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Chapter 3 The Cruise of the Coracle

  • It was broad day when I awoke and found myself tossing at the south-west en_f Treasure Island. The sun was up but was still hid from me behind the grea_ulk of the Spy-glass, which on this side descended almost to the sea i_ormidable cliffs.
  • Haulbowline Head and Mizzen-mast Hill were at my elbow, the hill bare an_ark, the head bound with cliffs forty or fifty feet high and fringed wit_reat masses of fallen rock. I was scarce a quarter of a mile to seaward, an_t was my first thought to paddle in and land.
  • That notion was soon given over. Among the fallen rocks the breakers spoute_nd bellowed; loud reverberations, heavy sprays flying and falling, succeede_ne another from second to second; and I saw myself, if I ventured nearer,
  • dashed to death upon the rough shore or spending my strength in vain to scal_he beetling crags.
  • Nor was that all, for crawling together on flat tables of rock or lettin_hemselves drop into the sea with loud reports I beheld huge slim_onsters—soft snails, as it were, of incredible bigness—two or three score o_hem together, making the rocks to echo with their barkings.
  • I have understood since that they were sea lions, and entirely harmless. Bu_he look of them, added to the difficulty of the shore and the high running o_he surf, was more than enough to disgust me of that landing-place. I fel_illing rather to starve at sea than to confront such perils.
  • In the meantime I had a better chance, as I supposed, before me. North o_aulbowline Head, the land runs in a long way, leaving at low tide a lon_tretch of yellow sand. To the north of that, again, there comes anothe_ape—Cape of the Woods, as it was marked upon the chart—buried in tall gree_ines, which descended to the margin of the sea.
  • I remembered what Silver had said about the current that sets northward alon_he whole west coast of Treasure Island, and seeing from my position that _as already under its influence, I preferred to leave Haulbowline Head behin_e and reserve my strength for an attempt to land upon the kindlier-lookin_ape of the Woods.
  • There was a great, smooth swell upon the sea. The wind blowing steady an_entle from the south, there was no contrariety between that and the current,
  • and the billows rose and fell unbroken.
  • Had it been otherwise, I must long ago have perished; but as it was, it i_urprising how easily and securely my little and light boat could ride. Often,
  • as I still lay at the bottom and kept no more than an eye above the gunwale, _ould see a big blue summit heaving close above me; yet the coracle would bu_ounce a little, dance as if on springs, and subside on the other side int_he trough as lightly as a bird.
  • I began after a little to grow very bold and sat up to try my skill a_addling. But even a small change in the disposition of the weight wil_roduce violent changes in the behaviour of a coracle. And I had hardly move_efore the boat, giving up at once her gentle dancing movement, ran straigh_own a slope of water so steep that it made me giddy, and struck her nose,
  • with a spout of spray, deep into the side of the next wave.
  • I was drenched and terrified, and fell instantly back into my old position,
  • whereupon the coracle seemed to find her head again and led me as softly a_efore among the billows. It was plain she was not to be interfered with, an_t that rate, since I could in no way influence her course, what hope had _eft of reaching land?
  • I began to be horribly frightened, but I kept my head, for all that. First,
  • moving with all care, I gradually baled out the coracle with my sea-cap; then,
  • getting my eye once more above the gunwale, I set myself to study how it wa_he managed to slip so quietly through the rollers.
  • I found each wave, instead of the big, smooth glossy mountain it looks fro_hore or from a vessel's deck, was for all the world like any range of hill_n dry land, full of peaks and smooth places and valleys. The coracle, left t_erself, turning from side to side, threaded, so to speak, her way throug_hese lower parts and avoided the steep slopes and higher, toppling summits o_he wave.
  • "Well, now," thought I to myself, "it is plain I must lie where I am and no_isturb the balance; but it is plain also that I can put the paddle over th_ide and from time to time, in smooth places, give her a shove or two toward_and." No sooner thought upon than done. There I lay on my elbows in the mos_rying attitude, and every now and again gave a weak stroke or two to turn he_ead to shore.
  • It was very tiring and slow work, yet I did visibly gain ground; and as w_rew near the Cape of the Woods, though I saw I must infallibly miss tha_oint, I had still made some hundred yards of easting. I was, indeed, clos_n. I could see the cool green tree-tops swaying together in the breeze, and _elt sure I should make the next promontory without fail.
  • It was high time, for I now began to be tortured with thirst. The glow of th_un from above, its thousandfold reflection from the waves, the sea-water tha_ell and dried upon me, caking my very lips with salt, combined to make m_hroat burn and my brain ache. The sight of the trees so near at hand ha_lmost made me sick with longing, but the current had soon carried me past th_oint, and as the next reach of sea opened out, I beheld a sight that change_he nature of my thoughts.
  • Right in front of me, not half a mile away, I beheld the Hispaniola unde_ail. I made sure, of course, that I should be taken; but I was so distresse_or want of water that I scarce knew whether to be glad or sorry at th_hought, and long before I had come to a conclusion, surprise had taken entir_ossession of my mind and I could do nothing but stare and wonder.
  • The Hispaniola was under her main-sail and two jibs, and the beautiful whit_anvas shone in the sun like snow or silver. When I first sighted her, all he_ails were drawing; she was lying a course about north-west, and I presume_he men on board were going round the island on their way back to th_nchorage. Presently she began to fetch more and more to the westward, so tha_ thought they had sighted me and were going about in chase. At last, however,
  • she fell right into the wind's eye, was taken dead aback, and stood ther_while helpless, with her sails shivering.
  • "Clumsy fellows," said I; "they must still be drunk as owls." And I though_ow Captain Smollett would have set them skipping.
  • Meanwhile the schooner gradually fell off and filled again upon another tack,
  • sailed swiftly for a minute or so, and brought up once more dead in the wind'_ye. Again and again was this repeated. To and fro, up and down, north, south,
  • east, and west, the Hispaniola sailed by swoops and dashes, and at eac_epetition ended as she had begun, with idly flapping canvas. It became plai_o me that nobody was steering. And if so, where were the men? Either the_ere dead drunk or had deserted her, I thought, and perhaps if I could get o_oard I might return the vessel to her captain.
  • The current was bearing coracle and schooner southward at an equal rate. A_or the latter's sailing, it was so wild and intermittent, and she hung eac_ime so long in irons, that she certainly gained nothing, if she did not eve_ose. If only I dared to sit up and paddle, I made sure that I could overhau_er. The scheme had an air of adventure that inspired me, and the thought o_he water breaker beside the fore companion doubled my growing courage.
  • Up I got, was welcomed almost instantly by another cloud of spray, but thi_ime stuck to my purpose and set myself, with all my strength and caution, t_addle after the unsteered Hispaniola. Once I shipped a sea so heavy that _ad to stop and bail, with my heart fluttering like a bird, but gradually _ot into the way of the thing and guided my coracle among the waves, with onl_ow and then a blow upon her bows and a dash of foam in my face.
  • I was now gaining rapidly on the schooner; I could see the brass glisten o_he tiller as it banged about, and still no soul appeared upon her decks. _ould not choose but suppose she was deserted. If not, the men were lyin_runk below, where I might batten them down, perhaps, and do what I chose wit_he ship.
  • For some time she had been doing the worse thing possible for me—standin_till. She headed nearly due south, yawing, of course, all the time. Each tim_he fell off, her sails partly filled, and these brought her in a moment righ_o the wind again. I have said this was the worst thing possible for me, fo_elpless as she looked in this situation, with the canvas cracking like canno_nd the blocks trundling and banging on the deck, she still continued to ru_way from me, not only with the speed of the current, but by the whole amoun_f her leeway, which was naturally great.
  • But now, at last, I had my chance. The breeze fell for some seconds, very low,
  • and the current gradually turning her, the Hispaniola revolved slowly roun_er centre and at last presented me her stern, with the cabin window stil_aping open and the lamp over the table still burning on into the day. Th_ain-sail hung drooped like a banner. She was stock-still but for the current.
  • For the last little while I had even lost, but now redoubling my efforts, _egan once more to overhaul the chase.
  • I was not a hundred yards from her when the wind came again in a clap; sh_illed on the port tack and was off again, stooping and skimming like _wallow.
  • My first impulse was one of despair, but my second was towards joy. Round sh_ame, till she was broadside on to me—round still till she had covered a hal_nd then two thirds and then three quarters of the distance that separated us.
  • I could see the waves boiling white under her forefoot. Immensely tall sh_ooked to me from my low station in the coracle.
  • And then, of a sudden, I began to comprehend. I had scarce time t_hink—scarce time to act and save myself. I was on the summit of one swel_hen the schooner came stooping over the next. The bowsprit was over my head.
  • I sprang to my feet and leaped, stamping the coracle under water. With on_and I caught the jib-boom, while my foot was lodged between the stay and th_race; and as I still clung there panting, a dull blow told me that th_chooner had charged down upon and struck the coracle and that I was lef_ithout retreat on the Hispaniola.