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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

And the violent rustle and slatting of the staysails


"The

scare is quite genuine this time, Mr Tasker," I said; "there is no leakage in our mercury bag to account for the heavy drop; moreover, the drop has increased by a full tenth. Therefore, although the present aspect of the weather may not be precisely alarming, we will proceed to snug down at once, if you please, in view of the fact that the crew we carry is not precisely what might be called efficient, and will probably take an unconscionably long time over the work."

"Ay, ay, sir," answered Tasker. "I expect the mercury ain't droppin' exactly for nothin', therefore, as you says, we'd better be makin' ready for what's in store for us." Then, facing forward, he gave the order:

"Clew up your royal and t'garns'l, furl 'em, and then get the yards down on deck. Hurry, you scallywags; the more work you does now, the more time for play will you have a'ter breakfast."

The "snugging down" process occupied us until nearly four bells of the forenoon watch; but when at length it was completed we felt that we were prepared to face anything, our royal and topgallant-mast and all our yards being down on deck, the fore and main-topmasts and the jib-boom housed, the great mainsail snugly stowed and the heavy boom securely supported in a strong crutch, and the ship under fore and main storm staysails only.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

style="text-align: justify;">THE END OF THE DOLPHIN.

By the time that all this had been accomplished, the wind had fallen away to a dead calm, and the only sounds audible were the creaking and groaning of the ship's timbers, the loud rattle of the cabin doors below upon their hooks, the wash of the sea alongside and under the counter, the constant irritating _jerk-jerk_ of the tiller chains, and the violent rustle and slatting of the staysails, as the _Dolphin_ rolled her channels under in the long, oily swell that was now running. But, so far as the aspect of the sky was concerned, there was no more sign of the threatened storm than there had been when I first went on deck that morning--except that, maybe, the haze had thickened somewhat, rendering our horizon still more circumscribed, and the heat had increased to such an extent that, as Keene had remarked, one would gladly have gone overboard to escape it but for the sharks, several of which were cruising round us, while three monsters persistently hung under our counter in the shadow of the ship's hull, hungrily ogling those of us who chanced to lean over the taffrail to get a glimpse of them. Yet, when, for want of something better to do, Jack Keene and I got a shark hook and, baiting it with a highly flavoured piece of pork out of the harness cask, sought to inveigle one of the monsters into swallowing it, they disdained to even so much as look at it, merely glancing upward at us, when we deftly dropped the bait upon one of their broad, shovel noses, as though to say:

"No, no, my hearties! No rancid pork for us, thank you, when, by exercising a little patience, we may, with luck, get a chance to learn what one of you jokers tastes like." The enervating effect of the heat seemed to be as strongly revealed in them as it was in ourselves.

The sun still flamed in the heavens when, shortly before noon, Jack and I brought our sextants on deck with the object of measuring his meridian altitude above the horizon; but we were only able to obtain a very approximate and wholly useless result, for, when we came to try, we found that the sun appeared in our instruments merely as a shapeless glare of light, while the horizon was wholly indistinguishable. Then, by imperceptible degrees, the sun, like the horizon, became obliterated, and the atmosphere stealthily darkened, as though a continuous succession of curtains of grey gauze were being interposed between us and the sky. Meanwhile the barometer was still persistently declining, although not quite so rapidly as during the early hours of the morning.


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