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Adrift in the Pacific-Two Years Holiday, Page 2

Jules Verne

  And now the wind blew with still greater strength, the schooner, carried along like a feather, was hurled towards the coast, which stood out like a line of ink on the whitish waste of sky. In the background was a cliff, from a hundred and fifty to two hundred feet high; in the foreground was a yellowish beach ending towards the right in a rounded mass which seemed to belong to a forest further inland.

  Ah! If the schooner could reach the sandy beach without meeting with a line of reefs, if the mouth of a river would only offer a refuge, her passengers might perhaps escape safe and sound!

  Leaving Donagan, Gordon, and Moko, at the helm, Briant went forward and examined the land which he was nearing so rapidly. But in vain did he look for some place in which the yacht could be run ashore without risk. There was the mouth of no river or stream, not even a sandbank, on which they could run her aground; but there was a line of breakers with the black heads of rock rising amid the undulations of the surge, where at the first shock the schooner would be wrenched to pieces.

  It occurred to Briant that it would be better for all his friends to be on deck when the crash came, and opening the companion-door he shouted down, —

  ‘Come on deck, every one of you!’

  Immediately out jumped the dog, and then the eleven boys one after the other, the smallest at the sight of the mighty waves around them beginning to yell with terror.

  It was a little before six in the morning when the schooner reached the first line of breakers.

  ‘Hold on, all of you!’ shouted Briant, stripping off half his clothes, so as to be ready to help those whom the surf swept away, for the vessel would certainly strike.

  Suddenly there came a shock. The schooner had grounded under the stern. But the hull was not damaged, and no water rushed in. A second wave took her fifty feet further, just skimming the rocks that run above the water-level in quite a thousand places. Then she heeled over to port and remained motionless, surrounded by the boiling surf.

  She was not in the open sea, but she was a quarter of a mile from the beach.


  THE veil of mist had gone, and the eye could range over a wide expanse round the schooner. The clouds still chased each other with extreme rapidity, and the storm had lost none of its strength. But it might be its last great effort so far as concerned this unknown land in the Pacific. It was to be hoped so, for the state of affairs was as perilous now as it had been during the night when the schooner was writhing in the open sea. Huddled together, the boys might well think themselves lost, as wave after wave came dashing against the nettings and covering them with spray. The shocks were so violent that the schooner could not possibly endure them long. But though at every blow she quivered in her frame, there did not seem to be a plank started from the time she grounded until she was thrust amid this rocky frame. Briant and Gordon had been below and reported that the water had not gained entry to the hull; and they did their best to cheer up their comrades— particularly the little ones.

  ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Briant. ‘The yacht is strongly built; the coast is near. Wait, and we will try to reach the shore.’

  ‘And why wait?’ asked Donagan.

  ‘Yes—why?’ added another boy, about twelve years old, named Wilcox. ‘Donagan is right. Why wait?’

  ‘Because the sea is too high at present, and we should be thrown out among the rocks’, answered Briant.

  ‘And if the yacht goes to pieces?’ asked a third boy, named Webb, who was about the same age as Wilcox.

  ‘I do not think there is much fear of that,’ said Briant; ‘at least till the tide turns. When it goes out we can see about saving ourselves.’

  Briant was right. Although the tides are not very considerable in the Pacific, their range is enough to cause an appreciable difference of level between high and low water.

  There would therefore be an advantage in waiting a few hours, particularly if the wind dropped. The ebb might leave a part of the reef dry, and it would then be less dangerous to leave the schooner and easier to cross the quarter of a mile which separated her from the beach.

  Reasonable as was this advice Donagan and two or three others were not prepared to follow it; and they formed a small crowd in the bow and talked in whispers. During the schooner’s passage they had consented to obey Briant’s orders, on account of his knowledge of seamanship, but they had always intended to resume their freedom of action once they got ashore. And this was particularly the case with Donagan, who, in respect of education and ability, considered himself a long way the superior of Briant and the rest. Briant happened to be of French birth, and, not unnaturally, the English were by no means disposed to knock under to him.

  So Donagan, Wilcox, Webb, and Cross stood in the bow and looked away across the sheet of foam, dotted with eddies, furrowed with currents which looked dangerous enough to satisfy any of them. The most skilful swimmer would have struggled in vain against the troubled tide that ebbed in the teeth of the boisterous wind. The advice to wait for an hour or two was only too sensible, and Donagan and his supporters had to yield to the evidence of their own eyes, and returned to the stern among the younger boys, just as Briant was saying to them, —

  ‘Above all things, do not separate! Let us keep together, or we are lost.’

  ‘Do you presume to lay down the law for us?’ exclaimed Donagan.

  ‘I presume nothing,’ said Briant ‘except what is for the safety of all.’

  ‘Briant is right,’ said Gordon, who never spoke without thinking, and took things generally in a cool, quiet sort of way.

  ‘Yes! yes!’ joined in two or three of the youngsters, who felt drawn towards Briant by a secret instinct.

  Donagan did not reply, but he and his friends kept away from the rest, and waited till it was time to begin work at saving themselves.

  And now what was the land? Did it belong to one of the isles of the Pacific Ocean or to some Continent? The question could not be answered, for the schooner was too near the shore for a long enough section of the coast-line to be seen. She was aground in a large bay, ended by two capes—that towards the north being high and hilly, that towards the south a long low spur. But beyond these capes did the sea run off as if to surround an island?

  If it happened to be an island, how were the boys to get away if they failed to float the schooner, which at high water might possibly be dashed to pieces on the reef? And if the island were a desert one—and there are such in the Pacific—how could these lads support existence for any time on the provisions they might save from the wreck?

  On a continent the chances of safety would be much greater, for the continent could be no other than South America. There, in either Chili or Bolivia, they would surely find assistance, if not immediately, at least within a few days of their getting to land. It is true that if the coast were that of the Pampas, some awkward adventures were to be feared.

  At the present moment the main question was, how were they to get ashore? The weather was clear enough for all the details of the coast to be made out—the beach, the cliff behind, the clumps of trees at the base of the cliff—all were plain to see. Briant even saw the mouth of a small river some way to the right of him. The aspect of the coast was not attractive, but the curtain of verdure indicated a certain amount of fertility; and beyond the cliff, and sheltered from the sea breezes, the soil might be better, and perhaps capable of tillage.

  There was no sign that the land was inhabited. There was no house or hut, not even at the mouth of the river. The natives, if there were any, might perhaps prefer to live away from the shore, where they were exposed to such boisterous winds from the westward.

  ‘I see no smoke,’ said Briant lowering the binocular.

  ‘And there is no boat on the beach,’ said Moko.

  ‘How could there be, if there is no harbour?’ asked Donagan.

  ‘It is not necessary that there should be a harbour,’ said Gordon. ‘Fishing-boats could lay up the river mouth, and it migh
t be that the storm has obliged the people to take them up the river.’

  Gordon’s observation was true enough, but, anyhow, there was no sign of a boat to be seen, and the whole coast seemed uninhabited.

  The tide was going out—very slowly, it is true—for the wind drove it back. But the wind was falling and edging more to the north-west, and everything ought to be in readiness when the reef offered a practicable passage.

  It was nearly seven o’clock. Every one was busy bringing up on deck such things as were of first importance leaving the others to be collected when the sea washed them ashore. There was on board a large store of preserved provisions, and some of them were made up into packages for the older boys to take with them. But for this to be done the reef ought to be dry. Would the tide be low enough to leave the beach dry up to the rocks? Anxiously did Briant and Gordon watch the sea. With the change in the wind it had become calmer, and the boiling of the surf began to subside; and it was now easy to note the decrease of the water round the pointed rocks. The schooner showed the effects of this decrease by giving a stronger list to port; and it was to be feared, if the heeling continued, that she would go right over on her side, for she was narrow and deep, like all modern yachts of high speed. If she did so, if the water reached the deck before the boys could leave her, matters would be serious.

  What a pity it was that the boats had been carried away in the storm! They were large enough to hold all on board, and in them Briant and his comrades could have tried to reach the shore, and afterwards take many things from the wreck, which would now have to be left. If the schooner broke up during the night, would the wreckage be of use to them after it had been knocked about among the rocks? What would become of the provisions? would the boys have to trust to the productions of the island for their food? It was indeed a pity that they had lost the boats.

  Suddenly there was a shout in the bow. Baxter had made an important discovery. The yawl, instead of being washed away, was foul of the bowsprit and uninjured. It could only hold five or six, it is true, but it would be of great service if the tide did not run out far enough to leave a dry passage to land.

  But here again a discussion broke out in which Briant and Donagan took opposite sides. In fact, as soon as the yawl was found, Donagan, Wilcox, Webb, and Cross had taken possession of her.

  ‘What are you doing?’ asked Briant.

  ‘What we choose,’ answered Wilcox.

  ‘Are you going off in that boat?’

  ‘Yes,’ said Donagan, ‘and it will take more than you to stop us.’

  ‘I will stop you,’ said Briant; ‘I and those you are going to leave behind.’

  ‘Leave behind!’ said Donagan contemptuously. ‘That is what you think, is it? I am going to leave nobody behind, you see! We are going to the beach, and then one of us will bring the yawl back—’

  ‘And if you cannot get back?’ said Briant, with difficulty keeping his temper. ‘If she gets stove on the rocks?—’

  ‘Come on!’ said Webb, pushing Briant aside, ‘let us get her off! ‘

  Briant caught hold of the boat as they were trying to launch her.

  ‘You shall not go,’ he said.

  ‘We’ll see about that,’ said Donagan.

  ‘You shall not go,’ said Briant. ‘This boat is for the youngsters, if the tide is not low enough to let them walk ashore.’

  ‘Leave it alone,’ said Donagan angrily. ‘I tell you Briant, you shall not stop us.’

  ‘And I tell you, Donagan, that I shall.’

  There was to be a fight over it, evidently. Wilcox, Webb, and Cross took Donagan’s part; Baxter, Service, and Garnett were backing up Briant, when Gordon intervened. He was the oldest and coolest of the lot, and he showed his good sense by intervening in favour of Briant.

  ‘Come, corner Donagan, don’t be so impatient! Can’t you see the water is very rough, and that there is a chance of your losing the boat?’

  ‘I will not stand Briant domineering over us as he has been doing lately’ said Donagan.

  ‘Hear! Hear!’ said Cross and Webb.

  ‘I am domineering over nobody,’ said Briant; ‘but I will not let anybody act for himself at the expense of all the others.’

  ‘We think just as much of the others as you do,’ said Donagan; ‘and when we are ashore—’

  ‘Which we are not just yet!’ said Gordon. ‘Come, Donagan, don’t be obstinate; leave the boat alone till there is a better chance.’

  The efforts of the peacemaker were successful—as they had been more than once before—and the boys left the boat for a time.

  The tide had now gone down a couple of feet. Was there a channel through the breakers? Briant went forward to see. Mounting the starboard shrouds, he sat on the cross-trees. Through the reef there was a channel, which could be traced by the points of rock sticking up out of the water on each side. But there were too many eddies along it at present to think of venturing through it in the boat. Better wait a little until the outgoing tide had left it practicable.

  From the cross-trees Briant carefully reconnoitred the coast in front of him. There were no signs of inhabitants in the bay, which from point to point was about eight miles long.

  After being aloft half an hour, Briant returned to report what he had seen. Donagan and his supporters listened without saying anything. Not so Gordon, who asked, —

  ‘It was about six o’clock, was it not, when the yacht grounded?’

  ‘Yes,’ said Briant.

  ‘And how long is the tide running out?’

  ‘Five hours, I think. Isn’t it, Moko?’ replied Briant

  ‘Yes, five or six hours’ said Moko.

  ‘That would make it eleven,’ said Gordon, ‘for the best time for us to try.’

  ‘That is what I thought,’ said Briant.

  ‘Well, let us have all ready by then,’ said Gordon. ‘And now let us have something to eat. If we have to take to the water, let it be some time after we have had a meal.’

  The suggestion was received with much applause, and acted upon immediately. With the biscuits and the jam the youngsters forgot their troubles, and as they had had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours, they ate away steadily as if they never intended to stop.

  After a time Briant went to the bow and took another long look at the rocks.

  How slowly the tide seemed to go out! And yet the depth of water must be decreasing, for the yacht heeled over more and more. Moko got out the lead-line and found he touched bottom at eight feet. Would the schooner be left high and dry? Moko did not think so, and he took an opportunity of telling Briant so on the quiet, so as to alarm nobody. Briant went and consulted with Gordon. Evidently the northerly wind prevented the tide running out as far as usual in calm weather.

  ‘What is to be done?’ said Gordon.

  ‘I don’t know,’ said Briant ‘What a nuisance it is that we are only boys when we ought to be men!’

  ‘It is rather!’ said Gordon. ‘But necessity, you know, may bring us up to the mark. Never despair! we shall be all right if we are careful. We must do something.’

  ‘Yes; we must do something. If we don’t get away from the ship before the tide comes back, we are done for.’

  ‘That is true enough, for she’ll go to pieces. We must leave her somehow.’

  ‘Yes, somehow!’

  ‘Couldn’t we make a raft?’

  ‘I thought of that, but nearly all the spars went overboard in the storm. We cannot break up the deck to make a raft with the planks, for we have no time. There is only the boat, and the sea’s too rough for her. All I can see is to get a rope across the reef, and fasten it to one of those rocks over there. We might get them all ashore that way.’

  ‘Who’ll take the rope?’

  ‘I will,’ said Briant

  ‘I’ll help you,’ said Gordon.

  ‘No. I’ll go alone.’

  ‘Won’t you take the boat?’

  ‘That would risk losing her. Better keep her as a
last resource.’

  But before starting on this dangerous plan Briant took another precaution. There were a few life-belts on board, and these he got up from below, and made the smaller boys put on. If they had to leave the wreck while the water was too deep for them to wade, the belts would keep them afloat, and the bigger boys, as they clung to the rope, could push them ashore.

  It was then a quarter-past ten. In forty-five minutes It would be low water. At the schooner’s bow there was not more than four or five feet of water; but it seemed as though only a few inches more would run out. Sixty yards away the water shallowed considerably, as could be seen by its colour, and by the numerous rocks sticking up out of it To cross this sixty yards was the difficulty. If Briant could get a rope firmly fixed to one of the pointed rocks, and stretch it taut with the help of the windlass, all would get off in safety. And along the rope they could slide the packages of provisions and other articles from the wreck. But it was a risky undertaking, and Briant would allow no one to attempt it but himself.

  He chose a rope of moderate size, and, slipping off his clothes, tied it round his waist

  ‘Now, come along there,’ said Gordon. ‘Stand by to pay out the rope.’

  Donagan and his friends came forward with the rest, and stood ready to slack the rope out gently from the coil so as to ease off the weight as much as possible.

  As Briant was about to plunge into the sea his brother ran up, crying, — ‘My brother! My brother!’

  ‘Don’t be afraid, Jack, don’t be afraid for me!’ was the reply, and in another moment Briant was on the surface of the sea, swimming strongly with the rope behind him.