Alone on an IslandWilliam Henry Giles Kingston / Young Adult
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
Alone on an Island, by W.H.G. Kingston.
________________________________________________________________________ALONE ON AN ISLAND, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
The _Wolf_, a letter-of-marque of twenty guns, commanded by CaptainDeason, sailing from Liverpool, lay becalmed on the glass-like surfaceof the Pacific. The sun struck down with intense heat on the dock,compelling the crew to seek such shade as the bulwarks or sailsafforded. Some were engaged in mending sails, twisting yarns, knotting,splicing, or in similar occupations; others sat in groups between theguns, talking together in low voices, or lay fast asleep out of sight inthe shade. The officers listlessly paced the deck, or stood leaningover the bulwarks, casting their eyes round the horizon in the hopes ofseeing signs of a coming breeze. Their countenances betrayed ill-humourand dissatisfaction; and if they spoke to each other, it was in gruff,surly tones. They had had a long course of ill luck, as they called it,having taken no prizes of value. The crew, too, had for some timeexhibited a discontented and mutinous spirit, which Captain Deason, fromhis bad temper, was ill fitted to quell. While he vexed and insultedthe officers, they bullied and tyrannised over the men. The crew,though often quarrelling among themselves, were united in the commonhatred to their superiors, till that little floating world became aperfect pandemonium.
Among those who paced her deck, anxiously looking out for a breeze, wasHumphry Gurton, a fine lad of fifteen, who had joined the _Wolf_ as amidshipman. This was his first trip to sea. He had intended to enterthe Navy, but just as he was about to do so his father, a merchant atLiverpool, failed, and, broken-hearted at his losses, soon afterwardsdied, leaving his wife and only son but scantily provided for.
Tenderly had that wife, though suffering herself from a fatal disease,watched over him in his sickness, and Humphry had often sat by hisfather's bedside while his mother was reading from God's Word, andlistened as with tender earnestness she explained the simple plan ofsalvation to his father. She had shown him from the Bible that all menare by nature sinful, and incapable, by anything they can do, of makingthemselves fit to enter a pure and holy heaven, however respectable orexcellent they may be in the sight of their fellow-men, and that theonly way the best of human beings can come to God is by imitating thepublican in the parable, and acknowledging themselves worthless, outcastsinners, and seeking to be reconciled to Him according to the one way Hehas appointed--through a living faith in the all-atoning sacrifice ofHis dear Son. Humphry had heard his father exclaim, I believe thatJesus died for me; O Lord, help my unbelief! I have no merits of myown; I trust to Him, and Him alone. He had witnessed the joy which hadlighted up his mother's countenance as she pressed his father's hand,and bending down, whispered, We shall be parted but for a short time;and, oh! may our loving Father grant that this our son may too bebrought to love the Saviour, and join us when he is summoned to leavethis world of pain and sorrow.
Humphry had felt very sad; and though he had wept when his father's eyeswere closed in death, and his mother had pressed him--now the only beingon earth for whom she desired to live--to her heart, yet the impressionhe had received had soon worn off.
In a few months after his father died, she too was taken from him, andHumphry was left an orphan.
The kind and pious minister, Mr Faithful, who frequently visited MrsGurton during the last weeks of her illness, had promised her to watchover her boy, but he had no legal power. Humphry's guardian was aworldly man, and finding that there was but a very small sum for hissupport, was annoyed at the task imposed on him.
Humphry had expressed his wish to go to sea. A lad whose acquaintancehe had lately made, Tom Matcham, was just about to join the _Wolf_, and,persuading him that they should meet with all sorts of adventures,offered to assist him in getting a berth on board her. Humphry'sguardian, to save himself trouble, was perfectly willing to agree to theproposed plan, and, without difficulty, arranged for his being receivedon board as a midshipman.
We shall have a jovial life of it, depend upon that! exclaimed Matchamwhen the matter was settled. I intend to enjoy myself. The officersare rather wild blades, but that will suit me all the better. Harrywent to bid farewell to Mr Faithful.
I pray that God will prosper and protect you, my lad, he said. Itrust that your young companion is a right principled youth, who willassist you as you will be ready to help him, and that the captain andofficers are Christian men.
I have not been long enough acquainted with Tom Matcham to know muchabout him, answered Humphry. I very much doubt that the captain andofficers are the sort of people you describe. However, I daresay Ishall get on very well with them.
My dear Humphry, exclaimed Mr Faithful, I am deeply grieved to hearthat you can give no better account of your future associates. Thosewho willingly mix with worldly or evil-disposed persons are very sure tosuffer. Our constant prayer is that we may be kept out of temptation,and we are mocking God if we willingly throw ourselves into it. I wouldurge you, if you are not satisfied with the character of those who areto be your companions for so many years, to give up the appointmentwhile there is time. I would accompany you, and endeavour to get youragreement cancelled. It will be better to do so at any cost, ratherthan run the risk of becoming like them.
Oh, I daresay that they are not bad fellows after all! exclaimedHumphry. You know I need not do wrong, even though they do.
The minister sighed. In vain he urged Humphry to consider the matterseriously.
All I can do, then, my young friend, is to pray for you, said MrFaithful, as he wrung Harry's hand, and I beg you, as a parting gift,to accept these small books. One is a book above all price, of a sizewhich you may keep in your pocket, and I trust that you will read it asyou can make opportunities, even though others may attempt to interruptyou, or to persuade you to leave it neglected in your chest.
It was a small Testament, and Harry, to please the minister, promised tocarry it in his pocket, and to read from it as often as he could.
Humphry having parted from his friend, went down at once to join theship.
Next day she sailed. Humphry at first felt shocked at hearing the oathsand foul language used, both by the crew and officers. The captain, whoon shore appeared a grave, quiet sort of man, swore louder and oftenerthan any one. Scarcely an order was issued without an accompaniment ofoaths; indeed blasphemy resounded throughout the ship.
Matcham only laughed at Humphry when he expressed his annoyance.
You will soon get accustomed to it, he observed. I confess that Imyself was rather astonished when I first heard the sort of thing, but Idon't mind it now a bit.
So Humphry thought, for Matcham interlarded his own conversation withthe expressions used by the rest on board; indeed, swearing had becomeso habitual to him, that he seemed scarcely aware of the fearfullanguage which escaped his lips.
By degrees, as Matcham had foretold, Humphry did get accustomed to thelanguage used by all around, which had at first so greatly shocked him.Though he kept his promise to the minister, and carried the littleTestament in his pocket, he seldom found time to read it.
He wished to become a sailor, and he applied himself diligently to learnhis profession; and as he was always in a good temper and ready tooblige, the captain and officers treated him with more respect than theydid Matcham, who was careless and indifferent, and ready to shirk dutywhenever he could do so. Matcham, finding himself constantly abused,chose to consider that it was owing to Humphry, and, growing jealous,took every opportunity of annoying him. Humphry, however, gained thegood-will of the men by never swearing at them, or using the rope's-end:this the officers were accustomed to do on all occasions, and Matchamimitated them by constantly thrashing the boys, often without theslightest excuse.
As the ship sailed on her voyage, the state of affairs on board becameworse and worse. On one occasion the crew came aft, complaining thattheir provisions were bad, and then that the water was undrinkable, whenthe captain, appearing with pistols in his hands, ordered them to goforward, refusing to listen to what they had to say. Another time theycomplained that they were stinted in their allowance of spirits, when hetreated them in the same way. They retired, casting looks of defianceat him and the officers. On several occasions, when some of the men didnot obey orders with sufficient promptitude, Humphry saw them struck tothe deck by the first and second mates without any notice being taken bythe captain. The officers, too, quarrelled among themselves; the firstofficer and the second refused to speak to each other; and the surgeon,who considered that he had been insulted, declined intercourse witheither of them. The younger officers followed their bad example, andoften and often Humphry wished that he had listened to the advice of hisfriend Mr Faithful, and had inquired the character of his intendedcompanions before he joined the ship.
At the first port in South America at which the _Wolf_ touched, thesurgeon, carrying his chest with him, went on shore, and refused toreturn till the mates had apologised. As this they would not do, shesailed without him; and although the men might be wounded, or sicknessbreak out, there was now no one on board capable of attending to them.Such was the condition of the _Wolf_ at the time she was thus floatingbecalmed and alone on the wide ocean.