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Chapter Five.
 The Sea—Dangers of the Deep, and Uncertainty of Human Affairs—A Disastrous Night and a Bright Morning—California at last.  
Only those who have dwelt upon the ocean for many months together can comprehend the feelings of delight with which the long-imprisoned voyager draws near to his desired haven. For six long months did the Roving Bess do battle with the surging billows of the great deep. During that time she steered towards the Gulf of Mexico—carefully avoiding that huge reservoir of sea-weed, termed the Saragossa sea, in which the unscientific but enterprising mariners of old used to get becalmed oftentimes for days and weeks together—she coasted down the eastern shores of South America; fired at, and “shewed her heels” to, a pirate; doubled Cape Horn; fought with the tempests that take special delight in revelling there; and, finally, spreading her sails to the genial breezes of the Pacific Ocean, drew near to her voyage-end.
All this the good ship Roving Bess did with credit to herself and comfort to her crew; but a few weeks after she entered the Pacific, she was met, contrary to all expectation, by the bitterest gale that had ever compelled her to scud under bare poles.
It was a beautiful afternoon when the first symptoms of the coming storm were observed. Captain Bunting had just gone down below, and our hero was standing at the weather gangway, observing the sudden dart of a shoal of flying-fish, which sprang out of the sea, whizzed through the air a few hundred feet, and fell with a splash into the water, in their frantic efforts to escape from their bitter enemy, the dolphin.
While Ned gazed contemplatively at the spot where the winged fish had disappeared, the captain sprang on deck.
“We’re goin’ to catch it,” he said, hurriedly, as he passed forward; “tumble up, there; tumble up; all hands to shorten sails. Hand down the royals, and furl the t’gallant sails, Mr Williams, (to the first mate,) and look alive.”
“Ay, ay, sir,” was answered in that prompt tone of voice which indicates thorough discipline and unquestioning obedience, while the men scrambled up the fore-hatch, and sprang up the ratlines hand over hand. A moment before, the vessel had lain quietly on the bosom of the unruffled deep, as if she were asleep, now she was all uproar and apparent confusion; sails slewed round, ropes rattled, and blocks creaked, while the sonorous voice of the first mate sounded commands like a trumpet from the quarter-deck.
“I see no indication of a storm,” remarked young Sinton, as the captain walked aft.
“Possibly not, lad; but I do. The barometer has fallen lower, all of a sadden, than I ever saw it fall before. You may depend upon it, we shall have to look out for squalls before long. Just cast your eyes on the horizon over the weather bows there; it’s not much of a cloud, and, to say truth, I would not have thought much of it had the glass remained steady, but that faithful servant never—”
“Better close-reef the top-sails, sir,” said the mate, touching his cap, and pointing to the cloud just referred to.
“Do so, Mr Williams, and let the watch below remain on deck, and stand by to man the halyards.”
In less than an hour the Roving Bess was running at the rate of twelve knots, under close-reefed top-sails, before a steady gale, which in half-an-hour later increased to a hurricane, compelling them to take in all sail and “lay to.” The sun set in a blaze of mingled black and lurid clouds, as if the heavens were on fire; the billows rose to their utmost height as the shrieking winds heaved them upwards, and then, cutting off their crests, hurled the spray along like driving clouds of snow, and dashed it against the labouring ship, as if impatient to engulf her in that ravening maw which has already swallowed up so many human victims.
But the little vessel faced the tempest nobly, and rose like a sea-mew on the white crest of each wave, while the steersmen—for there were two lashed to the wheel—kept her to the wind. Suddenly the sheet of the fore trysail parted, the ship came up to the wind, and a billow at that moment broke over her, pouring tons of water on her deck, and carrying away the foremast, main-top-masts, and the jib-boom.
“Clear the wreck—down the helm, and let her scud,” shouted the captain, who stood by the mizzen-mast, holding on to a belaying-pin. But the captain’s voice was drowned by the whistling winds, and, seeing that the men were uncertain what to do, he seized one of the axes which were lashed to the foot of the mast, and began to cut away the ropes which dragged the wreck of the foremast under the lee of the ship. Williams, the mate, and the second mate, followed his example, while Ned sprang to the wheel to see the orders to the steersmen obeyed. In half-an-hour all was clear, and the ship was scudding before the gale under bare poles.
“We’ve not seen the worst of it,” remarked the captain, as he resumed his post on the quarter-deck, and brushed the brine from his whiskers; “I fear, too, that she has received some bad thumps from the wreck of the foremast. You’d better go below, Sinton, and put on a topcoat; its no use gettin’ wetter than you can help.”
“I’m as wet as I can be, captain; besides, I can work better as I am, if there’s anything for me to do.”
“Well, there ain’t much: you’ll have enough to do to keep yourself from being washed overboard. How’s her head, Larry?”
“Nor’ east an’ by east,” replied one of the men at the wheel, Larry O’Neil by name—a genuine son of Erin, whose jovial smile of rollicking good humour was modified, but by no means quenched, by the serious circumstances in which he found himself placed. His comrade, William Jones, who stood on the larboard side of the wheel, was a short, thick-set, stern seaman, whose facial muscles were scarcely capable of breaking into a smile, and certainly failed to betray any of the owner’s thoughts or feelings, excepting astonishment. Such passions as anger, pity, disgust, fear, and the like, whatever place they might have in Jones’s breast, had no visible index on his visage. Both men were sailor-like and powerful, but they were striking contrasts to each other, as they stood—the one sternly, the other smilingly—steering the Roving Bess before that howling storm.
“Is not ‘nor’ east and by east’ our direct course for the harbour of San Francisco?” inquired Ned Sinton.
“It is,” replied the captain, “as near as I can guess; but we’ve been blown about so much that I can’t tell exactly. Moreover, it’s my opinion we can’t be far off the coast now; and if this gale holds on I’ll have to bring to, at the risk of bein’ capsized. Them plaguey coral-reefs, too, are always springin’ up in these seas where you least expect ’em. If we go bump against one as we are goin’ now, its all up with us.”
“Not a pleasant idea,” remarked Ned, somewhat gravely. “Do these storms usually last long?”
Before the captain could reply, the first mate came up and whispered in his ear.
“Eh! how much d’ye say?” he asked quickly.
“Five feet, sir; she surged heavily once or twice on the foremast, and I think must have started a plank.”
“Call all hands to work the pumps; and don’t let the men know how much water there is in the hold. Come below, Ned. I want you. Keep her head steady as she goes.”
“Ay, ay, sir,” sang out O’Neil, as the captain descended the companion-hatch to the cabin, followed by his young friend.
The dim light in the swinging lamp flickered fitfully when the ship plunged into the troughs of the seas, and rose again with a violent surge, as each wave passed under her, while every plank and spar on board seemed to groan under the strain. Darkness now added to the terrors of the wild storm.
Sitting down on a locker, Captain Bunting placed his elbows on the table, and covering his face with his hands, remained silent for several minutes, while Ned sat down beside him, but forbore to interrupt his thoughts.
“Boy,” he said, at length, looking up anxiously, “we’ve sprung a leak, and a few minutes will shew what our fate is to be. Five feet of water in the hold in so short a time implies a bad one.”
“Five feet two, sir,” said the mate, looking in at the cabin door; “and the carpenter can’t get at the leak.”
“I feared as much,” muttered the captain. “Keep the men hard at the pumps, Mr Williams, and let me hear how it stands again in ten minutes.”
“Captain,” said Ned, “it does not become a landsman to suggest, perhaps, but I can’t help reminding you, that leaks of this kind have been stopped by putting a sail below the ship’s bottom.”
“I know it, boy, I know it; but we could never get a sail down in such a night.”
“Can nothing be done, then?”
“Yes, lad; it’s hard to do it, but it must be done; life is more precious than gold—we must heave the cargo overboard. I have invested every farthing I have in the world in this venture,” continued Captain Bunting, sadly, “but there’s no help for it. Now, you were at the shifting of the cargo when we opened the hatches during the calms off the Brazilian coast, and as you know the position of the bales and boxes, I want you to direct the men so as to get it hove out quickly. Luckily, bein’ a general cargo, most o’ the bales are small and easily handled. Here comes the mate again—well, Mr Williams?”
“Up another inch, sir.”
“Go, Ned, over with it. I’ll superintend above; so good-bye to our golden dreams.”
There was a slight tone of bitterness in the captain’s voice as he spoke, but it passed away quickly, and the next instant he was on deck encouraging his men to throw the valuable cargo over the side. Bale after bale and box after box were tossed ruthlessly out upon the raging sea until little was left in the ship, save the bulky and less valuable portion of the cargo. Then a cry arose that the leak was discovered! The carpenter had succeeded in partially stopping it with part of a sail, and soon the pumps began to reduce the quantity of water in the hold. At last the leak was gained and effectually stopped, and before daybreak the storm began to subside. While part of the crew, being relieved from the harassing work at the pumps, busied themselves in repairing damages, Ned went to his cabin to put on dry clothes and take a little rest, of which he stood much in need.
Next day the bright sun rose in a cloudless sky, and a gentle breeze now wafted the Roving Bess over the Pacific, whose bosom still heaved deeply from the effects of the recent storm. A sense of fervent thankfulness to God for deliverance filled the heart of our hero as he awoke and beheld the warm sunbeams streaming in at the little window of his cabin. Suddenly he was roused from a deep reverie by the shout of “Land, ho!” on deck.
Words cannot convey an adequate idea of the effect of such a shout upon all on board. “Land, ho!” was repeated by every one, as he sprang in dishabille up the hatchway.
“Where away?” inquired Captain Bunting.
“Right ahead, sir,” answered the look-out.
“Ay, there it is,” said the captain, as Ned, without coat or vest, rushed to his side, and gazed eagerly over the bow, “there it is, Ned,—California, at last! Yonder rise the golden mountains that have so suddenly become the world’s magnet; and yonder, too, is the ‘Golden Gate’ of the harbour of San Francisco. Humph! much good it’ll do us.”
Again there was a slight tone of bitterness in the captain’s voice.
“Don’t let down your spirits, captain,” said Ned, in a cheering tone; “there is still enough of the cargo left to enable us to make a start for the gold-fields. Perhaps we may make more money there than we would have made had we sold the cargo at a large profit by trafficking on the coast.”
Captain Bunting hooked his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat, and shook his head. It was evident that he had no faith in gold-digging. Meanwhile the crew had assembled on the forecastle, and were looking out ahead with wistful and excited glances; for the fame of the golden land to which they were approaching had spread far and wide, and they longed to see the gold-dust and nuggets with their own eyes.
“It’s a beautiful land, intirely,” exclaimed Larry O’Neil, with an irrepressible shout of enthusiasm, which called forth a general cheer from the men.
“Arrah, now,” remarked another Patlander, “don’t ye wish ye wos up to the knees and elbows in the goolden sands already? Faix I’d give a month’s pay to have wan day at the diggin’s.”
“I don’t believe a word about it—I don’t,” remarked Jones, with the dogged air of a man who shouldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t believe, and yet felt, somehow, that he couldn’t help it.
“Nother do I,” said another, “It’s all a sham; come, now, ain’t it, Bill?” he added, turning to a bronzed veteran who had visited California two years before.
“A sham!” exclaimed Bill. “I tell ’e wot it is, messmate, when you comes for to see the miners in San Francisco drinkin’ shampain like water, an’ payin’ a dollar for a glass o’ six-water grog, you’ll—”
“How much is a dollar?” inquired a soft-looking youth, interrupting him.
Bill said it was “’bout four shillin’s,” and turned away with a look of contempt at such a display of ignorance.
“Four shillin’s!” exclaimed the soft youth, in amazement.
“Clear the anchor, and clew up the main-topsail,” shouted the mate.
In another moment the crew were scattered, some aloft to “lay out” on the topsail yard, some to the clew-lines, and some to clear the anchor, which latter had not been disturbed since the Roving Bess left the shores of Old England.

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