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THE WRECK [John Steadiman's Account]

All that follows, was written by John Steadiman, Chief Mate:

ON the twenty-sixth day after the foundering
of the Golden Mary at sea, I, John Steadiman,
was sitting in my place in the stern-
sheets of the Surf-boat, with just sense
enough left in me to steerthat is to say,
with my eyes strained, wide-awake, over the
bows of the boat, and my brains fast asleep and
dreamingwhen I was roused upon a sudden
by our second mate, Mr. William Rames.

Let me take a spell in your place,” says
he. “And look you out for the Long-boat,
astern. The last time she rose on the crest
of a wave, I thought I made out a signal
flying aboard her.”

We shifted our places, clumsily and slowly
enough, for we were both of us weak and
dazed with wet, cold, and hunger. I waited
some time, watching the heavy rollers astern,
before the Long-boat rose a-top of one of
them at the same time with us. At last, she
was heaved up for a moment well in view,
and there, sure enough, was the signal flying
aboard of hera strip of rag of some sort,
rigged to an oar, and hoisted in her bows.

What does it mean?” says Rames to me
in a quavering, trembling sort of voice. Do
they signal a sail in sight?”

Hush, for God's sake!” says I, clapping
my hand over his mouth. “Don't let the
people hear you. They’ll all go mad together
if we mislead them about that signal. Wait
a bit, till I have another look at it.”

I held on by him, for he had set me all of
a tremble with his notion of a sail in sight,
and watched for the Long-boat again. Up
she rose on the top of another roller. I made
out the signal clearly, that second time, and
saw that it was rigged half-mast high.

Rames,” says I, “it's a signal of distress.
Pass the word forward to keep her before
the sea, and no more. We must get the
Long-boat within hailing distance of us, as
soon as possible.”

I dropped down into my old place at the
tiller without another wordfor the thought
went through me like a knife that something
had happened to Captain Ravender. I should
consider myself unworthy to write another
line of this statement, if I had not made up
my mind to speak the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truthand I must,
therefore, confess plainly that now, for the
first time, my heart sank within me. This
weakness on my part was produced in some
degree, as I take it, by the exhausting effects of
previous anxiety and grief.

Our provisionsif I may give that name
to what we had leftwere reduced to the
rind of one lemon and about a couple of
handsfull of coffee-berries. Besides these
great distresses, caused by the death, the
danger, and the suffering among my crew
and passengers, I had had a little distress of
my own to shake me still more, in the death
of the child whom I had got to be very fond
of on the voyage outso fond that I was
secretly a little jealous of her being taken in
the Long-boat instead of mine when the
ship foundered. It used to be a great
comfort to me, and I think to those with me
also, after we had seen the last of the Golden
Mary, to see the Golden Lucy, held up by the
men in the Long-boat, when the weather
allowed it, as the best and brightest sight they
had to show. She looked, at the distance we
saw her from, almost like a little white bird in
the air. To miss her for the first time, when
the weather lulled a little again, and we all
looked out for our white bird and looked
in vain, was a sore disappointment. To
see the men’s heads bowed down and the
captain’s hand pointing into the sea when we
hailed the Long-boat, a few days after, gave
me as heavy a shock and as sharp a pang of
heartache to bear as ever I remember suffering
in all my life. I only mention these
things to show that if I did give way a little
at first, under the dread that our captain
was lost to us, it was not without having
been a good deal shaken beforehand by more
trials of one sort or another than often fall
to one man’s share.

I had got over the choking in my throat with
the help of a drop of water, and had steadied
my mind again so as to be prepared against
the worst, when I heard the hail (Lord help
the poor fellows, how weak it sounded!)—

Surf-boat, ahoy!”

I looked up, and there were our
companions in misfortune tossing abreast of us;
not so near that we could make out the
features of any of them, but near enough,
with some exertion for people in our
condition, to make their voices heard in the
intervals when the wind was weakest.

I answered the hail, and waited a bit, and
heard nothing, and then sung out the
captain’s name. The voice that replied did not
sound like his; the words that reached us were:

Chief-mate wanted on board!”

Every man of my crew knew what that
meant as well as I did. As second officer in
command, there could be but one reason for
wanting me on board the Long-boat. A
groan went all round us, and my men looked
darkly in each other’s faces, and whispered
under their breaths:

The captain is dead!”

I commanded them to be silent, and not to
make too sure of bad news, at such a pass as
things had now come to with us. Then,
hailing the Long-boat, I signified that I was
ready to go on board when the weather
would let mestopped a bit to draw a good
long breathand then called out as loud as I
could the dreadful question

Is the captain dead?”

The black figures of three or four men in