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Adrift in a Boat

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Adrift in a Boat, by W.H.G. Kingston.


  This is not a very long book, but the story is a good one. Severalfamilies have met together to have a picnic on a pleasant local beach.To everyone's delight they are joined by Harry Merryweather, amidshipman home on leave. Harry and another youth, David Moreton, gofor a wander round the rocks, but are cut off by the strong tide. Theweather then turns very nasty, but the boys are able to swim to apassing boat containing an old man, Jefferies, and his young grandson,Tristram. The weather is now so bad they can't get back to the localharbour at Penmore.

  There is an accident and young Tristram is lost overboard, and drowned.

  They see a vessel, a brig, on her way down channel, but when they get toher they find she is an abandoned wreck. More bad weather. They areseen by a schooner about some bad business, who opens fire, probably todestroy an unwanted witness to some crime. The brig is sinking. Theymake a raft. Old Jefferies dies. They are picked up by a Frenchschooner, which turns out to be a privateer. At this point the storygets even more convoluted, and you will have to read the book to seewhat happens next, and how the boys eventually get home.





  Few parts of the shores of old England present more beautiful andromantic scenery than is to be found on the coast of Cornwall. Thereare deep bays, and bold headlands, and wild rocks, and lofty cliffs, andwooded heights, and bare downs, and yellow sands full of the most minuteand delicate shells, so delicate that it is surprising how they couldhave existed in the rough and boisterous ocean, and been cast up wholefrom the depths below. In one of those beautiful bays, many years ago,a large party was collected, on a bright afternoon in the early part ofautumn. Among the party were persons of all ages, but most of them wereyoung, and all were apparently very busy. Some were engaged in tendinga fire over which a pot was boiling, and others were collectingdrift-wood thrown up close under the cliff, with which to feed it. Twoor three young ladies, under the superintendence of a venerable matron,were spreading a tablecloth, though the sand looked so smooth and clearthat it did not seem as if the most dainty of people could have requiredone. Several were very eager in unpacking sundry hampers and baskets,and in carrying the dishes and plates, and bottles of wine, and thenumerous other articles which they contained, to the tablecloth. Twoyoung ladies had volunteered to go with a couple of pails to fetch waterfrom a spring which gushed out of the cliff, cool and fresh, at somedistance off, and two young gentlemen had offered to go and, assistthem, which was very kind in the young gentlemen, as they certainlybefore had not thought of troubling themselves about the matter. To besure the young ladies were very pretty and very agreeable, and it ispossible that their companions might not have considered the troubleover-excessive. The youngest members of the party were as busy as therest, close down to the water collecting the beautiful shells which havebeen mentioned. The shells were far too small to be picked up singly,and they therefore came provided with sheets of thick letter-paper, intowhich they swept them from off the sand where they had been left by theprevious high tide. A loud shout from a hilarious old gentleman, whohad constituted himself director of the entertainment, and who claimedconsequently the right of making more noise than anybody else, or indeedthan all the rest put together, now summoned them up to the tablecloth,to which at the sound, with no lingering steps, they came, exhibitingtheir treasures on their arrival to their older friends. The partyforthwith began to seat themselves round the ample tablecloth, but theytook up a good deal more room than had it been spread on a table. Thevariety of attitudes they assumed was amusing. The more elderly ladiessat very upright, with their plates on their laps; the younger ones whohad gone for the water, and their friends of the same age, managed toassume more graceful attitudes; while the young men who had been toschool and college, and had read how the Romans took their meals,stretched themselves out at the feet of the former, leaning on theirelbows, and occasionally, when not actually engaged in conveying ham andchicken or pie to their mouths, giving glances at the bright andlaughing eyes above them. The hilarious old gentleman tried kneeling,that he might carve a round of beef placed before him, but soon foundthat attitude anything but pleasant to his feelings; then he sat withone side to the cloth, then with the other. At last he scraped a trenchin the sand sufficient to admit his outstretched legs, and, placing thebeef before him, carved vigorously away till all claimants weresupplied. The younger boys and girls, tucking their legs under themlike Turks, speedily bestowed their undivided attention to the task ofstowing away the good things spread out before their eyes.

  "This is jolly, don't you think so, Mary?" exclaimed a fine boy of aboutfourteen to a pretty little girl who sat next to him; "there is only onething wanting to make it perfect--Harry Merryweather ought to be here.He wrote word that he expected to be with us this morning, and I toldhim where the picnic was to take place, that should he be too late toget home, he might come here direct. Oh, he is such a capital fellow,and now that he is in the navy, and has actually been in a battle, hewill have so much to tell us about."

  Mary Rymer fully agreed with David Moreton, for Harry was a favouritewith every one who knew him. Although Harry Merryweather had notarrived for the picnic, his friends appeared to be enjoying themselvesvery much, judging by the smiles and giggling and the chattering, andthe occasional shouts of laughter which arose when old Mr Tom Sowton,and florid, fat Mr Billy Burnaby, uttered some of their jokes. Notthat they were the only people who uttered good things, but they wereprofessed jokers, and seemed to consider it their duty to make peoplemerry; Mr Burnaby, indeed, if he could not make people laugh at what hesaid, made them laugh at what he did.

  The party had come from various quarters in the neighbourhood, some froma distance inland, in carriages, and two or three families who lived onor near the coast, in two pretty yachts, which lay at anchor in the bay.One of them belonged to Mr Moreton, David's father, and the other toCaptain Rymer, with whose family David was as much at home as with hisown; and he and his sisters looked upon Mary, Captain Rymer's daughter,quite in the light of a sister. She was, indeed, a very charming littlegirl, well worthy of their affections. The first course of the picnicwas concluded--that is to say, the chickens, and hams, and pies, andcold beef, and tongues, and a few other substantials were pushed back;the potatoes, which had been boiled in salt water, having beenpronounced excellent. The tarts and cakes and fruit, peaches and figsand grapes, were brought to the front, and underwent the admiration theydeserved, when suddenly David Moreton, looking up, raised a loud shout,and, jumping to his feet, clapped his hands and waved them vehemently.The shout was echoed in different keys by many others, and all turningtheir eyes in the direction David was pointing, they saw, on the top ofthe cliff a boy, on whose jacket and cap the glitter of a little goldlace and his snow-white trousers proclaimed him to be that hero inembryo, a midshipman. Having looked about him for a few seconds, hebegan to descend the cliff at so seemingly breakneck a speed, thatseveral of the ladies shrieked out to him to take care, and Mary Rymerturned somewhat pale and stood looking anxiously as the young sailordropped from one point of rock to another, or slid down a steep incline,or swung himself by the branches of shrubs or tufts of grass to theledge below him, and ran along it as if it had been a broad highway,though a false step might have proved his destruction. Once he stopped.To go back was impossible, and to attem
pt to descend seemed almostcertain destruction. Mr Sowton and Billy Burnaby jumped up, almostdragging away the tablecloth, upsetting tarts, and fruit-dishes, andbottles of wine, and all the other things, when Harry gave a tremendousspring to a ledge which his sharp eye had detected, and was in a fewseconds afterwards standing safe on the sands and shaking hands warmlywith everybody present. When he came to Mr Tom Sowton and BillyBurnaby, it might have been supposed from the way in which they wrungeach other's hands, that there was a wager pending as to which shouldfirst twist off his friend's fist.

  "Fortunately, we haven't eaten up all the good things, Harry," exclaimedMr Sowton, dragging the midshipman, nothing loth, to the well-spreadcloth. "Now open your mouth, and Burnaby and I will try and feed you.What will you have first,--beef, or pudding, or a peach, or a tongue, ora cold chicken? Oh dear me, there is but a drumstick and a merrythoughtleft. Which will you have? No! I see I am wrong again, the drumstickis in the dish, and the merrythought is in my head, with numerouscompanions. Does anybody wish to know what they are? I'll fill mynaval friend's plate first with cold beef and mustard, and then informyou." Thus the old gentleman ran on. He kept his word with regard toHarry, who very soon by diligent application caught up the rest of theparty, and was able to commence on the tarts and peaches. All thegentlemen asked him to take wine, and the ladies were eager to hear hisadventures. He briefly recounted them in an animated manner, for as hehad been little more than a year at sea, everything he had seen and donehad the freshness of novelty. He belonged to the gallant _Arethusa_frigate, which had put into Plymouth from a successful cruise in the Bayof Biscay, where, after capturing several minor prizes of considerablevalue, she had taken an enemy's frigate of equal force. He hadconsequently got leave for a few days to come home and see his widowedmother. He was her only son; her husband had been an officer in thearmy, and was killed in battle; her daughter Jane could never be inducedto leave her, but they had promised to send Harry on to the picnic afterhe had indulged them with a little of his society. He had come by achance conveyance, knowing that he should be able to return with some ofhis friends.

  In those days it was the custom to sit long after dinner, and even at apicnic people consumed a considerable amount of time round the cloth.At length, however, they got up and broke into separate parties. Somewent in one direction, some in another. The elders were more inclinedto sit still, or went only a little way up the cliff; but several of thegrown-up young ladies and gentlemen climbed up by somewhat steep pathsto the downs above. The younger ones, the tide being low, verynaturally preferred scrambling out on the rocks in search ofsea-anemones, and other marine curiosities. There were numerousprojecting rocks forming small bays in the large bay, and thuscompletely hiding the different parties from each other. No two boyscould have had a more sincere regard for each other than had DavidMoreton and Harry Merryweather. David was longing to go to sea withHarry, but his father was greatly averse to his going. He was theeldest son, and heir to a large property. As the boys had beenseparated for so long a time (long in their lives), they had a greatdeal to say to each other. They consequently strolled away, forgettingwhat Mary Rymer or the rest of their fair companions might have thoughtof their gallantry, in and out along the sands, round the points andover the rocks, till they had got to a considerable distance from theplace where the picnic had been held. A dry rock, high above the water,which they could reach by going along a ledge connecting it with themainland, tempted them to scramble out to it. There they chose a nicecosy, dry nook, where, sitting down, the water immediately around themwas hidden from their sight. This circumstance must be remembered. Itwas very delightful. They had not yet said one-half of what they hadgot to say to each other, so they sat on talking eagerly, looking outseaward and watching the white sails which glided by coming up channelin the distant horizon. David was so delighted with the accounts Harrygave him, that he resolved to make a further attempt to induce hisfather to allow him to go to sea. It must be owned that Harry, full oflife and happiness himself, had pictured only the bright side ofeverything. He had described the courage and determination to win withwhich he and his shipmates had gone into action, and the enthusiasm anddelight they had felt on gaining the victory and capturing the prize;but he forgot to speak of the death of some cut down in their prime, andthe wounds and sufferings of others, many maimed and crippled for life.Thus they talked on without marking how the time went by. Harry'swatch, which he had locked up carefully before going into action, hadbeen destroyed by a shot which had knocked the desk and everything in itto pieces; and David had forgotten to wind his up. Suddenly it occurredto them that the sun was getting very low, and that it was high time forthem to return.

  They jumped up to scramble back over the rock, but no sooner had theydone so than Harry cried out, "We are caught!" and David exclaimed, "Thetide has risen tremendously, how shall we get to the shore?"

  "Swim there," answered Harry; "I see no other way. If we were to shoutever so loud we should not be heard, and I do not suppose any one knowswhere we are." By this time they had got to the inner end of the rock,where they found that the distance between them and the shore was notonly considerable, but that a strong current swept round the rock, andthat though before the sea had been calm, it had got up somewhat, andcaused a surf to break on the shore. What was to be done? David was afirst-rate swimmer, and would not have had much difficulty by himself instemming the current, and landing through the surf; but Harry, though asailor, had not learned that art before he went to sea, and could swimvery little. It is extraordinary how many sailors in those days couldnot swim, and lost their lives in consequence. They stood looking atthe foaming, swirling waters, not knowing what to do.

  "I would try it," said Harry at length, "but I am afraid if I were togive in that I should drown you as well as myself."

  "I think that I might support you, and we should drift in somewhere alittle further down, perhaps," said David.

  "Much more likely that we should be swept out to sea," answered Harry."No, no, David, that will never do. You can swim on shore before thesurf gets heavier, and your father or Captain Rymer will send a boat forme very soon."

  "But these are spring tides, and if the sea gets up at all, it will soonwash right over this rock," said David.

  "The more reason for you to hurry to get a boat from the yachts,"observed the midshipman.

  While they were speaking, they observed the two yachts, which hadhitherto been hid by a point of land, standing out to sea. They hadcome from the east with a fine northerly smooth water breeze, but thewind had drawn off shore to the east, and as the tide was at floodrunning up channel, the vessels had stood off shore to get the fullstrength of it. This the boys at once understood, but how they shouldhave gone off without them was the puzzle. Matters were growingserious. Even should David reach the shore, he might not find a boat,and it was a long way he feared from any house where he could get help,so that Harry might be lost before he could get back. They retracedtheir steps to the highest part of the rock, and waved and shouted, eventhough they knew that their voices could not be heard, but the yachtsstood on at some distance from each other; it should be remarked,Captain Rymer's leading. It was evident that they were not seen. Thehot tide came rushing in, rising higher and higher. Both the boysbecame very anxious, David more on his friend's account than his own.So many persons have lost their lives much in the same way, that itseemed probable the two boys would lose theirs.

  We must now go back to the picnic party. Mr Sowton and Mr Burnaby,and a few of the other more elderly ladies and gentlemen, began atlength to think it time to return home. The hampers were repacked andcarried, some up the cliffs by the servants, and others on board theyachts; and Mr Sowton and Billy Burnaby acting, as they said, aswhippers-in, began shouting and screeching at the top of their voices.Captain Rymer and Mr Moreton had gone on board their vessels to getready, and thus there was no one actually in command. The boats to takeoff the party wer
e rather small, and several trips had to be made. Inthe meantime, those who were returning home by land climbed up the steeppath to the top of the cliff, where their carriages were waiting forthem. When they were fairly off, each party inquired what had become ofHarry and David. Captain Rymer's yacht, the _Arrow_, was off the first,for the _Psyche_, Mr Moreton's, fouled her anchor, and it was some timebefore it could be got up.

  Mr Moreton thought that his son, and the young midshipman had,attracted by sweet Mary Rymer, gone on board the _Arrow_; while Mary,who, it must be owned, was rather sorry not to see them, took it forgranted that Harry was returning, as he had come, by land, and thatDavid had gone with him.

  The yachts had a long beat back. As they got away from the land, thewind increased very much, and came in strong sharp cold gusts which madeit necessary first to take in the gaff-topsails, and then one reef andthen another in the mainsails. As the wind increased the sea got up,and the little vessels, more suited to fine weather than foul, had hardwork to look up to the rising gale. Still there was no help for it.The tide helped them along, but by its meeting the wind much more seawas knocked up than if both had been going the same way. Had such beenthe case, the vessels could not have made good their passage. Darknesscoming on made matters worse: poor old Mr Sowton became wonderfullysilent, and Mr Burnaby, who was sitting on the deck of the cabin,holding on by the leg of the table, looked the very picture of woe.Mary Rymer, who was well accustomed to yachting, and a few others, keptup their spirits, though all hailed with no little satisfaction thelights which showed the entrance to Pencliffe harbour, into which theywere bound.

  Mr Moreton's party had been at home some time, and most of the familyhad retired to their rooms, when they began to wonder why David had notappeared.

  "He is probably still at the Rymers', or has accompanied Harry to MrsMerryweather's," said Mrs Moreton to her husband; still, as night drewon, she became somewhat anxious. Her anxiety increased when a servantcame with a message from Mrs Merryweather to inquire why Mr Harry didnot come home.

  Mr Moreton himself now became even more anxious than his wife. Neitherhis daughters, nor some friends staying with them, remembered seeingeither Harry or David for some time before they embarked.

  Mr Moreton, putting on a thick coat, for it was now blowing very hard,went off to Captain Rymer's house, which was close down to the bay,accompanied by Mrs Merryweather's servant, and greatly alarmed thefamily by asking for his son and Harry.

  "Why, did they not come back with you?" asked the captain. "No, wethought they were on board the _Arrow_," answered Mr Moreton. "Theymay have gone with the Trevanians, but I do not think that Harry wouldhave failed to come back to his mother. I will go back and see her.They must have set off by land, and there may have been an upset or abreak-down. It will be all right tomorrow."

  The morrow, however, came, but the boys did not appear. Mr Moretontherefore rode over early to the Trevanians, but they knew nothing ofthe boys.

  He now became seriously alarmed. As it was blowing too hard to go bysea, he sent a messenger to say that he should not be home for somehours, and continued on to the bay where the picnic had been held. Thenhe made inquiries at the nearest cottages, but no one had seen his sonor Harry Merryweather. He went from cottage to cottage in vain, makinginquiries.

  At last a fisherman suggested that the beach should be searched. MrMoreton at once set out with a party quickly assembled to perform theanxious task, dreading to find the mangled body of his son and his braveyoung friend. No signs of them could be found. Still his anxiety wasin no respect lessened.

  He stopped on his way back at one cottage which he had not beforevisited. He found the inmate, an old woman, in deep affliction. Herhusband, old Jonathan Jefferies, a fisherman, when out on his calling,had perished during the gale in the night. He could sympathise withher, and as far as money help was concerned, he promised all in hispower. With an almost broken heart he returned home to give the sadnews to his wife and family.

  Poor Mrs Merryweather, she was even still more to be pitied. To haveher son restored to her, and then to find him snatched away again sosuddenly, perhaps for ever!

  Day after day passed by, and no news came of the much-loved missingones.