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Raromi, or, The Maori Chief's Heir

Chapter XXII. Pump or Sink—Pumping and Sinking

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Chapter XXII. Pump or Sink—Pumping and Sinking.

Dog's-Ear was ill. Sea-sickness and 'hunger for the land,' as he said, had disabled him. He had crawled into a little berth, and waited stoically for death.

'Try and sleep, Scotty,' said Falconer. 'I'll call you to look out by-and-by.'

Scotty in turn, from fatigue and the constant motion, fell asleep on a locker. Oh, how sweet is such sleep to the worn-out sailor! Sailors like Scotty seem to sleep twice as hard and twice as fast as landsmen do on ordinary occasions.

It was very dark. But the white crests of the curling waves, as they reared their angry heads, relieved the darkness from time to time. The howling of the wind and roaring of the sea, however, made a din that seemed to stun Falconer after a time.

Only those who know what heavy gales are at sea page 147can comprehend properly the stunning sense of fatigue one feels when exposed for a few hours to the roar of the gale, the hissing of the white-crested waves, and the whistling and shrieking of the wind through the rigging.

Falconer suddenly gave an involuntary cry of alarm; a huge, topping, roaring sea threw its white crest aloft, and seemed to rear its tremendous head over the Kahawai, preparatory to her destruction.

Scotty started up with alarm, but the next moment he was thrown down on the cabin floor; and a swirling mass of water seemed to go right over the little craft—tumbling down the little hatchway on to Scotty below!

'We're lost!' cried Scotty. 'May God have mercy on us!'

Scotty, however, picked himself up, and found—although he was hardly sure of it—he was still afloat.

'Falconer! Falconer!' he cried out; but there was no reply.

He crawled on deck. Oh, joy! Falconer was there. Yes; but stunned and insensible!

'Falconer!' cried his friend. 'Oh! what can I do?'

'Eh, what?' exclaimed Falconer, sitting up and staring about 'I've had a crack on the nut How it aches!'

Scotty got a light, and helped Falconer below. The water had drained into the hold.

Falconer's face was badly bruised. Blood came from his nose and ears. He was sick, too. And his friend hung over him helpless, for he had no restoratives—not even a morsel of food.

'I feel I must sleep,' said Falconer; 'I can't hold up page 148my head. The whalers, you know, let oil float about ashore to calm the sea when they're "cutting-in" a whale. Try it. Tow something overboard to wind'ard with whale oil in it. 'His head sunk, and he fell asleep.

'That's good, 'muttered Scotty; 'why shouldn't it answer at sea as well as near shore? I'll oil the monster's locks at once; 'and he did so.

Scotty lashed himself on deck, and took the watch. After a time he nodded, and sank down, hard and fast asleep.

The crew of the Kahawai slept, and slept soundly; and the little craft drifted to and fro, the sport of the angry waves, a real ocean waif.

When Scotty woke up the sun was shining brightly. The little craft was rolling and tossing about in fine style; the wind having fallen, the Kahawai had not sail enough to steady her.

'How is it on deck, Scotty?'

'Much finer, Falconer; the wind is falling fast. But the sea looks ugly at times.'

'Look! Scotty; the sun is aft—risen, say, half an hour. We're heading just now for Australia!'

'Are we? I'm not particular, old boy, where we make land; so that we do make it.'

Falconer went on deck. The reefs were shook out, the staysail set—the sheet to windward.

'Why heave-to now? - asked Scotty.

'Just because we can't steer. Don't you see that heavy sea carried away our rudder?'

The gale had passed, the wind falling as by enchantment. It fell calm; and there was not enough page 149wind to steady the little craft while the sea went down. So hove-to, and rudderless, she rolled to and fro under a scorching sun—a helpless log, as it were, with a helpless crew.

Scotty, impelled by hunger, crept into the hold to search for scraps of food. He had not long been absent, when a cry, as of one in distress, reached Falconer, who dived down below, crying out, 'What's the matter?'

'The matter! Oh, heavens—we're sinking!'

The Kahawai had received damage when she was struck, and was making water fast.

'This won't do, 'said Falconer, as the two sailors stood paralysed for a moment 'We've weathered the storm, thank God, and I believe we shall weather this. Courage, lad!

'Fetch the pump! It's a clumsy affair, but see if it will work. Try it, while I get at the leak.'

'Well, how is it? 'asked Scotty, when Falconer came up.

'I think the stern has been twisted a bit, but I can't find out where it is! 'That it meant a good deal; it meant pump or sink!

So the weary hours passed—so the day passed; pumping and resting, resting and pumping. Yet each getting weaker, each approaching the moment—and they felt it, but said nothing—when they could do no more but lie down and—sink!

Another night passed. The pumping just kept them afloat But if they should fail? and Scotty's strength was failing fast

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'Chew a bit of rope's-end, Scotty.'

'I can't; my throat is parched; we're out of water!'

Towards daylight they slept; and when they awoke they felt much refreshed. Rain had fallen, and was falling, and they caught several gallons of the precious liquid. Then the pumping went on with vigour.

The day passed slowly. It kept fine, and was hot But in the afternoon Scotty lay down, saying piteously, 'It's no use, Falconer, I'm done up—worked out!'

'Take a rest, Scotty; you'll be better presently.'

'I hope so, but not—not here—my time's up!'

Falconer drew his friend to him, and the two brave fellows embraced silently, and wept; then Scotty lay down to die. But Falconer knelt down, and prayed to God for help.

It was now, as Falconer saw, a question of endurance. 'How long can I hold out? 'thought he. 'Will a craft heave in sight in time?'

He drank a little water from time to time, and chewed a bit of rope's-end. When he rested, he gave water to Scotty, who drank like a child in a dreamy condition. Dog's-ear, too, drank heartily, and seemed refreshed.

On, on, went the pumping, but with frequent intervals for rest, intervals growing longer and longer. At length Falconer sat down beside Scotty, worn-out; he hadn't strength to get up again. Such men give out all at once; their reserve force expended, all is over with them.

He looked up at the sky, so fair and bright, and round upon the sea, so treacherous and false; and with a muttered prayer to God for help, his head sank down like lead.

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Lithograph of seven occupants in an open lifeboat, rowing away from a sinking ship in a storm

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He lay helpless beside Scotty, like him, overcome by stupor.

'Schooner, ahoy! Rouse up there!'

These and other cries came from a brigantine, which, having brought a breeze with her, had now reached the Kahawai—in a sinking condition.

'Luff! luff!' cried the officer of the watch.

'Luff it is!'

'So! so! Pass as close alongside as you can.'

As the brigantine sailed by the schooner, luffing up in the wind, some of the watch ran up the weather rigging, to see what could be seen of the little water-logged craft, which gave no signs of life aboard.

'There's a couple of hands layin' on the deck aft!' came from aloft.

'Round to!' shouted the officer of the watch. 'Topsail to the mast! lower away the quarter-boat, and look sharp, lads; for the bit of boat will sink in a few minutes.'

The noise of the sailors, their shouts, their jumping on board, roused Falconer a little. He tried to rise, and fell back again.

'Quick, lads!' said one; 'this one first,' pointing to Scotty. 'And now the other.'

'No! no!' moaned Falconer; 'below!'

'Oh! There's another below—here goes then.'

'Look sharp!' cried the others; 'she's sinking!'

Two men now dragged up Dog's-ear, who, moaning and helpless, fell into the boat; and they pushed off.

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'There she goes!' cried the second mate. 'That's what I call shaving it close!'

With a slight quiver, the Kahawai gave a plunge forward, and disappeared for ever. The sailors in the boat, always moved by the death-agony of a craft at sea, rested on their oars in silence—it was saluting the dead—and then pulled aboard with the rescued crew.

With not much life left in them, the three waifs were put into warm berths and fed like children. And the brigantine Alert bore away with the freshening breeze for Sydney.