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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

Accompanied by violent clankings of the wheel chains


As

Marcel curtly bade me good-night and went below upon being relieved, after giving me the course to be steered, and expressing his forebodings concerning the weather, I walked aft, glanced into the binnacle, and inquired of the helmsman whether the ship still held steerage-way, to which he replied that she did, and that was about all, the man whom he had relieved at eight bells having informed him that the log, when last hove, had recorded a speed of barely two and a half knots. He also volunteered the opinion that we were booked for a heavy downpour of rain before long, significantly glancing at the same time at the oilskins and sou'wester which he had brought aft with him.

As the time dragged slowly along the heat seemed steadily to grow more oppressive, and the difficulty of obtaining a full breath greater; the perspiration was streaming from every pore of my body, and I felt almost too languid to drag one foot after the other as I moved about the deck. That the sick man also was affected unfavourably was evident, for his shouts came up through the after skylight with positively startling distinctness as his delirium grew more acute.

At length, just after two bells had struck--and how dreadfully clamourous the strokes sounded in that heavy, stagnant air--the helmsman reported that the ship was no longer under command; and presently she swung broadside-on to the swell, rolling heavily, with loud splashing

and gurgling sounds in the scuppers, with a swirling and washing of water under the counter, frequent vicious kicks of the now useless rudder, accompanied by violent clankings of the wheel chains, loud creakings and groanings of the timbers, heavy flappings and rustlings of the invisible canvas aloft, with fierce jerks of the chain sheets, and, in short, a full chorus of those multitudinous sounds that emanate from a rolling ship in a stark calm. The helmsman, no longer needed, lashed the wheel and, gathering up his oilskins, slouched away forward, muttering that he was going to get a light for his pipe; and I let him go, although I knew perfectly well that he had no intention of returning uncalled; for, after all, where was the use of keeping the man standing there doing nothing? I therefore contented myself by calling upon the hands forward, from time to time, to keep a bright look-out, and flung myself into a basket-chair belonging to the skipper.

Sitting thus, I gradually fell into a somewhat sombre reverie, in the course of which I reviewed the events that had befallen me during the short period that had elapsed since the _Dolphin_ and the _Eros_ had parted company. I went over again, in memory, all the circumstances connected with the loss of the brigantine, the hours I had spent alone in the longboat, her destruction and my somewhat dramatic appearance among the crew of _La Mouette_, my reception by her mad captain, and then fell to conjecturing what the future might have in store for me, when I was suddenly aroused to a consciousness of my immediate surroundings by a sort of impression it was no more than that--that I had heard the sound of a ship's bell struck four times--_ting-ting_, _ting-ting_--far away yonder in the heart of the thick darkness. So faint, such a mere ghost of a sound, did it seem to be that I felt almost convinced it was purely imaginary, an effect resulting from the train of thought in which I had been indulging; yet I rose to my feet and, walking over to the skylight, peered through it at the cabin clock to ascertain what the time might actually be. _It was on the stroke of two o'clock_! Therefore if, as I had assured myself, the sounds were imaginary, it was at least a singular coincidence that they should have reached me just at that precise moment. I walked to the fore end of the poop, upon the rail guarding which the ship's bell was mounted, and sharply struck four bells, after which I again called to the crew forward to maintain a sharp look-out.


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