Read CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR of Masterman Ready The Wreck of the "Pacific", free online book, by Frederick Marryat, on ReadCentral.com.

A heavy storm came on soon after they had retired to rest; the lightning was so vivid that its flashes penetrated through the chinks of the door and windows, and the thunder burst upon them with a noise which prevented them obtaining any sleep.  The children cried and trembled as they lay in the arms of Mrs Seagrave and Juno, who were almost as much alarmed themselves.

“This is very awful,” said Mr Seagrave to Ready, for they had both risen from their beds.

“It is indeed, sir; I never knew a more terrible storm than this.”

“Merciful Heaven!” exclaimed Mr Seagrave.

As he spoke, they were both thrown back half-stunned; a crash of thunder burst over the house, which shook everything in it; a sulphurous smell pervaded the building, and soon afterwards, when they recovered their feet, they perceived that the house was full of smoke, and they heard the wailing of the women and the shrieks of the children in the bed-places on the other side.

“God have mercy on us!” exclaimed Ready, who was the first to recover himself, and who now attempted to ascertain the injury which had been done:  “the lightning has struck us, and I fear that the house is on fire somewhere.”

“My wife ­my children!” exclaimed Mr Seagrave; “are they all safe?”

“Yes, yes!” cried Mrs Seagrave, “all safe; Tommy has come to me; but where is Juno?  Juno!”

Juno answered not.  William darted to the other side of the house, and found Juno lying on her side, motionless.

“She is dead, father,” cried William.

“Help me to carry her out of the house, Mr Seagrave,” said Ready, who had lifted up the poor girl; “she may be only stunned.”

They carried Juno out of the house, and laid her on the ground; the rain poured down in torrents.

Ready left them for a minute, to ascertain if the house was on fire; he found that it had been in flames at the further corner, but the rain had extinguished it.  He then went back to Mr Seagrave and William, who were with Juno.

“I will attend to the girl, sir,” said Ready; “go you and Master William into the house; Mrs Seagrave will be too much frightened if she is left alone at such an awful time.  See, sir!  Juno is not dead ­her chest heaves ­she will come to very soon; thank God for it!”

William and Mr Seagrave returned to the house; they found Mrs Seagrave fainting with anxiety and fear.  The information they brought, that Juno was not killed by the lightning, did much to restore her.  William soothed little Albert, and Tommy in a few minutes was fast asleep again in his father’s arms.  The storm now abated, and as the day began to break, Ready appeared with Juno, who was sufficiently recovered to be able to walk in with his support; she was put into her bed, and then Ready and Mr Seagrave went to examine if further mischief had been done.  The lightning had come in at the further end of the house, at the part where the fireplace was intended to have been made.

“We have been most mercifully preserved,” said Mr Seagrave.

“Yes, sir, thanks be to God for all his goodness,” replied Ready.

“I think we have a large roll of copper wire, Ready; have we not?” said Mr Seagrave.

“Yes, sir, I was just thinking of it myself; we will have a lightning-conductor up the first thing.”

It was now broad daylight.  Mrs Seagrave dressed herself and the children, and as soon as she was ready, Mr Seagrave read such portions of the Psalms as were appropriate, and they earnestly joined in a prayer of thankfulness and humility.  William went out to prepare the breakfast, and Ready procured the coil of copper wire from those stores which were stowed under the bed-places.  This he unrolled, and stretched it out straight, and then went for the ladder, which was at the outhouse they had commenced building.  As soon as breakfast was over, Ready and Mr Seagrave went out again to fix up the lightning-conductor, leaving William to do the work of Juno, who still remained fast asleep in her bed.

“I think,” said Ready, “that one of those two trees which are close together will suit the best; they are not too near the house, and yet quite near enough for the wire to attract the lightning.”

“I agree with you, Ready; but we must not leave both standing.”

“No, sir, but we shall require them both to get up and fix the wire; after that we will cut down the other.”

Ready put his ladder against one of the trees, and, taking with him the hammer and a bag of large spike-nails, drove one of the nails into the trunk of the tree till it was deep enough in to bear his weight; he then drove in another above it, and so he continued to do, standing upon one of them while he drove in another above, till he had reached the top of the tree, close to the boughs; he then descended, and, leaving the hammer behind him, took up a saw and small axe, and in about ten minutes he had cut off the head of the cocoa-nut tree, which remained a tall, bare pole.

“Take care, Ready, how you come down,” said Mr Seagrave anxiously.

“Never fear, sir,” replied Ready; “I’m not so young as I was, but I have been too often at the mast-head, much higher than this.”

Ready came down again, and then cut down a small pole, to fix with a thick piece of pointed wire at the top of it, on the head of the cocoa-nut tree.  He then went up, lashed the small pole to the head of the tree, made the end of the copper wire fast to the pointed wire, and then he descended.  The other tree near to it was then cut down, and the lower end of the wire buried in the ground at the bottom of the tree on which the lightning-conductor had been fixed.

“That’s a good job done, sir,” said Ready, wiping his face, for he was warm with the work.

“Yes,” replied Mr Seagrave; “and we must put up another near the outhouse, or we may lose our stores.”

“Very true, sir.”

“You understand this, William, don’t you?” said his father.

“O yes, papa; lightning is attracted by metal, and will now strike the point instead of the house, run down the wire, and only tear up the ground below.”

“It’s coming on again, sir, as thick as ever,” observed the old man; “we shall do no work to-day, I’m afraid.  I’ll just go and see where the stock are.”

Juno was now up again, and said that she was quite well, with the exception of a headache.  As Ready had predicted, the rain now came on again with great violence, and it was impossible to do any work out of doors.  At the request of William he continued his narrative.

NARRATIVE OF OLD READY.

“Well, William, as soon as they had let go their anchor in Table Bay, we were all ordered on shore, and sent up to a prison close to the Government Gardens.  We were not very carefully watched, as it appeared impossible for us to get away, and I must say we were well treated in every respect; but we were told that we should be sent to Holland in the first man-of-war which came into the bay, and we did not much like the idea.

“There were, as I told you, some other boys as well as myself, who belonged to the Indiaman, and we kept very much together, not only because we were more of an age, but because we had been shipmates so long.  Two of these boys, one of whom I have mentioned as Jack Romer, and the other Will Hastings, were my particular friends; and one day, as we were sitting under the wall warming ourselves, for it was winter time, Romer said, `How very easy it would be for us to get away, if we only knew where to go to!’

“`Yes,’ replied Hastings; `but where are we to go to, if it is not to the Hottentots and wild savages; and when we get there, what can we do? ­we can’t get any further.’ `Well,’ said I, `I would rather be living free among savages, than be shut up in a prison.’  That was our first talk on the subject, but we had many others afterwards; and as the one or two Dutch soldiers who stood sentry spoke English, and we could talk a little Dutch, we obtained a good deal of information from them; for they had very often been sent to the frontiers of the colony.  We continued to ask questions, and to talk among ourselves for about two months, and at last we resolved that we would make our escape.  We should have done much better if we had remained where we were; but there is no putting old heads upon young shoulders.  We saved up our provisions, bought some long Dutch knives, tied our few clothes up in bundles, and one dark night we contrived to remain in the yard without being perceived, when the prisoners were locked up; and raising a long pole, which lay in the yard, to the top of the wall, with a good deal of scrambling we contrived to get over it, and made off as fast as we could for the Table Mountain.”

“What was your reason for going there, Ready?”

“Why, Hastings, who was the oldest, and, I will say, the sharpest of the three, said that we had better stay up there for a few days, till we had made up our minds what to do, and try if we could not procure a musket or two, and ammunition; for, you see, we had money, as, when the Indiaman was first taken, the captain divided a keg of rupees, which was on board, among the officers and men, in proportion to the wages due to them, thinking it was better for the crew to have the money than to leave it for the Frenchmen; and we had spent very little while in prison.  There was also another reason why he persuaded us to go to the Table Mountain, which was, that as soon as our escape was found out, they would send parties to look for us; thinking, of course, that we had made for the interior; and we should have less chance of being retaken if we travelled after the first search was over.  The soldiers had told us of the lions, and other wild animals, and how dangerous it was to travel, and Hastings said, that not finding us, they would suppose we had been destroyed by the wild beasts, and would not look for us any more.”

“Foolish indeed,” observed Mrs Seagrave, “to set off you knew not where, in a country full of wild beasts and savages.”

“True enough, madam,” replied Ready.  “We ran at first until we were out of breath, and then we walked on as fast as we could ­not going right up the mountain, but keeping a slanting direction to the south-west, so as to get away from the town, and more towards False Bay.

“We had walked about four hours, and began to feel very tired, when the day dawned, and then we looked out for a place to conceal ourselves in.  We soon found a cave with a narrow entrance, large enough inside to hold half-a-dozen of such lads as we were, and we crawled in.  It was quite dry, and, as we were very tired, we lay down with our heads on our bundles, intending to take a nap; but we had hardly made ourselves comfortable and shut our eyes, when we heard such a screaming and barking that we were frightened out of our lives almost.  We could not think what it could be.  At last Hastings peeped out, and began to laugh; so Romer and I looked out also, and there we saw about one hundred and fifty large baboons leaping and tumbling about in such a way as I never saw; they were bigger than we were ­indeed, when they stood on their hind legs they were much taller, and they had very large white tusks.  Some of them were females, with young ones on their backs, and they were just as active as the males.  At last they played such antics, that we all burst out into a loud laugh, and we had not ceased when we found the grinning face of one of the largest of those brutes close to our own.  He had dropped from the rock above us, like magic.  We all three backed into the cave, very much frightened, for the teeth of the animal were enormous, and he looked very savage.  He gave a shrill cry, and we perceived all the rest of the herd coming to him as fast as they could.  I said that the cave was large enough to hold six of us; but there was a sort of inner cave which we had not gone into, as the entrance was much smaller.  Romer cried out, `Let us go into the inside cave ­we can get in one by one;’ and he backed in; Hastings followed with his bundle, and I hurried in after him just in time; for the baboons, who had been chattering to each other for half a minute, came into the outer cave just as I crawled into the inner.  Five or six of them came in, all males, and very large.  The first thing they did was to lay hold of Romer’s bundle, which they soon opened ­at once they seized his provisions and rammed them into their pouches, and then they pulled out the other things and tore them all to pieces.  As soon as they had done with the bundle, two of them came towards the inner cave and saw us.  One put his long paw in to seize us; but Hastings gave him a slash with his knife, and the animal took his paw out again fast enough.  It was laughable to see him hold out his hand to the others, and then taste the blood with the tip of his tongue, and such a chattering I never heard ­they were evidently very angry, and more came into the cave and joined them; then another put in his hand, and received a cut just as before.  At last, two or three at once tried to pull us out, but we beat them all off with our knives, wounding them all very severely.  For about an hour they continued their attempts, and then they went away out of the cave, but remained at the mouth shrieking and howling.  We began to be very tired of this work, and Romer said that he wished he was back in prison again; and so did I, I can assure you; but there was no getting out, for had we gone out the animals would have torn us to pieces.  We agreed that we had no chance but the animals becoming tired and going away; and most anxious we were, for the excitement had made us very thirsty, and we wanted water.  We remained for two hours in this way imprisoned by baboons, when all of a sudden a shrill cry was given by one of the animals, and the whole herd went galloping off as fast as they could, screaming louder than ever.  We waited for a short time to see if they would return, and then Hastings crawled out first, and looking out of the cave very cautiously, said that they were all gone, and that he could see nothing but a Hottentot sitting down watching some cattle; we therefore all came out, very happy at our release.  That was our first adventure; we had plenty afterwards; but I think it is now time we should go to bed.  It is my opinion we shall have a fine day to-morrow, sir; but there’s no saying.”

“I do so want to hear what happened to you afterwards, Ready,” said William.

“Well, so you shall; but there’s a time for everything, and this is bed-time, unless you like to go with me; the weather has cleared up, and I want to catch a fish or two for to-morrow.”