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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

On the upturned side of the companion


At

length, about four bells in the first watch, the lightning, which had hitherto almost continuously illuminated the atmosphere, suddenly ceased altogether, and the night grew intensely dark, the only objects remaining visible being the faintly phosphorescent heads of the seas, flashing into view and gleaming ghostly for a moment before they were torn into spray by the violence of the wind and whirled away through the air to leeward. Then, with almost equal suddenness, there came a positively startling lull in the strength of the wind, and the ship-- which had for some hours been laying over to it so steeply that movement about her decks was only to be achieved with great circumspection and by patiently awaiting the arrival of one's opportunity--suddenly rose almost to an even keel. I seized the chance thus afforded me to claw my way to the skylight and glance through it at the barometer, illuminated by the wildly swaying lamp which the steward had lighted when darkness fell, but, to my intense disappointment, the mercury, which had steadily been shrinking all day, exhibited a further drop since the index had been set at eight o'clock that evening.

"We have not yet seen the worst of it," I shouted to Tasker, who, although it was now his watch below, had elected to remain on deck and bear me company. "The glass is still going down."

"I'm very sorry to hear it, Mr Fortescue," he answered. "I don't like the look

of things at all. The ship has been most terrible uneasy for several hours now, and I'm afraid we shall find that she's been strainin' badly. It might not be amiss to sound the well; and if, as I fear, we find that she's been takin' water in through her seams, I'd advise--"

His further speech was cut short by a terrific blast of wind that swooped down upon us like a howling, screaming fiend, without a moment's warning. So violent was it that Tasker and I were both swept off our feet and dashed to the deck, where I brought up against the cabin companion with a crash that all but knocked the senses out of me, while the gunner's mate disappeared in the direction of the lee scuppers. The yelling and screaming of the wind was absolutely appalling, the volume of sound being such that nothing else could be heard above it; and in the midst of the din I became vaguely conscious that the ship was going over until she lay upon her beam ends, with her deck almost perpendicular, and the water up to the level of her hatchways.

For a few seconds I lay where I was, on the upturned side of the companion, listening to the water pouring into the cabin with every lee roll of the ship, and endeavouring to pull together my scattered faculties; then, dimly realising that something must be done to relieve the ship if we would not have her founder beneath us, I scrambled to my feet and, seizing a rope's end that came lashing about me, dragged myself up to the weather rail, clinging to which I slowly and painfully worked my way forward, shouting for the carpenter as I did so. At length, arrived at the fore rigging, I came upon a small group of men who had somehow contrived to climb up to windward and out upon the ship's upturned side, where they were now desperately hacking away with their knives at the lanyards of the weather fore rigging.


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