Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 9

LUCKILY, just before night, all four of us had lashed ourselves
firmly to the fragments of the windlass, lying in this manner as flat
upon the deck as possible. This precaution alone saved us from
destruction. As it was, we were all more or less stunned by the
immense weight of water which tumbled upon us, and which did not roll
from above us until we were nearly exhausted. As soon as I could
recover breath, I called aloud to my companions. Augustus alone
replied, saying: "It is all over with us, and may God have mercy upon
our souls!" By-and-by both the others were enabled to speak, when
they exhorted us to take courage, as there was still hope; it being
impossible, from the nature of the cargo, that the brig could go
down, and there being every chance that the gale would blow over by
the morning. These words inspired me with new life; for, strange as
it may seem, although it was obvious that a vessel with a cargo of
empty oil-casks would not sink, I had been hitherto so confused in
mind as to have overlooked this consideration altogether; and the
danger which I had for some time regarded as the most imminent was
that of foundering. As hope revived within me, I made use of every
opportunity to strengthen the lashings which held me to the remains
of the windlass, and in this occupation I soon discovered that my
companions were also busy. The night was as dark as it could possibly
be, and the horrible shrieking din and confusion which surrounded us
it is useless to attempt describing. Our deck lay level with the sea,
or rather we were encircled with a towering ridge of foam, a portion
of which swept over us even instant. It is not too much to say that
our heads were not fairly out of the water more than one second in
three. Although we lay close together, no one of us could see the
other, or, indeed, any portion of the brig itself, upon which we were
so tempestuously hurled about. At intervals we called one to the
other, thus endeavouring to keep alive hope, and render consolation
and encouragement to such of us as stood most in need of it. The
feeble condition of Augustus made him an object of solicitude with us
all; and as, from the lacerated condition of his right arm, it must
have been impossible for him to secure his lashings with any degree
of firmness, we were in momentary expectation of finding that he had
gone overboard -- yet to render him aid was a thing altogether out of
the question. Fortunately, his station was more secure than that of
any of the rest of us; for the upper part of his body lying just
beneath a portion of the shattered windlass, the seas, as they
tumbled in upon him, were greatly broken in their violence. In any
other situation than this (into which he had been accidentally thrown
after having lashed himself in a very exposed spot) he must
inevitably have perished before morning. Owing to the brig's lying so
much along, we were all less liable to be washed off than otherwise
would have been the case. The heel, as I have before stated, was to
larboard, about one half of the deck being constantly under water.
The seas, therefore, which struck us to starboard were much broken,
by the vessel's side, only reaching us in fragments as we lay flat on
our faces; while those which came from larboard being what are called
back-water seas, and obtaining little hold upon us on account of our
posture, had not sufficient force to drag us from our fastenings.

In this frightful situation we lay until the day broke so as to
show us more fully the horrors which surrounded us. The brig was a
mere log, rolling about at the mercy of every wave; the gale was upon
the increase, if any thing, blowing indeed a complete hurricane, and
there appeared to us no earthly prospect of deliverance. For several
hours we held on in silence, expecting every moment that our lashings
would either give way, that the remains of the windlass would go by
the board, or that some of the huge seas, which roared in every
direction around us and above us, would drive the hulk so far beneath
the water that we should be drowned before it could regain the
surface. By the mercy of God, however, we were preserved from these
imminent dangers, and about midday were cheered by the light of the
blessed sun. Shortly afterward we could perceive a sensible
diminution in the force of the wind, when, now for the first time
since the latter part of the evening before, Augustus spoke, asking
Peters, who lay closest to him, if he thought there was any
possibility of our being saved. As no reply was at first made to this
question, we all concluded that the hybrid had been drowned where he
lay; but presently, to our great joy, he spoke, although very feebly,
saying that he was in great pain, being so cut by the tightness of
his lashings across the stomach, that he must either find means of
loosening them or perish, as it was impossible that he could endure
his misery much longer. This occasioned us great distress, as it was
altogether useless to think of aiding him in any manner while the sea
continued washing over us as it did. We exhorted him to bear his
sufferings with fortitude, and promised to seize the first
opportunity which should offer itself to relieve him. He replied that
it would soon be too late; that it would be all over with him before
we could help him; and then, after moaning for some minutes, lay
silent, when we concluded that he had perished.

As the evening drew on, the sea had fallen so much that scarcely
more than one wave broke over the hulk from windward in the course of
five minutes, and the wind had abated a great deal, although still
blowing a severe gale. I had not heard any of my companions speak for
hours, and now called to Augustus. He replied, although very feebly,
so that I could not distinguish what he said. I then spoke to Peters
and to Parker, neither of whom returned any answer.

Shortly after this period I fell into a state of partial
insensibility, during which the most pleasing images floated in my
imagination; such as green trees, waving meadows of ripe grain,
processions of dancing girls, troops of cavalry, and other
phantasies. I now remember that, in all which passed before my mind's
eye, motion was a predominant idea. Thus, I never fancied any
stationary object, such as a house, a mountain, or any thing of that
kind; but windmills, ships, large birds, balloons, people on
horseback, carriages driving furiously, and similar moving objects,
presented themselves in endless succession. When I recovered from
this state, the sun was, as near as I could guess, an hour high. I
had the greatest difficulty in bringing to recollection the various
circumstances connected with my situation, and for some time remained
firmly convinced that I was still in the hold of the brig, near the
box, and that the body of Parker was that of Tiger.

When I at length completely came to my senses, I found that the
wind blew no more than a moderate breeze, and that the sea was
comparatively calm; so much so that it only washed over the brig
amidships. My left arm had broken loose from its lashings, and was
much cut about the elbow; my right was entirely benumbed, and the
hand and wrist swollen prodigiously by the pressure of the rope,
which had worked from the shoulder downward. I was also in great pain
from another rope which went about my waist, and had been drawn to an
insufferable degree of tightness. Looking round upon my companions, I
saw that Peters still lived, although a thick line was pulled so
forcibly around his loins as to give him the appearance of being cut
nearly in two; as I stirred, he made a feeble motion to me with his
hand, pointing to the rope. Augustus gave no indication of life
whatever, and was bent nearly double across a splinter of the
windlass. Parker spoke to me when he saw me moving, and asked me if I
had not sufficient strength to release him from his situation, saying
that if I would summon up what spirits I could, and contrive to untie
him, we might yet save our lives; but that otherwise we must all
perish. I told him to take courage, and I would endeavor to free him.
Feeling in my pantaloons' pocket, I got hold of my penknife, and,
after several ineffectual attempts, at length succeeded in opening
it. I then, with my left hand, managed to free my right from its
fastenings, and afterward cut the other ropes which held me. Upon
attempting, however, to move from my position, I found that my legs
failed me altogether, and that I could not get up; neither could I
move my right arm in any direction. Upon mentioning this to Parker,
he advised me to lie quiet for a few minutes, holding on to the
windlass with my left hand, so as to allow time for the blood to
circulate. Doing this, the numbness presently began to die away so
that I could move first one of my legs, and then the other, and,
shortly afterward I regained the partial use of my right arm. I now
crawled with great caution toward Parker, without getting on my legs,
and soon cut loose all the lashings about him, when, after a short
delay, he also recovered the partial use of his limbs. We now lost no
time in getting loose the rope from Peters. It had cut a deep gash
through the waistband of his woollen pantaloons, and through two
shirts, and made its way into his groin, from which the blood flowed
out copiously as we removed the cordage. No sooner had we removed it,
however, than he spoke, and seemed to experience instant relief-
being able to move with much greater ease than either Parker or
myself- this was no doubt owing to the discharge of blood.

We had little hopes that Augustus would recover, as he evinced no
signs of life; but, upon getting to him, we discovered that he had
merely swooned from the loss of blood, the bandages we had placed
around his wounded arm having been torn off by the water; none of the
ropes which held him to the windlass were drawn sufficiently tight to
occasion his death. Having relieved him from the fastenings, and got
him clear of the broken wood about the windlass, we secured him in a
dry place to windward, with his head somewhat lower than his body,
and all three of us busied ourselves in chafing his limbs. In about
half an hour he came to himself, although it was not until the next
morning that he gave signs of recognizing any of us, or had
sufficient strength to speak. By the time we had thus got clear of
our lashings it was quite dark, and it began to cloud up, so that we
were again in the greatest agony lest it should come on to blow hard,
in which event nothing could have saved us from perishing, exhausted
as we were. By good fortune it continued very moderate during the
night, the sea subsiding every minute, which gave us great hopes of
ultimate preservation. A gentle breeze still blew from the N. W., but
the weather was not at all cold. Augustus was lashed carefully to
windward in such a manner as to prevent him from slipping overboard
with the rolls of the vessel, as he was still too weak to hold on at
all. For ourselves there was no such necessity. We sat close
together, supporting each other with the aid of the broken ropes
about the windlass, and devising methods of escape from our frightful
situation. We derived much comfort from taking off our clothes and
wringing the water from them. When we put them on after this, they
felt remarkably warm and pleasant, and served to invigorate us in no
little degree. We helped Augustus off with his, and wrung them for
him, when he experienced the same comfort.

Our chief sufferings were now those of hunger and thirst, and
when we looked forward to the means of relief in this respect, our
hearts sunk within us, and we were induced to regret that we had
escaped the less dreadful perils of the sea. We endeavoured, however,
to console ourselves with the hope of being speedily picked up by
some vessel and encouraged each other to bear with fortitude the
evils that might happen.

The morning of the fourteenth at length dawned, and the weather
still continued clear and pleasant, with a steady but very light
breeze from the N. W. The sea was now quite smooth, and as, from some
cause which we could not determine, the brig did not lie so much along
as she had done before, the deck was comparatively dry, and we could
move about with freedom. We had now been better than three entire
days and nights without either food or drink, and it became
absolutely necessary that we should make an attempt to get up
something from below. As the brig was completely full of water, we
went to this work despondently, and with but little expectation of
being able to obtain anything. We made a kind of drag by driving some
nails which we broke out from the remains of the companion-hatch into
two pieces of wood. Tying these across each other, and fastening them
to the end of a rope, we threw them into the cabin, and dragged them
to and fro, in the faint hope of being thus able to entangle some
article which might be of use to us for food, or which might at least
render us assistance in getting it. We spent the greater part of the
morning in this labour without effect, fishing up nothing more than a
few bedclothes, which were readily caught by the nails. Indeed, our
contrivance was so very clumsy that any greater success was hardly to
be anticipated.

We now tried the forecastle, but equally in vain, and were upon
the brink of despair, when Peters proposed that we should fasten a
rope to his body, and let him make an attempt to get up something by
diving into the cabin. This proposition we hailed with all the
delight which reviving hope could inspire. He proceeded immediately
to strip off his clothes with the exception of his pantaloons; and a
strong rope was then carefully fastened around his middle, being
brought up over his shoulders in such a manner that there was no
possibility of its slipping. The undertaking was one of great
difficulty and danger; for, as we could hardly expect to find much,
if any, provision in the cabin itself, it was necessary that the
diver, after letting himself down, should make a turn to the right,
and proceed under water a distance of ten or twelve feet, in a narrow
passage, to the storeroom, and return, without drawing breath.

Everything being ready, Peters now descended in the cabin, going
down the companion-ladder until the water reached his chin. He then
plunged in, head first, turning to the right as he plunged, and
endeavouring to make his way to the storeroom. In this first attempt,
however, he was altogether unsuccessful. In less than half a minute
after his going down we felt the rope jerked violently (the signal we
had agreed upon when he desired to be drawn up). We accordingly drew
him up instantly, but so incautiously as to bruise him badly against
the ladder. He had brought nothing with him, and had been unable to
penetrate more than a very little way into the passage, owing to the
constant exertions he found it necessary to make in order to keep
himself from floating up against the deck. Upon getting out he was
very much exhausted, and had to rest full fifteen minutes before he
could again venture to descend.

The second attempt met with even worse success; for he remained
so long under water without giving the signal, that, becoming alarmed
for his safety, we drew him out without it, and found that he was
almost at the last gasp, having, as he said, repeatedly jerked at the
rope without our feeling it. This was probably owing to a portion of
it having become entangled in the balustrade at the foot of the
ladder. This balustrade was, indeed, so much in the way, that we
determined to remove it, if possible, before proceeding with our
design. As we had no means of getting it away except by main force,
we all descended into the water as far as we could on the ladder, and
giving a pull against it with our united strength, succeeded in
breaking it down.

The third attempt was equally unsuccessful with the two first,
and it now became evident that nothing could be done in this manner
without the aid of some weight with which the diver might steady
himself, and keep to the floor of the cabin while making his search.
For a long time we looked about in vain for something which might
answer this purpose; but at length, to our great joy, we discovered
one of the weather-forechains so loose that we had not the least
difficulty in wrenching it off. Having fastened this securely to one
of his ankles, Peters now made his fourth descent into the cabin, and
this time succeeded in making his way to the door of the steward's
room. To his inexpressible grief, however, he found it locked, and
was obliged to return without effecting an entrance, as, with the
greatest exertion, he could remain under water not more, at the
utmost extent, than a single minute. Our affairs now looked gloomy
indeed, and neither Augustus nor myself could refrain from bursting
into tears, as we thought of the host of difficulties which
encompassed us, and the slight probability which existed of our
finally making an escape. But this weakness was not of long duration.
Throwing ourselves on our knees to God, we implored His aid in the
many dangers which beset us; and arose with renewed hope and vigor to
think what could yet be done by mortal means toward accomplishing our
deliverance.

Edgar Allan Poe

Sorry, no summary available yet.