Chapter 6 THE VOYAGE, A PIRATE, CHASE, WRECK, AND ESCAPE
Time reconciles a man to almost anything. In the course of time Martin Rattle_ecame reconciled to his fate, and went about the ordinary duties of a cabin-
boy on board the _Firefly_ just as if he had been appointed to that office i_he ordinary way,—with the consent of the owners and by the advice of hi_riends. The captain, Skinflint by name, and as surly an old fellow as eve_alked a quarter-deck, agreed to pay him wages "if he behaved well." Th_teward, under whose immediate authority he was placed, turned out to be _earty, good-natured young fellow, and was very kind to him. But Martin'_reat friend was Barney O'Flannagan, the cook, with whom he spent many an hou_n the night watches, talking over plans, and prospects, and retrospects, an_oreign lands.
As Martin had no clothes except those on his back, which fortunately happene_o be new and good, Barney gave him a couple of blue striped shirts, and mad_im a jacket, pantaloons, and slippers of canvas; and, what was of muc_reater importance, taught him how to make and mend the same for himself.
"Ye see, Martin, lad," he said, while thus employed one day, many weeks afte_eaving port, "it's a great thing, intirely, to be able to help yerself. Fo_y part, I niver travel without my work-box in my pocket."
"Your work-box!" said Martin, laughing.
"Jist so. An' it consists of wan sail-maker's needle, a ball o' twine, and _lasp-knife. Set me down with these before a roll o' canvas and I'll make yo_'most anything."
"You seem to have a turn for everything, Barney," said Martin. "How came yo_o be a cook?"
"That's more nor I can tell ye, lad. As far as I remimber, I began wit_urphies, when I was two feet high, in my father's cabin in ould Ireland. Bu_hat was on my own account intirely, and not as a purfession; and a sorrowfu_ime I had of it, too, for I was for iver burnin' my fingers promiskiously,
and fallin' into the fire ivery day more or less—"
"Stand by to hoist top-gallant-sails," shouted the captain. "How's her head?"
"South and by east, sir," answered the man at the wheel.
"Keep her away two points. Look alive lads. Hand me the glass, Martin."
The ship was close hauled when these abrupt orders were given, battling in th_eeth of a stiff breeze, off the coast of South America. About this time,
several piratical vessels had succeeded in cutting off a number of merchantme_ear the coast of Brazil. They had not only taken the valuable parts of thei_argoes, but had murdered the crews under circumstances of great cruelty; an_hips trading to these regions were, consequently, exceedingly careful t_void all suspicious craft as much as possible. It was, therefore, with som_nxiety that the men watched the captain's face as he examined the strang_ail through the telescope.
"A Spanish schooner," muttered the captain, as he shut up the glass with _ang. "I won't trust her. Up with the royals and rig out stun'-sails, Mr.
Wilson, (to the mate). Let her fall away, keep her head nor'-west, d'ye hear?"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Let go the lee braces and square the yards. Look sharp, now, lads. If tha_lackguard gets hold of us ye'll have to walk the plank, every man of ye."
In a few minutes the ship's course was completely altered; a cloud of canva_pread out from the yards, and the _Firefly_ bounded on her course like _resh race-horse. But it soon became evident that the heavy barque was n_atch for the schooner, which crowded sail and bore down at a rate that bad_air to overhaul them in a few hours. The chase continued till evening, whe_uddenly the look-out at the mast-head shouted, "Land, ho!"
"Where away?" cried the captain.
"Right ahead," sang out the man.
"I'll run her ashore sooner than be taken," muttered the captain, with a_ngry scowl at the schooner, which was now almost within range on the weathe_uarter, with the dreaded black flag flying at her peak. In a few minute_reakers were descried ahead.
"D'ye see anything like a passage?" shouted the captain.
"Yes, sir; two points on the weather bow."
At this moment a white cloud burst from the schooner's bow, and a shot,
evidently from a heavy gun, came ricochetting over the sea. It was well aimed,
for it cut right through the barque's main-mast, just below the yard, an_rought the main-top-mast, with all the yards, sails, and gearing above it,
down upon the deck. The weight of the wreck, also, carried away the fore-top-
mast, and, in a single instant, the _Firefly_ was completely disabled.
"Lower away the boats," cried the captain; "look alive, now; we'll give the_he slip yet. It'll be dark in two minutes."
The captain was right. In tropical regions there is little or no twilight.
Night succeeds day almost instantaneously. Before the boats were lowered an_he men embarked it was becoming quite dark. The schooner observed th_ovement, however, and, as she did not dare to venture through the reef in th_ark, her boats were also lowered and the chase was recommenced.
The reef was passed in safety, and now a hard struggle took place, for th_hore was still far distant. As it chanced to be cloudy weather the darknes_ecame intense, and progress could only be guessed at by the sound of th_ars; but these soon told too plainly that the boats of the schooner wer_vertaking those of the barque.
"Pull with a will, lads," cried the captain; "we can't be more than half _ile from shore; give way, my hearties."
"Surely, captain, we can fight them, we've most of us got pistols an_utlasses," said one of the men in a sulky tone.
"Fight them!" cried the captain, "they're four times our number, and every ma_rmed to the teeth. If ye don't fancy walking the plank or dancing on nothin_t the yard-arm, ye'd better pull away and hold your jaw."
By this time they could just see the schooner's boats in the dim light, abou_alf-musket range astern.
"Back you' oars," shouted a stern voice in broken English, "or I blow you ou_e watter in one oder moment,—black-yards!"
This order was enforced by a musket shot, which whizzed over the boat withi_n inch of the captain's head. The men ceased rowing and the boats of th_irate ranged close up.
"Now then, Martin," whispered Barney O'Flannagan, who sat at the bow oar,
"I'm goin' to swim ashore; jist you slip arter me as quiet as ye can."
"But the sharks!" suggested Martin.
"Bad luck to them," said Barney as he slipped over the side, "they're welcom_o me. Til take my chance. They'll find me mortial tough, anyhow. Come along,
lad, look sharp!"
Without a moment's hesitation Martin slid over the gunwale into the sea, and,
just as the pirate boats grappled with those of the barque, he and Barne_ound themselves gliding as silently as otters towards the shore. So quietl_ad the manoeuvre been accomplished, that the men in their own boat wer_gnorant of their absence. In a few minutes they were beyond the chance o_etection.
"Keep close to me, lad," whispered the Irishman. "If we separate in th_arkness we'll niver forgather again. Catch hould o; my shoulder if ye ge_lowed, and splutter as much as ye like. They can't hear us now, and it'l_elp to frighten the sharks."
"All right," replied Martin; "I can swim like a cork in such warm water a_his. Just go a little slower and I'll do famously."
Thus encouraging each other, and keeping close together, lest they should ge_eparated in the thick darkness of the night, the two friends struck ou_ravely for the shore.