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 Captain
Deason, sailing from Liverpool, lay becalmed on the glass-like surface
of the Pacific. The sun struck down with intense
heat on the dock,
compelling the crew to seek such shade as the bulwarks or sails
afforded. Some were engaged in mending sails, twisting yarns, knotting,
splicing, or in similar occupations; others sat in groups between the
guns, talking together in low voices, or lay fast asleep out of sight in
the shade. The officers listlessly paced the deck, or stood leaning
over the bulwarks, casting their eyes round the horizon
in the hopes of
seeing signs of a coming breeze. Their countenances betrayed ill-humour
and 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 time
exhibited a discontented
and mutinous spirit, which Captain Deason, from
his bad temper, was ill fitted to quell. While he vexed and insulted
the officers, they bullied and tyrannised over the men. The crew,
though often quarrelling among themselves, were united in the common
hatred to their superiors, till that little floating world became a
Among those who paced her deck, anxiously
looking out for a breeze, was
Humphry Gurton, a fine lad of fifteen, who had joined the _Wolf_ as a
midshipman. This was his first trip to sea. He had intended to enter
the Navy, but just as he was about to do so his father, a merchant at
Liverpool, failed, and, broken-hearted at his losses, soon afterwards
died, 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 his
while his mother was reading
from God's Word, and
listened as with tender earnestness
she explained the simple plan of
salvation to his father. She had shown him from the Bible that all men
are by nature sinful, and incapable, by anything they can do, of making
themselves fit to enter a pure and holy heaven, however respectable
excellent they may be in the sight of their fellow-men, and that the
only way the best of human beings can come to God is by imitating the
publican in the parable, and acknowledging themselves worthless, outcast
sinners, and seeking to be reconciled to Him according to the one way He
has appointed--through a living faith in the all-atoning sacrifice of
His dear Son. Humphry had heard his father exclaim, "I believe that
Jesus died for me; O Lord, help my unbelief! I have no merits of my
own; I trust to Him, and Him alone." He had witnessed the joy which had
lighted 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 be
brought to love the Saviour, and join us when he is summoned to leave
this world of pain and sorrow."
Humphry had felt very sad; and though he had wept when his father's eyes
were closed in death, and his mother had pressed him--now the only being
on earth for whom she desired to live--to her heart, yet the impression
he had received had soon worn off.
In a few months after his father died, she too was taken from him, and
Humphry was left an orphan.
The kind and pious minister, Mr Faithful, who frequently visited Mrs
Gurton during the last weeks of her illness, had promised her to watch
over her boy, but he had no legal power. Humphry's guardian
worldly man, and finding
that there was but a very small sum for his
support, was annoyed at the task imposed on him.
Humphry had expressed his wish to go to sea. A lad whose acquaintance
he 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's
guardian, to save himself trouble, was perfectlywilling
to agree to the
proposed plan, and, without difficulty, arranged for his being received
on board as a midshipman.
"We shall have a jovial life of it, depend upon that!" exclaimed Matcham
when the matter was settled. "I intend to enjoy myself. The officers
are rather wild blades, but that will suit me all the better." Harry
went to bid farewell
to Mr Faithful.
"I pray that God will prosper
and protect you, my lad," he said. "I
trust that your young companion
is a right principled youth, who will
assist you as you will be ready to help him, and that the captain and
officers are Christian men."
"I have not been long enough acquainted with Tom Matcham to know much
about him," answered Humphry. "I very much doubt that the captain and
officers are the sort of people you describe. However, I daresay I
shall get on very well with them."
"My dear Humphry," exclaimed Mr Faithful, "I am deeply grieved to hear
that you can give no better account
of your future associates. Those
mix with worldly
or evil-disposed persons are very sure to
suffer. 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 would
urge you, if you are not satisfied with the character
of those who are
to be your companions for so many years, to give up the appointment
while there is time. I would accompany you, and endeavour
to get your
agreement cancelled. It will be better to do so at any cost, rather
than run the risk of becoming like them."
"Oh, I daresay that they are not bad fellows after all!" exclaimed
Humphry. "You know I need not do wrong, even though they do."
sighed. In vain he urged Humphry to consider the matter
"All I can do, then, my young friend, is to pray for you," said Mr
Faithful, as he wrung Harry's hand, "and I beg you, as a parting
to accept these small books. One is a book above all price, of a size
which you may keep in your pocket, and I trust that you will read it as
you can make opportunities, even though others may attempt to interrupt
you, or to persuade
you to leave it neglected in your chest."
It was a small Testament, and Harry, to please the minister, promised to
carry 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 the
Next day she sailed. Humphry at first felt shocked at hearing
and foul language used, both by the crew and officers. The captain, who
on shore appeared a grave, quiet sort of man, swore louder and oftener
than any one. Scarcely an order was issued without an accompaniment
oaths; 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
myself was rather astonished when I first heard the sort of thing, but I
don't mind it now a bit."
So Humphry thought, for Matcham interlarded his own conversation with
the expressions used by the rest on board; indeed, swearing had become
to him, that he seemed scarcely aware of the fearful
language which escaped his lips.
By degrees, as Matcham had foretold, Humphry did get accustomed to the
language used by all around, which had at first so greatly shocked him.
Though he kept his promise to the minister, and carried the little
Testament in his pocket, he seldom found time to read it.
He wished to become a sailor, and he applied
his profession; and as he was always in a good temper
and ready to
oblige, the captain and officers treated him with more respect than they
did Matcham, who was careless
and indifferent, and ready to shirk duty
whenever he could do so. Matcham, finding
chose to consider that it was owing to Humphry, and, growing jealous,
took every opportunity of annoying
him. Humphry, however, gained the
good-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 Matcham
imitated them by constantly
thrashing the boys, often without the
As the ship sailed on her voyage, the state of affairs on board became
worse and worse. On one occasion the crew came aft, complaining that
their provisions were bad, and then that the water was undrinkable, when
the captain, appearing with pistols in his hands, ordered them to go
forward, refusing to listen to what they had to say. Another time they
complained that they were stinted in their allowance
of spirits, when he
treated them in the same way. They retired, casting looks of defiance
at him and the officers. On several occasions, when some of the men did
not obey orders with sufficient promptitude, Humphry saw them struck to
the deck by the first and second mates without any notice being taken by
the captain. The officers, too, quarrelled among themselves; the first
officer and the second refused to speak to each other; and the surgeon,
who considered that he had been insulted, declined intercourse
either of them. The younger officers followed their bad example, and
often and often Humphry wished that he had listened to the advice of his
friend Mr Faithful, and had inquired the character
of his intended
companions before he joined the ship.
At the first port in South America at which the _Wolf_ touched, the
surgeon, carrying his chest with him, went on shore, and refused to
return till the mates had apologised. As this they would not do, she
sailed without him; and although the men might be wounded, or sickness
break 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 floating
becalmed and alone on the wide ocean.
Harry Gurton stood gazing on the glassy
sea till his eyes ached with the
bright glare, his thoughts wandering back to the days of his happy
childhood, when he was the pride and delight of his beloved
mother. He had come on deck only to breathe a purer air than was to be
Soon after leaving the coast of South America a fever had broken out on
board, and several of the crew lay sick in their berths. Their
heartless shipmates, afraid of catching the complaint, took little care
of them. Humphry could not bear to see them suffer without help, and
from the first had done his best to attend on them. He constantly
them water and such food as he could induce the cook to
Tom Matcham was the only officer who had as yet been struck down by the
fever. He lay in his berth tossing and groaning, complaining of his
hard lot. The officers, who were annoyed by his cries, often abused
him, telling him roughly
not to disturb
"The cruel brutes! I will be revenged on them if I ever get well,"
In vain Humphry tried to pacify him.
"Don't mind what they say, Tom," he observed. "I hope you may get well;
but if you were to die, it would be dreadful
to go out of the world with
such feelings in your heart. I remember enough about religion to know
that we should forgive
those who injure
us. If you will let me, I will
try to say some of the prayers which my mother taught me when I was a
child, and I will pray with you. I have got a Testament, and I should
like to read to you out of it."
"I can't pray, and I don't want to hear anything from the Testament,"
answered Tom gloomily.
"It would be very dreadful
if you were to go out of the world feeling as
you now do," urged Humphry.
"What! you don't mean to say you think I am going to die!" exclaimed Tom
in an agitated voice.
"I tell you honestly, Tom, that you seem as bad as the two poor fellows
who died last week," said Humphry.
"Oh, you are croaking," groaned Tom, though his voice faltered as he
After talking for some time longer without being able to move him,
Humphry was compelled to go forward to attend to some of the other men.
In the first hammock
he came to lay Ned Hadow, one of the oldest, and
apparently one of the most ruffianly of the crew. He seemed, however,
to be grateful
to Humphry for his kindness; and he acknowledged that if
it had not been for him, he should have been fathoms down in the deep
"I hope, however, that you are getting better now," said Humphry.
"Thanks to you, sir, I think I am," answered Ned. "I don't want to die,
though I cannot say I have much to live for, nor has any one else aboard
this ship, except to be abused and knocked about without any chance of
gaining any good by the cruise."
"Perhaps we may do better by and by," observed Humphry.
"I have no hopes of that while such men as the captain and his mates
of the ship. Take my advice, Mr Gurton, if you have a
chance, get out of her as fast as you can. You will thank me for
warning you--it is the only way I have to show that I am grateful
for your kindness."
Hadow's remarks made no deep impression
upon Humphry, but he could not
After visiting the other sick men, he went on deck to keep his proper
watch; then, weary with his exertions, he turned into his berth to
obtain the rest he so much needed.
He was awakened by hearing
the cry of "All hands shorten
A gale had suddenly sprung
up. The ship was heeling over, and ploughing
her way through the seething waters. The crew flew aloft. The loftier
sails were taken in, and the top-sails were being closely reefed, when
another blast, more furious
than the former, struck the ship, and two
poor fellows were hurled from the lee-yard-arm into the foaming waters.
There was a cry from the crew, and several rushed to lower a boat--
Humphry among them.
"Hold fast!" cried the captain; "let the fellows drown; you will only
lose your lives if you attempt to save them."
Still the men persisted, showing more humanity
than they had exhibited
in attending to their sick shipmates, when the captain swore that he
would shoot any one who disobeyed him. Though spare spars and
everything that could float had been hove overboard, the poor fellows in
the water could no longer be seen.
The crew, with gloomy
looks, assembled forward, muttering threats which
did not reach the officers' ears.
The change of weather had the effect of restoring some of the sick men
to health, though several died. Among the first to appear on deck was
Ned Hadow. He still looked weak and ill--the shadow of his former self.
He was changed in other respects, and Humphry observed that he was
quiet in his behaviour, and no longer swore in the way he had been
accustomed to do.
Matcham remained in his berth. He seemed a little better, though he
still refused to listen to Humphry when he offered to read the Bible to
him, and when asked the reason, replied, "Because I am not going to let
those fellows suppose that I am afraid to die. They would be sneering
at me, and calling
me a Methodist; and I don't intend to die either, so
I don't see why I should bother
myself by having religion thrust
"If you are not going to die, I suppose the case is different," answered
Humphry. "Still, I know that if you were, the Bible is the best book to