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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

With the solitary exception of the longboat


this fashion the seemingly endless night at length wore itself away and the lowering dawn came, disclosing to us the true seriousness of our condition. There we were, aweary, hollow-eyed, haggard-looking little band, sodden to the very bones of us with long hours of exposure to the pitiless buffeting of rain and sea, our flesh salt-encrusted, our eyes bloodshot, our hands raw and bleeding with the severe and protracted work at the pumps, adrift in mid-ocean upon a mastless, sorely battered, and badly leaking hulk, with her ballast shifted and a heavy list, tossed helplessly upon a furiously raging sea that seemed instinct with a relentless determination to overwhelm us, toiling and fighting doggedly against the untiring elements, in the hope that, perchance, if our strength held out, we might keep the now crazy, straining, and complaining fabric beneath us afloat long enough to afford us some chance of saving our lives. Yet the hope was, after all, but a slender one; for with the coming of daylight we were able to see that our plight was very considerably worse than we had dreamed it to be during the hours of darkness; for _then_ we had believed that the loss of our masts and the springing of a somewhat serious leak represented the sum total of our misfortunes; while _now_ we saw, to our unspeakable dismay, that, with the solitary exception of the longboat, the whole of our boats were so badly damaged as to be altogether beyond our ability to repair; of two of them, indeed,
nothing save the stem and stern remained dangling forlornly from the davit tackles. But that, bad though it was, was not the worst; for it was no longer possible for us to blind ourselves to the fact that the leak was gaining upon us inexorably, and that, even though we should continue to toil with unabated energy, we could not keep the ship afloat longer than a few hours more, at the utmost.

And then what were we to do? The longboat, fine boat though she was, when stocked with even a meagre supply of provisions and water, would not accommodate more than twenty-five men, and I gravely doubted whether she would live ten minutes in such a sea as was then running, with half that number in her. Still, with the exception of such a raft as we might be able to put together, she was all that we had, and half an hour of daylight sufficed to show me that no time must be lost in making preparations to quit the slowly foundering ship. Yet it would not do for us to leave the pumps for a moment; one gang must, at all costs, be kept hard at work pumping out as much as possible of the water that was pouring in through the open seams, otherwise the leak would gain upon us so rapidly that the ship would settle from under us long before we were ready to face such a catastrophe. I therefore at once set about the formulating of my plans and carrying them into effect. First of all, while one gang kept the pump-brakes clanking and the clear water spouting out upon our streaming deck, I got another gang to work at launching the guns overboard as the roll of the ship permitted--and this, I was glad to see, eased the poor labouring craft quite perceptibly. This done, all hands, except those at the pumps, went to breakfast, the meal consisting of hot coffee sweetened with molasses, and ship's biscuit, more or less sodden with salt-water--for with the coming of daylight and the preparation of breakfast the unwelcome discovery had been made that the salt-water had got at the provisions and gone far toward spoiling them. Then, as soon as the first gang had finished breakfast, they relieved those at the pumps, who in their turn took breakfast and next proceeded to clear away the longboat and prepare

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