping down into the interstices between the cases of

Doubling myself over upon my knees, I leant forward to make a new
_reconnaissance_.  I expected, or rather dreaded, to find the great
wall-like piano-case shutting up the whole space I had opened.
Certainly, the huge case was there--for I at once laid my hand upon it--
but I could scarce restrain an exclamation of joy, when I found that it
extended scarce half-way across the opening!  What delighted me still
further was, that, in groping around its edge, I observed that opposite
the opening in that part to which the piano-case did not extend, there
was a large space entirely empty--a space almost big enough to have
contained another case of velvet!

This was a very joyful surprise, and I at once perceived the advantage
thus thrown in my way.  It was so much of my tunnel ready made to my

On thrusting my arm outside the end of the box and upward, I became
acquainted with a new source of joy.  I perceived that the empty space
continued for ten or twelve inches higher than the top of the box--in
fact, to the top of the piano-case itself.  It also opened about the
same distance below where my knees rested.  There I perceived that it
ended in a sharp angle; for I had already noticed that this little
chamber was not of a _square_ shape, as we say, but of the form of a
triangle, with its apex pointing downwards.  This was caused by the
peculiar construction of the piano-case, which resembled a great
parallelopipedon, with one corner sawed off.  It was standing upon its
larger end, and it was where this corner should have been that the place
remained empty.

In all likelihood the triangular shape of this space rendered it
inconvenient for any package which there was among the merchandise, and
hence was it unoccupied.

So much the better for me, thought I, as I stretched forth my arms, and
leant my body over into it, with the design of giving it a more thorough



I was not long about this business.  I soon perceived that the back of
the empty space was closed in by a large box, and a similar one blocked
up the right side.  The left was the diagonal edge of the case itself,
about twenty inches or two feet in width.

But I troubled myself very little either about back, left, or right.  It
was the ceiling of the little chamber that had the greatest interest for
me; for it was in that direction I intended, _if possible_, to continue
my tunnel.

I knew that I was now far enough in the horizontal direction; for the
chief advantage I had gained by the discovery of the empty space was,
that it carried me the thickness of the piano-case--about two feet, as I
have said--in this course, besides the distance that was open, upwards.
Neither forward, then, nor to the right or left, did I wish to go,
unless forced to do so by an obstacle.  Upward was the echo of my
thoughts.  _Excelsior_! _excelsior_!  Two or three stages more--perhaps
less, if no obstacle intervened--and I might be free.  My heart beat
joyfully as the prospect passed before my mind.

It was not without a keen anxiety that I raised my hand to the ceiling
of the empty chamber.  My fingers trembled as they touched what I well
knew to be canvas, and involuntarily they recoiled from it.  O, mercy!--
once more that hated fabric--a bale of linen!

I was not so sure of this however.  I remembered the mistake I had
already made in this regard.  I must examine farther.

I closed my fist, and gave the bottom of the package a smart rap with my
knuckles.  Ha! it was a pleasant sound that answered to the blow.  It
was not a bale of linen, then, but a box, covered, like many others,
with several folds of coarse cheap canvas.  It could not be cloth,
either; for instead of the dull report which the cloth-boxes give out
when struck, the one in question returned a hollow sound, precisely that
of one that was empty!

This appeared strange enough.  It could not be empty, else why was it
there? and yet if not empty, what did it contain?

I hammered upon it with the haft of my knife--still the same hollow

"Good!" thought I.  "If empty, all the better; but if not, surely there
is something in it of a light nature--something that may be easily got
rid of.  Good!"

After making this reflection, I resolved to waste no more time in
conjectures, but to satisfy myself of the contents of this new box, by
making my way into it; and in a trice I had ripped off the canvas that
protected its bottom.

I found the position in which I stood inconvenient.  The triangular
space, narrowing acutely towards the bottom, hindered me from standing
fairly on my feet; but I soon remedied this defect, by filling the angle
with some pieces of cloth and velvet that were near at hand.  I then
proceeded more comfortably with my work.

I need not detail the mode in which I burrowed through the bottom of the
box.  It was just as with the others, and succeeded as well.  I had to
make one cross-cut, and in this my newly-hafted blade behaved admirably;
after which, I pulled out the divided pieces.

I was not a little surprised when I arrived at the inside, and
ascertained the contents of the box.  It was some time before I could
make them out by the "feel," but when I had succeeded in getting one
separated from its fellows, and ran my fingers over its outline, I at
length recognised what they were.  They were _bonnets_!

Yes, ladies' bonnets, and nothing but that--all apparently full
"trimmed," and garnished with their feathers, flowers, and ribbons.

Had I at that time possessed a more intimate knowledge of the costumes
of the Peruvians, I should have been more surprised, perhaps, to find
such an odd "item" in the list of their imports.  I should have known
that such a thing as a bonnet is never seen upon the beautiful head of a
Peruvian lady.  But I knew nothing of this then, and I was only
surprised by the oddity of such an article occurring in the cargo of a
great ship.

The explanation was given me afterwards, thus:--that there were English
and French ladies living in many of the South American cities--the wives
and sisters of English and French merchants resident there, as well as
of various representative officials--and that these, although so very
far distant from their homes, still obstinately persisted in following
the fashions of London and Paris, notwithstanding (it was added) the
ridicule with which such an absurd headdress was regarded by their fair
sisters of Spanish America.

For these sojourners, then, the box of bonnets had been intended.

I am sorry to add that for that season their expectations must have been
disappointed.  The bonnets could never have reached them, or, if they
did, it must have been in such a state as to render them unfit for any
purpose of adornment.  Mine was an unmerciful hand; for, once inside
that box, it never ceased from wreck and ruin till the whole of those
beautiful "ducks" were crumpled up and stowed away in less than a tenth
part of the valuable space they had hitherto occupied.

No doubt many an imprecation was afterwards heaped on my devoted head;
and the only apology I can make is to speak the simple truth--that with
me it was a matter of life or death, and the bonnets had to go.  It was
not likely that this would be satisfactory in the quarter where the
bonnets were expected.  I never heard whether or no.  I only know that I
was enabled afterwards--but long afterwards--to satisfy my own
conscience about the matter, by _paying the damage_ claimed by the
Transatlantic milliner.



Having disposed of the bonnets, my next step was to climb up into the
empty box; and, if possible, get the lid, or part of it, removed.  But,
first, I endeavoured to ascertain what was on the top of it, and for
this purpose I adopted a plan that had already served me more than
once--of feeling through the slits with the blade of my knife.
Unfortunately, this was now shorter, and not so suitable for such a
service, but it was still long enough to reach through a piece of inch
plank, and two inches beyond, and this would no doubt enable me to
determine whether the next obstacle to be encountered was a hard or a
soft one.

Once within the bonnet-box, I stuck my blade up through the lid.  The
package above was composed of something soft and yielding.  I remembered
that there was a canvas cover, but I drove the blade in to its hilt, and
still it encountered nothing like wood--nothing that resembled the
boarding of a box.

But I was equally certain that it was not linen, for the blade
penetrated as freely as it would have done into a mass of butter, and
this would not have been the case had it been a bale of linen.  Knowing
it could not be this, my mind was easy.  I would rather have had to deal
with anything else.

I tried in several places--in fact, all over the top--and at every point
I could bury my blade as far as the haft would let it go, with a very
slight effort used to push it in.  Certainly the package consisted of
some substance I had not before encountered, but as to what it was I
could form no idea.

However, it did not feel as though it would present a serious obstacle
to my progress; and under this pleasant impression, I went to work to
undermine it, by taking a board out of the lid upon which it lay.

This, of course, required me to go through the tedious and painful
process of making a cross-section with my knife--a kind of work that
absorbed more of my time, and caused me more labour, than all the rest
put together.  But it was absolutely necessary, for there was no other
plan by which I could tunnel through the tops of the boxes.  On each
rested the heavy weight of the packages above, and to start one of the
planks, with this weight pressing down upon it, was impossible.  It was
only by cutting them across that they could be removed.

The lid of the bonnet-box did not prove so difficult to cut through.  It
was of thin deal, and in about a half or three quarters of an hour I had
the middle piece of the three--for there were just three boards in it--
cut into twain.  The sections were easily bent downwards, and removed.

A patch of the canvas covering was then hacked off, and I could now get
my hand upon the unknown package that was resting on the top.  I
recognised the object at once.  I had been enough about my uncle's barn
to know the feel of a sack.  This, then, was a _sack_.

It was full of something: of what?--wheat, or barley, or oats?  No, it
was not grain--something softer and finer: was it a sack of meal?

I should soon ascertain that.  My blade entered the sack, and a slit was
cut large enough to admit my fist.  I had no need to thrust my hand
inside, for as I held it under the vent thus opened, I felt a soft,
powdery substance streaming downward, with which my palm was instantly
filled; and as my fingers closed upon it, I felt satisfied that I had
got hold of a fistful of flour.  My hand went straight to my lips, and a
single taste of the precious dust confirmed my conjecture.  It was a
sack of flour.

This was a joyous discovery.  Here was food, and enough to last me for
months!  No more danger of starvation--no more rat diet.  No.  On flour
and water I could live like a prince.  What matter if it was raw? it was
sweet, and palatable, and wholesome.

"Heaven be praised!  I am no longer in danger!"

Some such exclamation escaped me, as I arrived at a full appreciation of
the importance of my new discovery.

I had now been at work for many hours, and once more needed rest.  I was
hungry, too, and could not resist the desire to make a grand meal on the
new article of diet; and, filling my pockets with the flour, I prepared
to return to my old lair behind the water-butt.  I took the precaution
to stanch the wound I had made in the flour-sack, by sticking a piece of
loose canvas into the vent, and then I commenced my descent.  The rats,
bag and all, were chucked into the first convenient corner that offered,
with the hope that no necessity would ever require me to draw them out
again; and, then, having mixed me a large quantity of flour paste, I
made as hearty a meal upon it as if it had been the nicest hasty
_pudding_ that ever was cooked.

A few hours of good sleep again refreshed me; and, on awaking, I ate
another hasty meal of the paste, and after that commenced ascending my
now greatly-extended gallery.

As I climbed through the second tier of boxes, I was surprised to feel
on all sides of me a soft, powdery substance, resembling dust scattered
over the boards wherever they lay horizontally; but on passing into the
triangular space by the piano-case, I found the lower half of this
cavity filled with the same dust, so that, as I stepped upon it, I sank
up to the ankles.  I perceived, moreover, that a shower of this soft
substance was falling down upon my head and shoulders; and, as I
inadvertently turned my face upwards, it came rushing into my mouth and
eyes, causing me to sneeze and cough in the most violent manner.

I felt for a moment as if I was in danger of being suffocated, and my
first impulse was to beat a speedy retreat, and get back to the rear of
the water-butt.  But I had no need to go quite so far; for on getting
out to the old biscuit-box, I perceived that there the dust no longer
reached me.

I was not long in arriving at an explanation of this singular
phenomenon.  It was the flour that was causing such a "stoor."  The
movement of the ship had shaken out the canvas rag with which I had
stopped the vent, and the flour was escaping.  No doubt this was the
cause of the wastage.

The idea that all the flour would be lost rushed into my mind, and, as a
consequence, that I should once more be forced to return to the rat
diet.  It would be necessary, therefore, to ascend to the sack, and stop
the wastage at once.

Notwithstanding some apprehensions I had on the score of suffocation, I
perceived the necessity of action; and closing both mouth and eyes, I
scrambled as fast as I could towards the empty bonnet-box.

I felt flour lodged on all sides as I went up, but I fancied it was no
longer showering downwards.  This was in reality the fact; for on
reaching the bonnet-box, I found that it had ceased to run out of the
sack, and for the best of reasons--it was now all out of it.  The sack
was empty!

Perhaps I should have regarded this as a greater misfortune, but I saw
that the flour was not all lost.  A good deal, no doubt, had filtered
through the crevices, and got down to the bottom of the hold; but a
large quantity--as much as I would be likely to need--had lodged upon
the pieces of cloth that I had placed in the bottom of the triangular
cavity, and also in other places where I could get at it whenever I

It mattered little, however; for in another moment I had made a
discovery that drove all thoughts of the flour out of my head, and
rendered any calculation about my future provision--either of food or
water--a subject of the most trifling importance.

I had stretched up my hand to ascertain if the sack was quite empty.  It
appeared so.  Why, then, should I not pull it through the aperture, and
get it out of the way?  No reason why I should not; and I at once
dragged it down, and flung it behind me.

I then raised my head through the end of the box into the space where
the sack had lain.

Merciful heavens!  What did I behold?  _Light! light! light_!



Yes, my eyes were once more cheered with heavenly light, producing
within my heart a joy sudden and complete.  I could not describe the
happiness I felt.  Every fear at once forsook me.  I had no longer the
slightest apprehension.  I was saved!

The light I saw was but a very slender beam--a mere ray--that appeared
to penetrate through a crack between two planks.  It was above me, not
vertically above me, but rather in a diagonal line, and apparently about
eight or ten feet distant.

I knew it could not be through the deck that the light came.  There are
no open spaces between the planks of a ship's deck.  It must be through
the hatchway; and very likely the crack I saw was through the boarding
of the hatch, at a place where the tarpaulin might be off or torn.

While gazing on this tiny beam, shining like a meteor above me, I
thought it the loveliest object I had ever looked upon.  No star in the
blue sky had ever appeared to me half so brilliant or beautiful; it was
like the eye of some good angel smiling upon me, and bidding me welcome
again to the world of life.

I did not remain long in my position within the bonnet-box.  I believed
myself near the end of my labour, and the accomplishment of my hopes,
and had no inclination to pause upon the threshold of deliverance.  The
nearer to the goal, the more earnest had I become to reach it; and
therefore, without further hesitation, I set about widening the aperture
already made in the lid of the box.

The fact of my seeing the light had convinced me of one important truth,
and that was that I had reached the top of the cargo.  Since it appeared
in a diagonal direction, there could be no boxes or other packages
intervening between it and my eyes, and, therefore, the space was empty.
This emptiness could only be above the cargo.

But the matter was soon set at rest.  It did not take me twenty minutes
to widen a hole big enough to pass my body; and, scarcely waiting to
make this of sufficient size, I squeezed myself through, and wriggled
out on to the top of the box.

I lifted my arms over my head, and extended them all around me.  Only
behind could I perceive anything--and there I could feel boxes, and
bales, and sacks piled up still higher--but in front there was nothing
but empty air.

I remained for some moments seated on the lid of the box, where I had
climbed out, with my legs hanging down outside of it.  I was cautious
not to step off, lest I might fall into some great cavity.  I remained
gazing upon the beautiful beacon that was now shining still nearer to my

Gradually my eyes became accustomed to the light; and, though the chink
admitted only a few slender rays, I began to perceive the forms of
objects that were near.  I soon made out that the empty space did not
extend far.  It was a little pit, of an irregular, circular form--a sort
of amphitheatre, shut in on all sides by the huge packages of
merchandise that were piled around it.  It was, in fact, a space that
had been left under the hatchway, after the cargo had been all stowed;
and a number of loose barrels and bags that were strewed over it
appeared to contain provisions--no doubt stores for the crew--thus
placed so that they could be readily reached when wanted.

It was on one side of this little amphitheatre I had emerged from my
gallery; and no doubt I was just under the edge of the hatchway.  It
only needed to advance a pace or two, knock upon the boards over my
head, and summon the crew to my assistance.

But although a single blow, and a single cry, were all that were needed
to procure my liberation, it was a long while before I could muster the
resolution to strike that blow, or utter that cry!

I need not give you the reasons of my reluctance and hesitation.  Think
only of what was behind me--of the damage and ruin I had caused to the
cargo--a damage amounting perhaps to hundreds of pounds--think of the
impossibility of my being able to make the slightest restitution or
payment--think of this, and you will comprehend why I paused so long,
seated upon the edge of the bonnet-box.  An awful dread was upon me.  I
dreaded the _denouement_ of this _dark_ drama; and no wonder I hesitated
to bring it to its ending.

How could I ever face the stern wrath of the captain?--the brutal anger
of that savage mate?  How could I endure their looks--their words, their
oaths, and, likely enough, their blows?  Perhaps they would _pitch me
into the sea_?

A thrill of terror ran through my veins, as I dwelt on the probability
of such a fate.  A sudden change had passed over my spirits.  But the
moment before that twinkling ray had filled my bosom with joy; and now,
as I sat and gazed upon it, my heart was throbbing with fear and dismay!



I tried to think of some way by which I might be enabled to make
reparation for the loss; but my reflections were only foolish, as they
were bitter.  I owned nothing in the world that I knew of--nothing but
my old watch--and that--ha! ha! ha!--would scarce have paid for the box
of crackers!

Yes, there was something else that belonged to me--and does still (for I
have kept it till this hour)--something which I esteemed far more than
the watch--ay, far more than I would a thousand watches; but that
something, although so highly prized by me, would not have been valued
at a single sixpence.  You guess of what I am speaking?  You guess, and
rightly, that I mean that _dear old knife_!

Of course, my uncle would do nothing in the matter.  He had no interest
in me farther than to give me a home, and that was a thing of choice
rather than responsibility.  He was in no way bound to make good my
damages; and, indeed, I did not permit myself for a moment to entertain
the idea.

There was but one thought that held out to me the slightest hope--one
course that appeared to be tolerably rational.  It was this: I could
bind myself to the captain for a long period.  I could toil for him as a
boy-sailor--a cabin-boy--a servant--anything that would enable me to
work off my debt.

If he would only accept me for this purpose (and what else could he now
do, unless, indeed, he really did toss me overboard), then all might yet
be right.

The thought cheered me; and I resolved, as soon as I should reach the
captain's presence, to make the proposal.

Just at that moment I heard a loud stamping noise above me.  It was a
continued series of thumps, that resembled the heavy footsteps of men
passing backward and forward over the decks.  They were on both sides of
the hatchway, and all around it, upon the deck.

Then I heard voices--human voices.  Oh, how pleasant to my ears!  First,
I heard shouts and short speeches, and then all of them mingling
together in a chant or chorus.  Rude it may have been, but during all my
life never heard I sounds that appeared to me so musical or harmonious
as that work-song of the sailors.

It inspired me with confidence and boldness.  I could endure my
captivity no longer; and the instant the chorus ended, I sprang forward
under the hatch, and with the wooden handle of my knife knocked loudly
upon the planks overhead.

I listened.  My knocking had been heard.  There was a parley among the
voices above, and I could distinguish exclamations of surprise; but
although the talking continued, and even a greater number of voices
appeared to take part in it, no attempt was made to take up the hatch.

I repeated my knocking louder than before; and added to it the summons
of my voice; but I could myself perceive that my voice was tiny and
feeble as that of an infant, and I doubted whether it could have been

Again I listened to a volley of loud exclamations that betokened
surprise; and from the multitude of voices I could guess that the whole
crew was around the hatchway.

I knocked a third time, to make sure; and then I stood a little to one
side, in anxious and silent expectation.

Presently I heard something rubbing over the hatches.  It was the
tarpaulin being removed; and, as soon as this covering was taken off, I
perceived that light shot in through several chinks at the joining of
the planks.

But the next moment the sky suddenly opened above me; and the flood of
light that poured down upon my face, rendered me quite blind.  It did
more--it caused me to faint and fall backward against the boxes.  I did
not lose consciousness all at once, but swooned gradually away under a
feeling of strange bewilderment.

Just as the hatch was lifted upwards, I noticed a ring of rough heads--
human heads and faces--above the edge, all around the great opening, and
I observed that all of them were drawn suddenly back with an expression
of extreme terror.  I heard cries and exclamations that betokened the
same; but the shouts gradually died upon my ears, and the light dimmed
and darkened in my eyes, as I lapsed into a state of unconsciousness, as
complete as if I had been dead.

Of course, I had only swooned; and was insensible to what was passing
around me.  I did not see the rough heads as they reappeared over the
edge of the hatch frame, and again reconnoitre me with looks of alarm.
I did not see that one of them at length took courage, and leaped down
upon the top of the cargo, followed by another and then another, until
several stood bending over me, uttering a volley of conjectures and
exclamatory phrases.  I did not feel them as they tenderly raised me in
their arms, and kindly felt my pulse, and placed their huge rough hands
over my heart to see whether it was still beating with life--no more did
I feel the big sailor who lifted me up against his breast and held me
there, and then, after a short ladder had been obtained and placed in
the hatchway, carried me up out of the hold and laid me carefully on the
quarter-deck: I heard nothing, I saw nothing, I felt nothing, till a
shock, as if of cold water dashed in my face, once more aroused me from
my trance, and told me that I still lived.



When I came to my senses again, I saw that I was lying upon the deck.  A
crowd was gathered around, and look in what direction I might, my eyes
rested upon faces.  They were rude faces, but I noticed no unkindly
expression in any one of them.  On the contrary, I perceived looks of
pity, and heard words of sympathy.

They were the sailors--the whole crew was around me.  One was bending
over my face, pouring water into my lips, and cooling my temples with a
wet cloth.  I knew this man at the first glance.  It was Waters--he who
had carried me ashore, and presented me with my precious knife.  Little
knowledge could he have at the time of the great service it was to do--
and had since done--me.

"Waters," said I, "do you remember me?"

He started at my words, uttering, as he did so, a sailor's exclamation
of surprise.

"Shiver my timbers!" was the phrase.  "Shiver my timbers! if 'tain't the
little marlin-spike as boarded us a-port!"

"Him as wanted to go a seelorin?" cried several in a breath.

"The same, for sartin'."

"Yes," I answered, "it is; I am the same."

Another volley of ejaculations followed, and then there was a momentary

"Where is the captain?"  I asked.  "Waters, will you take me to the

"You wish to see the capten? he's here, my lad," answered the big
sailor, in a kind tone; and then, stretching out his arm, he made an
opening in the ring that encircled me.

I glanced through this opening.  I saw the same well-dressed man whom I
had before recognised as the captain.  He was only a few yards off,
standing in front of the door of his cabin.  I looked in his face.  The
expression was stern, but yet it did not awe me.  I fancied it was a
look that would relent.

I hesitated for a moment what course to pursue, and then, summoning all
my energy, I rose to my feet, tottered forward, and knelt down before

"Oh, sir!"  I cried, "you can never forgive me!"

That, or something like it, I said.  They were all the words I could

I no longer looked him in the face.  With my eyes fixed upon the deck, I
awaited his reply.

"Come, my lad! rise up!" said a voice, in a tone of kindness; "rise up,
and come with me into the cabin."

A hand was placed upon mine, I was raised to my feet, and led away.  He
who walked by my side, and conducted me as I tottered along, was the
captain himself!  This did not look like giving me to the sharks.  Was
it possible that the ending should be of this merciful complexion?

As I passed into the cabin, I beheld my shadow in a mirror.  I should
not have known myself.  My whole body was as white as if it had been
lime-washed; but I remembered the flour.  My face alone was to be seen,
and that was almost as white as the rest--white, and wan, and bony as
that of a skeleton!  I saw that suffering and meagre fare had made sad
havoc with my flesh.

The captain seated me on a sofa, and, having summoned his steward,
ordered him to fill me out a glass of port wine.  He uttered not a word
till I had drunk it; and then, turning to me, with a look in which I
could read nothing of sternness, he said--

"Now, my lad, tell me all about it!"

It was a long story, but I told it from first to last.  I concealed
nothing--neither of the motives that had led me to run away from my
home, nor yet any item of the vast damage I had done to the cargo.
This, however, was already well-known to him, as half the crew had long
since visited my lair behind the water-butt, and ascertained everything.

When I had gone through every circumstance, I wound up with the proposal
I had resolved to make to him; and then, with an anxious heart, I
awaited his response.  My anxiety was soon at an end.

"Brave lad!" he exclaimed, rising to his feet, and going towards the
door, "you wish to be a sailor?  You _deserve_ to be a sailor; and by
the memory of your noble father, whom I chanced to know, you _shall_ be
a sailor!"

"Here, Waters!" he continued, calling to the big tar, who was waiting
outside, "take this youngster, have him fresh rigged; and, as soon as he
is strong enough, see that he be properly taught the ropes."

And Waters did see that I was taught the ropes--every one of them, and
in the proper manner.  For many years afterwards he was my shipmate,
under that same kind-hearted captain, until I rose from the condition of
a mere "boy tar," and was rated upon the _Inca's_ books as an "able

But my promotion did not end there.  "_Excelsior_" was my motto; and,
assisted by the generous captain, I soon after became a third mate, and
afterwards a second mate, and, still later, a first mate, and, last of
all, a _captain_!

In course of time, too--still better than all--I became _captain of my
own ship_.

That was the crowning ambition of my life; for then I was free to go and
come as I pleased, and plough the great ocean in any direction, and
trade with whatever part of the world I might think proper.

One of my very first and most successful voyages--I mean in my own
ship--was to Peru; and I remember well that I carried out a box of
bonnets for the English and French ladies resident at Callao and Lima.
But these arrived safe, and no doubt disgusted the eyes of the fair
Creoles, who were expected to admire them!

The crumpled bonnets had been long ago paid for; so, too, the spilt
brandy and the damage done to the cloth and velvet.  After all, it did
not amount to such a vast sum; and the owners, who were all generous
men, taking the circumstances into account, dealt leniently with the
captain, who, in his turn, made the terms easy for me.  In a few years I
had settled for all, or, as we say in sailor language, "squared the

And now, my young friends!  I have only to add, that having sailed the
seas for many long years, and by careful mercantile speculations, and a
fair economy, having acquired sufficient means to keep me for the
remainder of my days, I began to grow tired of wave and storm, and to
long for a calmer and quieter life upon land.  This feeling grew upon
me, every year becoming stronger and stronger; till at last, unable to
resist it any longer, I resolved to yield to its influence, and anchor
myself somewhere upon shore.

For this purpose, then, I sold off my ship and sea stores, and returned
once more to this pretty village, where I have already told you I was
born, and where I have also made known to you, that _it is my intention
to die_!

And now, good-day! and God bless you all!


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Boy Tar" ***

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