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discern nothing ahead, at a distance greater than a mile,
on account of the mist ; but, just as the sun went below
the waters it lighted up to the westward, and Mark then
plainly saw what he was perfectly satisfied must be break
ers, extending for several miles directly acrosa the vessel's
track !



38 THE CRATER;

Such a discovery required decision, and the young man
shouted out

" Breakers ahead !"

This cry, coming from his first officer, startled even
Captain Crutchely, who was recovering a little from the
effect of his potations, though it was still treated with con
tempt by the second-mate, who had never forgiven one as
young as Mark, for getting a berth that he fancied due to
his own greater age and experience. He laughed openly
at this second report of breakers, at a point in the ocean
where the chart laid down a clear sea; but the captain
knew that the charts could only tell him what was known
at the time they were made, and he felt disposed to treat
hi? first officer, young as he was, with more respect than
the second-mate. All hands were called in consequence,
and sail was shortened. Mark came down to assist in this
duty, while Captain Crutchely himself went aloft to look
out for the breakers. They passed each other in the top,
the latter desiring his mate to bring the ship by the wind,
on the larboard tack, or with her head to the southward,
as soon as he had the sail sufficiently reduced to do so with
safety.

For a few minutes after he reached the deck, Mark was
fully employed in executing his orders. Sail was shortened
with great rapidity, the men working with zeal and alarm,
for they believed their messmate when the captain had not.
Although the vessel was under top-mast studding-sails when
the command to take in the canvas was given, it was not
long before Mark had her under her three topsails, and
these with two reefs in them, and the ship on an easy
bowline, with her head to the southward. When all this
was done the young man felt a good deal of relief, for the
danger he had seen was ahead, and this change of course
brought it nearly abeam. It is true, the breakers were
still to leeward, and insomuch most dangerously situated
but the wind did not blow strong enough to prevent the
ship from weathering them, provided time was taken by
the forelock. The Rancocus was a good, weatherly ship,
nor was there sufficient sea on to make it at all difficult
Tor her to claw off a lee shore. Desperate indeed is the
situation of the vessel that has rocks or sands under her



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 39

lee, with the gale blowing in her teeth, and heavy seas
sending her bodily, and surely, however slowly, on the
very breakers she is struggling to avoid ! Captain Crutch-
ely had not been aloft five minutes before he hailed the
deck, and ordered Mark to send Bob Belts up to the cross-
trees. Bob had the reputation of being the brightest look
out in the vessel, and was usually employed when land
was about to be approached, or a sail was expected to be
made. He went up the fore-rigging like a squirrel, and
was soon at the captain's side, both looking anxiously to
leeward. A few minutes after the ship had hauled by the
wind, both came down, stopping in the top, however, to
take one more look to leeward.

The second-mate stood waiting the further descent of
the captain, with a sort of leering look of contempt on his
hard, well-dyed features, which seemed to anticipate that
it would soon be known that Mark's white water had lost
its colour, and become blue water once more. But Cap
tain Crutchely did not go as far as this, when he got down.
He admitted that he had seen nothing that he could very
decidedly say was breakers, but that, once or twice, when
it lighted up a little, there had been a gleaming along the
western horizon which a good deal puzzled him. It might
be white water, or it might be only the last rays of the
setting sun tipping the combs of the regular seas. Bob
Belts, too, was as much at fault as his captain, and a sar
castic remark or two of Hillson, the second-mate, were
fast bringing Mark's breakers into discredit.

"Jest look at the chart, Captain Crulchely," put in
Hillson " a regular Tower Hill chart as ever was made,
and you '11 see there can be no white water hereabouts.
If a man is to shorten sail and haul his wind, at every dead
whale he falls in with, in these seas, his owners will have
the balance on the wrong side of the book at the end of
the v'y'ge !"

This told hard against Mark, and considerably in Hill-
son's favour.

"And could you see nothing of breakers ahead, Bob?"
demanded Mark, with an emphasis on the ' you' which
prelty plainly implied that the young man was not so much
surprised that the captain had not seen them.



40 THE CRATER;

" Not a bit of it, Mr. Woolston," answered Bob, hitch*
ing up bis trowsers, " and I 'd a pretty good look ahead,
too."

This made still more against Mark, and Captain Crutch-
ely sent for the chart. Over this map he and the second-
mate pondered with a sort of muzzy sagacity, when they
came to the conclusion that a clear sea must prevail around
them, in all directions, for a distance exceeding a thousand
miles. A great deal is determined in any case of a di
lemma, when it is decided that this or that fact must be so.
Captain Crutchely would not have arrived at this positive
conclusion so easily, had not his reasoning powers been so
much stimulated by his repeated draughts of rum and
water, that afternoon ; all taken, as he said and believed,
not so much out of love for the beverage itself, as out of
love for Mrs. John Crutchely. Nevertheless, our captain
was accustomed to take care of a ship, and he was not yet
in a condition to forget all his duties, in circumstances so
critical. As Mark solemnly and steadily repeated his own
belief that there were breakers ahead, he so far yielded to
the opinions of his youthful chief-mate as to order the deep-
sea up, and to prepare to sound.

This operation of casting the deep-sea lead is not done
in a moment, but, on board a merchant vessel, usually
occupies from a quarter of an hour to twenty minutes.
The ship must first be hove-to, and her way ought to be
as near lost as possible before the cast is made. Then the
getting along of the line, the Stationing of the men, and
the sounding and hauling in again, occupy a good many
minutes. By the time it was all over, on this occasion, it
was getting to be night. The misty, drizzling weather
threatened to make the darkness intense, and Mark felt
more and more impressed with the danger in which the
ship was placed.

The cast of the lead produced no other result than the
certainty that bottom was not to be found with four hun
dred fathoms of line out. No one, however, not even the
muzzy Hillson, attached much importance to this fact, in
asmuch as it was known that the coral reefs often rise like
perpendicular walls, in the ocean, having no bottom to be
found within a cable's-length of them. Then Mark did



OH, VULCAN'S PEAK. 41

not believe the ship to be within three leagues of the
breakers he had seen, for they had seemed, both to him
and to the seaman who had first reported them, to be
several leagues distant. One on an elevation like that of
the top-gallant cross-trees, could see a long way, and the
white water had appeared to Mark to be on the very verge
of the western horizon, even as seen from his lofty look
out.

After a further consultation with his officers, during
which Hillson had not spared his hits at his less experi
enced superior, Captain Crutchely came to a decision,
which might be termed semi-prudent. There is nothing
that a seaman more dislikes than to be suspected of extra-
nervousness on the subject of doubtful dangers of this sort.
Seen and acknowledged, he has no scruples about doing
his best to avoid them ; but so long as there is an uncer
tainty connected with their existence at all, that miserable
feeling of vanity which renders us all so desirous to be
more than nature ever intended us for, inclines most men
to appear indifferent even while they dread. The wisest
thing Captain Crutchely could have done, placed in the
circumstances in which he now found himself, would have
been to stand off and on, under easy canvas, until the re
turn of light, when he might have gone ahead on his course
with some confidence, and a great deal more of safety.
But there would have been an air of concession to the
power of an unknown danger that conflicted with his pride,
in such a course, and the old and well-tried ship-master
did not like to give the ' uncertain' this advantage over
him. He decided therefore to stand on, with his topsails
reefed, keeping bright look-outs ahead, and having his
courses in the brails, ready for getting the tacks down to
claw off to windward, should it prove to be necessary.
With this plan Mark was compelled to comply, there being
no appeal from the decrees of the autocrat of the quarter
deck.

As soon as the decision of Captain Crutchely was made,
the helm was put up, and the ship kept off to her course
It was true, that under double-reefed topsails, and jib,
which was all the canvas set, there was not half the danger
there would have been under their former sail ; and, when
4*



42 THE CRATER;

Mark took charge of the watch, as he did soon after, or
eight o'clock, he was in hopes, by means of vigilance, still
to escape the danger. The darkness, which was getting
to be very intense, was now the greatest and most imme
diate source of his apprehensions. Could he only get a
glimpse of the sea a cable's-length ahead, he would have
felt vast relief; but even that small favour was denied him.
By the time the captain and second-mate had turned in,
which each did after going below and taking a stiff glass
of rum and water in his turn, it was so dark our young
mate could not discern the combing of the waves a hundred
yards from the ship, in any direction. This obscurity was
owing/to the drizzle tHat filled the atmosphere, as well as
to the clouds that covered the canopy above that lone and
wandering ship.

As for Mark, he took his station between the knight-
heads, where he remained most of the watch, nearly strain
ing the eyes out of his head, in the effort to penetrate the
gloom, and listening acutely to ascertain if he might not
catch some warning roar of the breakers, that he felt so
intimately persuaded must be getting nearer and nearer at
each instant. As midnight approached, came the thought
of Hillson's taking his place, drowsy and thick-headed as
he knew he must be at that hour. At length Mark actu
ally fancied he heard the dreaded sounds ; the warning,
however, was not ahead, but well on his starboard beam.
This he thought an ample justification for departing from
his instructions, and he instantly issued an order to put
the helm hard a-starboard, so as to bring the vessel up to
the wind, on the contrary tack. Unfortunately, as the
result proved, it now became his imperative duty to report
to Captain Crutchely what he had done. For a minute
or two the young man thought of keeping silence, to stand
on his present course, to omit calling the second-mate, and
to say nothing about what he had done, keeping the deck
himself until light should return. But reflection induced
him to shrink from the execution of this plan, which would
have involved him in a serious misunderstanding with both
his brother officers, who could not fail to hear all that had
03 urred in the night, and who must certainly know, each
in his respective sphere, that they themselves had been



. OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 43

slighted. With a slow step, therefore, and a heavy heart,
Mark went into the cabin to make his report, and to give
the second-mate the customary call.

It was not an easy matter to awaken either of those,
who slept under the influence of potations as deep as the
night-caps taken by Captain Crutchely and Mr. Hillson.
The latter, in particular, was like a man in a state of le
thargy, and Mark had half a mind to leave him, and make
his condition an excuse for not having persisted in the
call. But he succeeded in arousing the captain, who soon
found the means to bring the second-mate to a state of
semi-consciousness.

" Well, sir," cried the captain, as soon as fairly awake
himself, " what now?"

" I think I heard breakers abeam, sir, and I have hauled
up to the southward."

A grunt succeeded, which Mark scarce knew how to
interpret. It might mean dissatisfaction, or it might mean
surprise. As the captain, however, was thoroughly awake,
and was making his preparations to come out on deck, he
thought that he had done all that duty required, and he
returned to his own post. The after-part of the ship was
now the best situation for watching, and Mark went up on
the poop, in order to see and hear the better. No lower
sail being in the way, he could look ahead almost as well
from that position as if he were forward ; and as for hear
ing, it was much the best place of the two, in consequence
of there being no wash of the sea directly beneath nim, as
was the case when stationed between the knight-heads.
To this post he soon summoned Bob Belts, who belonged
to his watch, and with whom he had ever kept up as great
an intimacy as the difference in their stations would allow.

" Bob, your ears are almost as good as your eyes," said
Mark; " have you heard nothing of breakers?"

" I have, Mr. Woolston, and now own I did see some
thing that may have been white water, this arternoon, while
aloft; but the captain and second-mate seemed so awarse
to believing in sich a thing, out here in the open Pacific,
that I got to be awarse, too."

" It was a great fault in a look-out not to let what he
bad seen be known," said Mark, gravely.



44 THE CRATER;

"I own it, sir ; I own how wrong I was, and hare been
sorry for it ever since. But it's going right in the wind's
eye, Mr. Woolston, to go ag'in captain and dickey !"

" But, you now think you have heard breakers where
away ?"

" Astarn first ; then ahead ; and, just as you called me
up on the poop, sir, I fancied they sounded off here, on the
weather bow."

" Are you serious, Bob?"

" As I ever was in my life, Mr. Mark. This oversight
of the arternoon has made me somewhat conscientious, if
I can be conscientious, and my sight and hearing are now
both wide awake. It's my opinion, sir, that the ship is in
the midst of breakers at this instant, and that we may ge
on 'em at any moment !"

" The devil it is !" exclaimed Captain Crutchely, who
now appeared on the poop, and who caught the last part
of Bob Betts's speech. " Well, for my part, I hear nothing
out of the way, and I will swear the keenest-sighted man
on earth can see nothing."

These words were scarcely out of the captain's mouth,
and had been backed by a senseless, mocking laugh from
Hillson, who was still muzzy, and quite as much asleep as
awake, when the deep and near roar of breakers was most
unequivocally heard. It came from to windward, too, and
abeam ! This was proof that the ship was actually among
the breakers when Mark hauled up, and that she was now
passing a danger to leeward, that she must have previously
gone by, in running down on her course. The captain,
without waiting to consult with his cool and clear-headed
young mate, now shouted for all hands to be called, and
to " stand by to ware ship." These orders came out so
fast, and in so peremptory a manner, that remonstrance
was out of the question, and Mark set himself at work to
obey them, in good earnest. He would have tacked in
preference to waring, and it would have been much wiser
to do so ; but it was clearly expedient to get the ship on
the other tack, and he lent all his prosent exertions to the
attainment of that object. Waring is much easier done
than tacking, certainly ; when it does not blow too fresh,
and there is not a dangerous sea on, no nautical manoeuvre



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 45

can be more readily effected, though room is absolutely
necessary to its success. This room was now wanting.
Just as the ship had got dead before the wind, and was
flying away to leeward, short as was the sail she was under,
the atmosphere seemed to be suddenly filled with a strange
light, the sea became white all around them, and a roar
of tumbling waters arose, that resembled the sound of a
small cataract. The ship was evidently in the midst of
breakers, and the next moment she struck !

The intense darkness of the night added to the horrors
of that awful moment. Nevertheless, the effect was to
arouse all that there was of manliness and seamanship in
Captain Crutchely, who from that instant appeared to be
himself again. His orders were issued coolly, clearly and
promptly, and they were obeyed as experienced mariners
will work at an instant like that. The sails were all clewed
up, and the heaviest of them were furled. Hillson was
ordered to clear away an anchor, while Mark was attend
ing to the canvas. In the mean time, the captain watched
the movements of the ship. He had dropped a lead along
side, and by that he ascertained that they were still beating
ahead. The thumps were not very hard, and the white
water was soon left astern, none having washed on deck.
All this was so much proof that the place on whieh they
had struck must have had nearly water enough to float the
vessel, a fact that the lead itself corroborated. Fifteen
feet aft was all the Rancocus wanted, in her actual trim,
and the lead showed a good three fathoms, at times. It
was when the ship settled in the troughs of the sea that she
felt the bottom. Satisfied that his vessel was likely to beat
over the present difficulty, Captain Crutchely now gave
all his attention to getting her anchored as near the reef
and to leeward of it, as possible. The instant she went
clear, a result he now expected every moment, he was de
termined to drop one of his bower anchors, and wait for
daylight, before he took any further steps to extricate him
self from the danger by which he was surrounded.

On the forecastle, the work went on badly, and thither
Captain Crutchely proceeded. The second-mate scarce
knew what he was about, and the captain took charge of
the duty himself. At the same time he issued an order to



46 THE CRATER;

Mark to get up tackles, and to clear away the launch, pre*
paratory to getting that boat into the water. Hillson had
bent the cable wrong, and much of the work had to be
done over asjain. As soon as men get excited, as is apt
to be the case when they find serious blunders made at
critical moments, they are not always discreet. The pre
cise manner in which Captain Crutchely met with the
melancholy fate that befel him, was never known. It is
certain that he jumped down on the anchor-stock, the
anchor being a cock-bill, and that he ordered Mr. Hillson
off of it. While thus employed, and at an instant when
the cable was pronounced bent, and the men were in the
act of getting inboard, the ship made a heavy roll, breakers
again appeared all around her, the white foam rising nearly
to the level of her rails. The captain was seen no more.
There is little doubt that he was washed from the anchor
stock, and carried away to leeward, in the midst of the
darkness of that midnight hour.

Mark was soon apprised of the change that had occurred,
and of the heavy responsibility that now rested on his young
shoulders. A feeling of horror and of regret came over
him, at first; but understanding the necessity of self-com
mand, he aroused himself, at once, to his duty, and gave
his orders coolly and with judgment. The first step was
to endeavour to save the captain. The jolly-boat was low
ered, and six men got in it, and passed ahead of the ship,
with this benevolent design. Mark stood on the bowsprit,
and saw them shoot past the bows of the vessel, and then,
almost immediately, become lost to view in the gloomy dark
ness of the terrible scene. The men never re-appeared, a
common and an unknown fate thus sweeping away Captain
Crutchely and six of his best men, and all, as it might be,
in a single instant of time!

Notwithstanding these sudden and alarming losses, the
work went on. Hillson seemed suddenly to become con
scious of the necessity of exertion, and by giving his utmost
attention to hoisting out the launch, that boat was got
safely into the water. By this time the ship had beaten
so far over the reef, as scarcely to touch at all, and Mark
had everything ready for letting go his anchors, the instant
he had reason to believe she was in water deep enough to



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 47

float her. The thumps grew lighter and lighter, and the
lead-line showed a considerable drift; so much so, indeed,
as to require its being hauled in and cast anew every mi
nute. Under all the circumstances, Mark expected each
instant, to find himself in four fathoms' water, and he in
tended to let go the anchor the moment he was assured of
that fact. In the mean time, he ordered the carpenter to
sound the pumps. This was done, and the ship was re
ported with only the customary quantity of water in the
well. As yet her bottom was not injured, materially ai
least.

While Mark stood with the lead-line in his hand, anx
iously watching the drift of the vessel and the depth of
water, Hillson was employed in placing provisions in the
launch. There was a small amount of specie in the cabin
and this, too, was transferred to the launch ; everything
of that sort being done without Mark's knowledge, and by
the second-mate's orders. The former was on the forecastle,
waiting the proper moment to anchor ; while all of the
after-part of the ship was at the mercy of the second-mate,
and a gang of the people, whom that officer had gathered
around him.

At length Mark found, to his great delight, that there
were four good fathoms of water under the ship's bows,
though she still hung abaft. He ascertained this fact by
means of Bob Belts, which true-hearted tar stood by him,
with a lantern, by swinging which low enough, the marks
were seen on the lead-line. Foot by foot the ship now
surged ahead, the seas being so much reduced in size and
power, by the manner in which they had been broken to
windward, as not to lift the vessel more than an inch or two
at a time. After waiting patiently a quarter of an hour,
Mark believed that the proper time had come, and he gave
the order to ' let run.' The seaman stationed at the stopper
obeyed, and down went the anchor. It happened, oppor
tunely enough, that the anchor was thus dropped, just as
the keel cleared the bottom, and the cable being secured
at a short range, after forging ahead far enough to tighten
the Fatter, the vessel tended. In swinging to her anchor,
a roller came down upon her, however ; one that had crossed
the reef without breaking, and broke on board her. Mark



4o THE CRATER;

afterwards believed that the rush and weight of this sea,
which did no serious harm, frightened the men into the
launch, where Hillson was already in person, and that the
boat either struck adrift under the power of the roller, or
that the lainter was imorudently cast off in the confusion
of the moment. He had got in as far as the windlass him
self, when the sea came aboard ; and, as soon as he reco
vered his sight after the ducking he received, he caught a
dim view of the launch, driving off to leeward, on the top
of a wave. Hailing was useless, and he stood gazing at
the helpless boat until it became lost, like everything else
that was a hundred yards from the ship, in the gloom of
night. Even then Mark was by no means conscious of
the extent of the calamity that had befallen him. It was
only when he had visited cabin, steerage and forecastle,
and called the crew over by name, that he reached the
grave fact that there was no one left on board the Ranco-
cus but Bob Betts^nd himself!

As Mark did not know what land was to be found to
leeward, he naturally enough hoped and expected that the
people in both boats might reach the shore, and be reco
vered in the morning ; but he had little expectation of ever
seeing Captain Crutchely again. The circumstances,
however, afforded him little time to reflect on these things,
and he gave his whole attention, for the moment, to the
preservation of the ship. Fortunately, the anchor held,
and, as the wind, which had never blown very heavily,
sensibly began to lessen, Mark was sanguine in the belief
it would continue to hold. Captain Crutchely had taken
the precaution to have the cable bitted at a short range
with a view to keep it, as much as possible, off the bottom ;
coral being known to cut the hempen cables that were alto



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