Read CHAPTER SIXTY TWO of Masterman Ready The Wreck of the "Pacific", free online book, by Frederick Marryat, on

The loud yells of the savages struck terror into the heart of Mrs Seagrave; it was well that she had not seen their painted bodies and fierce appearance, or she would have been much more alarmed.  Little Albert and Caroline clung around her neck with terror in their faces; they did not cry, but looked round and round to see from whence the horrid noise proceeded, and then clung faster to their mother.  Tommy was very busy, finishing all the breakfast which had been left, for there was no one to check him as usual; Juno was busy outside, and was very active and courageous.  Mr Seagrave had been employed making the holes between the palisades large enough to admit the barrels of the muskets, so that they could fire at the savages without being exposed; while William and Ready, with their muskets loaded, were on the look-out for their approach.

“They are busy with the old house just now, sir,” observed Ready, “but that won’t detain them long.”

“Here they come,” replied William; “and look, Ready, is not that one of the women who escaped from us in the canoe, who is walking along with the first two men?  Yes, it is, I am sure.”

“You are right, William, it is one of them.  Ah! they have stopped; they did not expect the stockade, that is clear, and it has puzzled them; see how they are all crowding together and talking; they are holding a council of war how to proceed; that tall man must be one of their chiefs.  Now, William, although I intend to fight as hard as I can, yet I always feel a dislike to begin first; I shall therefore show myself over the palisades, and if they attack me, I shall then fire with a quiet conscience.”

“But take care they don’t hit you, Ready.”

“No great fear of that, William.  Here they come.”

Ready now stood upon the plank within, so as to show himself to the savages, who gave a tremendous yell, and as they advanced a dozen spears were thrown at him with so true an aim that, had he not instantly dodged behind the stockade, he must have been killed.  Three or four spears remained quivering in the palisades, just below the top; the others went over it, and fell down inside of the stockade, at the further end.

“Now, William, take good aim;” but before William could fire, Mr Seagrave, who had agreed to be stationed at the corner so that he might see if the savages went round to the other side, fired his musket, and the tall chief fell to the ground.

Ready and William also fired, and two more of the savages were seen to drop amidst the yells of their companions.  Juno handed up the other muskets which were ready loaded, and took those discharged, and Mrs Seagrave, having desired Caroline to take care of her little brother, and Tommy to be very quiet and good, came out, turned the key of the door upon them, and hastened to assist Juno in reloading the muskets.

The spears now rushed through the air, and it was well that they could fire from the stockade without exposing their persons, or they would have had but little chance.  The yells increased, and the savages now began to attack on every quarter; the most active, who climbed like cats, actually succeeded in gaining the top of the palisades, but, as soon as their heads appeared above, they were fired at with so true an aim that they dropped down dead outside.  This combat lasted for more than an hour, when the savages, having lost a great many men, drew off from the assault, and the parties within the stockade had time to breathe.

“They have not gained much in this bout, at all events,” said Ready; “it was well fought on our side, and William, you certainly behaved as if you had been brought up to it.”

“Do you think they will go away now?” said Mrs Seagrave.

“Oh, no, madam, not yet; they will try us every way before they leave us.  You see these are very brave men, and it is clear that they know what gunpowder is, or they would have been more astonished.”

“I should think so too,” replied Mr Seagrave; “the first time that savages hear the report of firearms, they are usually thrown into great consternation.”

“Yes, sir; but such has not been the case with these people, and therefore I reckon it is not the first time that they have fought with Europeans.”

“Are they all gone, Ready?” said William, who had come down from the plank to his mother.

“No; I see them between the trees now; they are sitting round in a circle, and, I suppose, making speeches.”

“Well, I’m very thirsty, at all events,” said William; “Juno, bring me a little water.”

Juno went to the water-tub to comply with William’s request, and in a few moments afterwards came back in great consternation.

“Oh, Massa! oh, Missy! no water; water all gone!”

“Water all gone!” cried Ready and all of them in a breath.

“Yes; not one little drop in the cask.”

“I filled it up to the top!” exclaimed Ready very gravely; “the tub did not leak, that I am sure of; how can this have happened?”

“Missy, I tink I know now,” said Juno; “you remember you send Massa Tommy, the two or three days we wash, to fetch water from the well in little bucket.  You know how soon he come back, and how you say what good boy he was, and how you tell Massa Seagrave when he come to dinner.  Now, Missy, I quite certain Massa Tommy no take trouble go to well, but fetch water from tub all the while, and so he empty it.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, Juno,” replied Mrs Seagrave.  “What shall we do?”

“I go speak Massa Tommy,” said Juno, running to the house.

“This is a very awkward thing, Mr Seagrave,” observed Ready gravely.

Mr Seagrave shook his head.

The fact was, that they all perceived the danger of their position:  if the savages did not leave the island, they would perish of thirst or have to surrender; and in the latter case, all their lives would most certainly be sacrificed.

Juno now returned:  her suspicions were but too true.  Tommy, pleased with the praise of being so quick in bringing the water, had taken out the spigot of the cask, and drawn it all off.

“Well,” observed Mr Seagrave, “it is the will of Heaven that all our careful arrangements and preparations against this attack should be defeated by the idleness of a child, and we must submit.”

“Very true, sir,” replied Ready; “all our hopes now are that the savages may be tired out, and leave the island.”

“If I had but a little for the children, I should not care,” observed Mrs Seagrave; “but to see those poor things suffer ­is there not a drop left, Juno, anywhere?”

Juno shook her head.

Mrs Seagrave said she would go and examine, and went away into the house accompanied by Juno.

“This is a very bad business, Ready,” observed Mr Seagrave.  “What would we give for a shower of rain now, that we might catch the falling drops!”

“There are no signs of it, sir,” replied Ready; “we must, however, put our confidence in One who will not forsake us.”

“I wish the savages would come on again,” observed William; “for the sooner they come, the sooner the affair will be decided.”

“I doubt if they will to-day; at night-time I think it very probable.  We must make preparations for it.”

“Why, what can we do, Ready?”

“In the first place, sir, by nailing planks from cocoa-nut tree to cocoa-nut tree above the present stockade, we may make a great portion of it much higher, and more difficult to climb over.  Some of them were nearly in, this time.  If we do that, we shall not have so large a space to watch over and defend; and then we must contrive to have a large fire ready for lighting, that we may not have to fight altogether in the dark.  It will give them some advantage in looking through the palisades, and seeing where we are, but they cannot well drive their spears through, so it is no great matter.  We must make the fire in the centre of the stockade, and have plenty of tar in it, to make it burn bright, and we must not, of course, light it until after we are attacked.  We shall then see where they are trying for an entrance, and where to aim with our muskets.”

“The idea is very good, Ready,” said Mr Seagrave; “if it had not been for this unfortunate want of water, I really should be sanguine of beating them off.”

“We may suffer very much, Mr Seagrave, I have no doubt; but who knows what the morrow may bring forth?”

“True, Ready.  Do you see the savages now?”

“No, sir; they have left the spot where they were in consultation.  I suppose they are busy with their wounded and their dead.”

As Ready had supposed, no further attack was made by the savages on that day, and he, William, and Mr Seagrave, were very busy making their arrangements; they nailed the planks on the trunks of the trees above the stockade, so as to make three sides of the stockade at least five feet higher, and almost impossible to climb up; and they prepared a large fire in a tar-barrel full of cocoa-nut leaves mixed with wood and tar, so as to burn fiercely.  Dinner or supper they had none, for there was nothing but salt pork and beef and live turtle, and, by Ready’s advice, they did not eat, as it would only increase their desire to drink.

The poor children suffered much; and little Albert wailed and cried for “water, water.”  Ready remained on the look-out; indeed, everything was so miserable inside of the house, that they were all glad to go out of it; they could do no good, and poor Mrs Seagrave had a difficult and most painful task to keep the children quiet under such severe privation, for the weather was still very warm and sultry.