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Chapter XVI.

Fearful Hurricane.—Foundering of the Screaming Eagle.—Awful end of Ben Goldstone.

A FEW days afterwards, Ben sent a submissive message to the captain, asking permission to walk the poop for half-an-hour, which was granted. When he went on deck he observed that all hands were busy sending down royal and top-gallant yards, reefing preventer-braces, and making other preparations for heavy weather. It was nearly calm, but the sky had a dull leaden hue, and there was a portentous closeness in the air which no sailor could misunderstand. The ship was then a few degrees to the north-west of the Marquesas Islands. After a while Ben ventured to ask the captain what he thought of the weather, when he curtly replied, “Dirty, sir; very dirty. A low glass, and still falling fast. We are going to have one of these roundy-go-roundies.”

Ben understood what the captain meant, for he had experienced a hurricane when on board the Juno whaler in the Tonga group; and though the ship was lying with three anchors ahead in the land-locked harbour of Vavau, they narrowly escaped being wrecked. He remarked “that he was afraid they had not much sea-room to run for it,” when the captain replied, “No, sir; we are jammed in on all tacks by coral reefs; and come what may, we must lie to, and sweat it out the best way we can. We have a good ship under us, but she is too deep for heavy weather, and I told my agent so before I took in the last lighter of coal that came alongside; but he only smiled and said, ‘Forty tons won't make much difference to this big ship, captain.’ That is the way lots of ships are sent to the bottom of the sea, sir; when they fall in with heavy weather, they get smothered.”

As night approached, the appearance of the sky was awful in the extreme. Lightnings streamed from the murky clouds, and thunders shook the ocean to its bed. The wind was


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veering about from all points of the compass, accompanied with heavy squalls of rain. Sail had been reduced to a close-reefed main-topsail and storm staysail; everything else was furled and secured by double gaskets. About thirty tons of coal had been thrown overboard, and the hatches were made all secure with extra tarpaulins; in short, all that sailor-like skill and forethought could do, was done.

At about eight-bells a furious hurricane burst upon them, which blew the canvas away like brown paper, and hove the ship's starboard rail under water, in which helpless position she lay, broadside to it, though the helm was put hard up. The sea was feather-white, and the roaring of the wind through the rigging was even louder than the thunder, while the blue lightning seemed to run down every rope. Most of the cabin furniture fetched way, and crashed down into the state-rooms to leeward; and the smashing of crockery and glass in the steward's pantry added to the general din of destruction. In that awful crisis, Mrs Davis left her cabin and rushed frantically into Ben's arms, beseeching him to save her, while he, pale and agitated, and trembling in every limb, could not articulate a word of comfort, and seemed paralysed with extreme fear.

“O God, have mercy upon us!” exclaimed the distracted woman. “Save us, O God!” Ben's lips moved; perhaps he was mentally repeating that prayer, but he uttered not a word. Presently the captain looked into the cuddy, and said in a hurried tone of authority, “Mr Goldstone, you said you were a sailor; now you must show yourself to be one. Come on deck, sir, and take a turn at the pumps, or else go below and trim the cargo up to windward. Bear a hand, sir; there is no time to think about it; ten minutes longer in this position will send us all to eternity. Steward, you come on deck too.”

Ben scrambled up the companion-way, but he could get no further; his nerves were so shaken by his long-continued excesses, that he was powerless as an infant. The ship was on its beam-ends, and the cargo had shifted. The second mate, with part of the crew, were in the fore-hold, trimming the coal over to windward; the rest of the crew were lashed at the pumps. The captain and mate had clambered along the weather topsides, and were cutting away the laniards of the fore-rigging. Presently the foremast went by the board, taking the main-top-gallant mast with it, when the ship partially


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righted; but she still lay wallowing and straining in the trough of the sea.

At midnight there was a sudden lull, and the sea then began to break on board, like vast hillocks of water. The long-boat, spars, fore-deck house, galley, and all the lee bulwarks were washed away; one of the seaman was lost overboard, and several others were badly injured.

The lull lasted but half-an-hour, when the hurricane burst on them again, and the main and mizen topmasts went over the side. It continued to blow furiously till day-dawn, when a pitiable scene of wreck presented itself to the view of the weather-beaten crew. The ship had strained very much as she lay on her broadside, and she leaked badly. The broken spars dashing against her sides also damaged her, and there was no possibility of clearing away the wreck while the sea continued to break on board with such force and fury. There was four feet of water in the hold, and the men were nearly knocked up with incessant pumping all night; nevertheless, they nobly kept at work; but at six-bells there was five feet of water in the hold, and one of the pumps was choked with coal-dust. It was then decided to abandon the ship, as it was not possible to keep her afloat another hour.

Fortunately, the two quarter-boats were uninjured; so the chief mate took charge of one, and the captain the other. Provisions and water were hastily put into the boats, and they were successfully lowered into the water,—a work of imminent hazard on account of the furious cross sea which was breaking over the ship on all sides. The crew were told off for each boat, and stood by, watching for a favourable opportunity of lowering themselves into their respective boats by means of a rope fastened to the end of the spanker-boom. Mrs Davis, who was half-frantic with terror, was with much difficulty lowered into the captain's boat, and there she sat with her face covered in a shawl, as if afraid to gaze on the terrific scene around her.

Meanwhile Ben had gone to his cabin to secure his gold; he had three canvas bags full of sovereigns. In his excited efforts to carry them all on deck at once, he let one bag fall, when it burst, and the coin rolled over the cabin floor. He fell down on his hands and knees, and scraped up part of the treasure, which he put into the pockets of his monkey-jacket. He could not stop to gather it all up, for he heard the captain vociferously calling on him to “bear a hand, if he didn't want


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to go down in the ship;” so he seized the other two bags of sovereigns, and staggered with them to the deck. Every soul had left the ship but himself, and the boats were lying under the stern, the crews plying the oars to keep from drifting to leeward. The wind had lulled, but there was a dangerous sea, which threatened to engulf the boats.

“I will not risk the lives of all in the boat by waiting another minute,” shouted the captain. “We shall be stoved up against the ship if we lie here.”

“Hold on half-a-minute, captain! Here, save this gold! I will give £500 to the man who will save it!” shrieked Ben, holding up one of his bags of sovereigns.

“Heave it into the boat,” roared a sailor who was sitting in the head-sheets holding a boat-hook. “Look sharp; heave it in, and I'll catch it.” The boat just then lifted to a sea, and Ben threw the bag. The man caught it, but it was heavier than he had expected, and it fell across the gunwale and split open; part of the coin fell overboard, and the rest scattered into the boat.

Ben uttered an involuntary imprecation on the man's carelessness, then seizing the remaining bag of gold, he passed his leathern belt through a loop in the neck, and fastened it round his waist, being evidently determined to trust in his own power to save that.

“Hold on a bit! hold on, sir!” shouted the captain, whose boat had just shipped a sea and was half-full of water; he then called out to the mate to come up with his boat, and take off Goldstone. Ben evidently misunderstood the captain's words, for instead of waiting till the boat was nearer to the ship, he swung himself off the end of the boom, and there he hung on by his hands only.

“For heaven's sake, make haste, captain!” screamed Ben, who ever and anon dipped into the sea as the vessel rose or fell to the waves. “For mercy's sake, bear a hand! I can't hold on much longer! O my God! O my God! I am going! Captain! captain! save me, and take all my gold!”

“Hang on! hang on, sir!” shouted both captain and mate, who were making strenuous efforts to reach the vessel. With the ship perfectly motionless, it would have been a severe exercise for a strong man to hang on by his hands to a rope for five minutes, but with the ship plunging and rolling in that furious sea, it was a marvel how Ben held on so long with at


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least seventy pounds weight of gold in his pockets and fastened to his belt.

The men did their utmost to save him. The orew of the mate's boats used extraordinary efforts to get under the stern, and had almost succeeded; another minute, and they would have had him in their boat; but they were one precious minute too late: the ship took a plunge into a heavy sea, burying her bows and lifting her stern high out of the water. The sudden jerk was too much for Ben's exhausted strength; he uttered a piercing scream, which rang in the ears of every survivor for many days afterwards, and in an instant he was gone. Down he went to the depths of the sea, with his pockets full of gold.

After being several days at sea, the boats of the Screaming Eagle were picked up by a ship bound from San Francisco to Melbourne. About two months afterwards, Mrs Davis returned to her home and her children, a wiser, if not a better woman.

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