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Before the morrow's sun rose upon the world, heart, brain, and tongue were still and cold, “five fathom deep" in ocean's bed. That night their souls were required of them.
All that day the gale continued, freshening as the sun declined,- for decline it did, though closely veiled from our sight. Darkness closed in upon us — the darkness of a December's night in the English Channel. Still we hurried on our way. What mattered it that one could not see his hand when held up before him? Throughout the day we could hardly see the jib-boom's endtoo short a range of vision to have saved us from impending peril. The light burnt brightly in the binacle our path was known — what needed we more ?
Soon after midnight, the wind, hitherto blowing from S.W. to S.S.W., chopped suddenly in a squall to S.E., and blew a perfect hurricane.
So unexpected was the shift of wind, so blinding the rain, that no preparation was made for the occurrence, and the sails were caught aback. Luckily the vessel had rapid way on her at the time; the helm was put to starboard, and she paid quickly off before the wind.
The captain was on deck in an instant- he had not taken his clothes off, nor left the deck for five
minutes at a time since sunset -- and
immediate orders to take in the foresail, and brace the yards to the wind. But, in the dark and confusion, some lubber saved his shipmates that trouble, for, letting go the starboard fore-brace just as the wind caught the after leech of the sail, the yard flew forwards with great violence, snapped in the lee-quarter, and in an instant the sail was split into ribands, and fluttered in the storm.
The main-yard was now braced up, and the ship brought gradually to the wind; but, in less than ten minutes, a heavy gust blew the maintopsail out of the bolt-rope, and the vessel again fell off the wind with her head in the direction of the English shore; but as it was considered we had ample room to drift in that direction, no heed was taken of the circumstance, and all hands were set to work to clear away the wreck of the fore-yard and bend another main-topsail. In a little time, however, the ship rolling heavily in a cross and confused sea, the main-trysail was set, and she headed to the N.E., making little or no way through the water.
These operations were not performed without a loss of life which at any other time would have been regarded with much concern by all on board, but in the confusion and horror of that night seemed to be hardly noticed. Two poor fellows, in attempting to secure the main-topsail, with a view to unbend it, were knocked off the lee yardarm, fell overboard, and were seen no more.
When people are busy on a dark winter's night, in a gale of wind, strange as it may sound to a landsman's ear, time passes very swiftly. Thus, about four hours had elapsed from the moment of the wind shifting, when the look-out man forward cried sharply, “Breakers a-head!" an appalling sound under any circumstances, and particularly awful when heard in a crippled vessel, situated as
The excitement of nearing the land, the violent motion of the vessel, as she staggered and rolled on her course in the early part of the night, and the noise and bustle on deck since the splitting of the sails, had banished sleep, I believe, from every eye. Few had retired to bed at all - none had done more than partially undress themselves, so that the cry of the seaman pierced the ears of each passenger, even amidst the howling of the elements, and the uproar caused by officers giving directions on deck, and seamen calling from aloft to let go this or that rope, to hold on the other, &c. &c.
One impulse seemed to animate each individual at that dread sound a blind instinct of self-preservation; and all made for the ladders to gain the upper deck. If, in that instant of deadly peril, one could have been amused by anything, I should have laughed to see how the gallantry and devotion of one sex, the delicacy of the other, the affection of the husband for his wife, the lover for his mistress, all vanished in the selfish feeling of the moment.
There was a regular scramble who should first ascend the ladder, which had the effect, of course, of hindering all. It was a panic; but, in justice to myself and others, I must say it was but momentary : more generous emotions soon filled our breasts.
Instantly on the alarm being given by the lookout-man orders had been issued to brail
the main-trysail, clear away the fore-staysail and fore-topmast-staysail; the helm was put up; and it was hoped there would yet be time and space allowed us to wear ship, and seek our safety on the other tack. Vain delusion! in less time than it has taken me to write the history of our disaster the ship struck heavily on a reef of rocks, seeming to make every plank and timber in her crack, every bolt and treenail snap.
She was right before the wind at the moment of striking, and made quickly afterwards three distinct thumps over the reef, and then, grinding heavily, she ran up a steep incline, and, bedding herself in the rocks, stood still. The masts, which had quivered and shaken like reeds in the breeze during her rapid transit over the reef, now fell with a loud crash. The foremast went a few feet above the deck, the mainmast just below the hounds, taking the mizen-topmast with it, and leaving the mizenmast alone standing.
It was a moment of extreme horror and dismay.
" Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell !
Then shriek'd the timid, and stood still the brave !"
It was a moment, stamped as it were with a branding-iron on the memory of each one who survived it, never to be effaced.
A merciful and benignant Providence ever stands our friend when we are least capable of assisting ourselves. The attempt to wear the ship had failed; had it succeeded it is probable it would but have prolonged our perilous state for a while, and that, disabled as we were, we should have drifted shortly on rocks which stood still further out at sea, and from which escape seemed impossible. But although we had been foiled in our attempt, the endeavour, under the Divine favour, had been the means of safety to us.