Read CHAPTER SIX of Ned Garth, free online book, by W. H. G. Kingston, on ReadCentral.com.

It was Ned’s morning watch.  Scarcely had the first streaks of crimson and gold appeared in the eastern sky, heralding the coming day, than the look-out, who had just reached the masthead, shouted

“Three sail on the port bow,” and presently afterwards he announced two more in the same direction.  The wind was southerly and light, the ship’s head was to the northward.  The commander, according to his orders, was immediately called.  All hands were roused up to make sail, and soon every stitch of canvas the ship could carry being packed on her, the foam which bubbled up under her bows showed that she was making good way in the direction in which the strangers had been seen.  As soon as Ned was able, he hurried aloft with his spy-glass, eager to have a look at them.  He counted not only five, but six, all of them dhows.  As yet they were probably not aware of the presence of a man-of-war, for their hulls were still below the horizon.  He hoped, therefore, that the “Ione” would gain on them before they should hoist their larger sails.  He knew that it was the custom of the Arabs to carry only small sails at night.  The usual preparations were made on board the corvette, the boats were cleared ready for lowering, the bow-chasers loaded and run out, and buckets of water were thrown over the sails to make them hold the wind.

“We are gaining on them!” exclaimed Ned to Charley, as, after a third trip aloft, he came again on deck.

“So we may be, but we must remember that after all they may be only honest traders, and not have a slave on board,” observed Charley.  “We shall judge better if they make more sail when they discover us.  If they are honest traders they will keep jogging on as before, if not, depend upon it they will try to escape.”

“They may try, but they’ll find that the `Ione’ has a fast pair of heels, and we shall have the fun of overhauling them at all events,” said Ned.

At length the Arabs must have discovered the man-of-war.  First the nearest hoisted her big sail, and also set one on her after-mast.  Then another and another dhow followed her example, and then the whole squadron, like white-winged birds, went skimming along over the blue sea.

“What do you think now, Charley, of the strangers?” asked Ned.

“No doubt that they wish to keep ahead of us, but whether or not we shall get up with them is another question, though, if the wind holds as it now does, we may do it.”

The commander and gun-room officers were fully as eager as Ned to overtake the dhows.  They had, they thought, at length got some veritable slavers in sight, and it would be provoking to lose them.  It was, however, curious that they should all keep together; probably, however, none of them wished to steer a course by which they would run a greater chance of falling into the power of their pursuer.  Seldom had breakfast been disposed of more quickly by officers and crew than that morning.  The dhows could now be seen clearly from the deck, proof positive that the corvette was sailing much faster than they were.  Once headed, most of them might be captured, for the dhow can sail but badly on a wind, though no vessel is faster before it.

The lofty canvas of the corvette gave her an advantage over the dhows, whose sails occasionally hung down from their yards, almost emptied of wind.

“We shall soon get them within range of our long gun,” said the commander, as he stood eagerly watching the vessels ahead.  “Stand by, Mr Hanson, to lower the boats; we shall be able to do so with this breeze without heaving to.”

“Is the gun all ready forward?” he asked a few minutes later.

“Aye, aye, sir,” was the answer.  His practised eye assured him that the stern most dhow was within range of the long gun.

“We’ll make that fellow lower his canvas, and then see what cargo he carries,” said the commander.  “Send a shot across his forefoot, and if that doesn’t stop him we’ll try to knock away that big yard of his.  All ready there forward?”

“Aye, aye, sir!”

“Fire!”

The missile flew from the mouth of the gun, and was seen to strike the surface so close to the dhow as to send the spray over her low bows.  Still she held on her course.  The gun was run in and reloaded.

“Give her another shot!” cried the commander; “and if they don’t bring to, the Arabs must take the consequences.”

The second lieutenant, who had been carefully taking the range, obeyed the order.  The shot was seen to touch the water twice before it disappeared, but whether it struck the dhow seemed doubtful.  Again the gun was got ready, but this time was aimed at the next vessel ahead, which almost immediately lowered her sails, the one astern following her example.

“Let Mr Rhymer, with a midshipman, shove off and take possession of those two vessels, while we stand after the others.  We must try and bag the whole of them, for I suspect they all have slaves on board,” observed the commander.

“Garth, do you accompany Rhymer,” said Mr Hanson.  “Take care that the Arabs don’t play you any trick.”

The ship was moving so steadily over the smooth water that there was no necessity to stop her way, though even then it required care in lowering the boat.  The crew with the two young officers were soon in her, the oars were got out, and away she pulled after the sternmost dhow, while the ship stood on in chase of the remainder of the fleet.  The crew of the boat gave way, eager to secure their prize.  Scarcely, however, had they got half-way to the nearest, than the breeze freshened up again, and the corvette’s speed was so increased, that it would have now been no easy task to lower a boat.  They were soon up to the dhow, on board of which there appeared to be a crew of from fifteen to twenty Arabs, who gazed with folded arms and scowling countenances on their approaching captors.  Rhymer and Ned sprang on board.  No resistance was offered.  The Arab captain shrugged his shoulders, said something, which probably meant, “It is the fortune of war,” and appeared perfectly resigned to his fate.  A peep down the main hatchway showed at once that she was a slaver, as the bamboo deck was crowded with blacks, who commenced shrieking fearfully as they saw Ned’s white face, having been told by the Arabs that the object of the English was to cook and eat them.

“Stop those fellows from making that horrible uproar,” cried Rhymer in an angry tone.  “I cannot make out what these Arabs say with this abominable noise.”

It is very doubtful if he would have understood his prisoners even had there been perfect silence.  In order not to be seen by the blacks Ned walked aft.

Rhymer made signs to the Arabs to give up their arms, which he handed into the boat as the best means of preventing any attempt they might make to recapture their vessel.  He then ordered them to go forward to rehoist the sail, while he sent one of his men to the helm.

While they were engaged in these arrangements, Ned cast his eye on the other dhow, of which Rhymer had been ordered to take charge.

“Look out there, Rhymer!” he exclaimed; “that fellow is getting up his long yard again, and will try to give us the slip.”

“We’ll soon stop him from doing that,” answered Rhymer.  “You remain on board this craft with a couple of hands and I’ll go after him.  Cox and Stone, you stay with Mr Garth; into the boat the rest of you.”  The crew in another instant were in their seats, and shoving off, pulled away towards the other dhow.  There was no time to lose, for already the yard with its white canvas was half-way up the mast.  The breeze, too, was freshening, and as Ned watched her it seemed to him that she had a good chance of escaping.  The boat’s crew were pulling as hard as they could lay their backs to the oars.  He saw Rhymer standing up with a musket in his hand, and shouting to the Arabs, threatening to fire should they continue the attempt to escape.  They were, however, apparently not to be deterred from so doing.  Still the sail continued to ascend and the dhow was gathering way.  Should the sail once be got up, the boat would have little chance of catching her.  Rhymer, however, was not likely to give up the pursuit.  Finding that his threats were not attended to, he fired one of the muskets, but whether any person was hit Ned could not discover.  Again Rhymer fired, and then reloaded both muskets.  Ned was so engaged in watching the boat, that he scarcely took notice of the proceedings of the Arabs on board his own dhow.  He observed, however, that one of them, a young man with a better-looking countenance than most of his companions, had remained aft, while the rest were attempting to hoist the sail, though from some cause or other the halyards appeared to have got foul.

“Go forward, Cox, and see what those fellows are about,” he said; “I’ll take the helm.”

The seaman obeyed, while Stone, beckoning to the young Arab to come to his assistance, stood by to haul in the main sheet.  The only thing in the shape of a boat was a small canoe which lay in the after part of the vessel.  Aided by Cox, the sail was soon hoisted, but scarcely had the dhow heeled over to the breeze, than cries arose from the Arab crew, who made frantic gesticulations, indicating that the vessel was sinking.  Ned at once suspected the cause; their second shot must have struck the bows of the dhow between wind and water, and had probably started a plank, so as to allow the sea, like a mill stream, to rush into her.  There was little hope of stopping it.  Ned put up the helm.  “Lower the sail!” he shouted as he had never shouted before; the seamen endeavoured to obey the order, but the halyards had again become jammed, and to his dismay he saw that the bows of the dhow were rapidly sinking.  As the water rushed into the hold the poor blacks uttered the most piercing shrieks, while the panic-stricken Arabs in a body frantically sprang towards the after part of the vessel; but as they came along, the light deck gave way beneath their weight, and the whole of them were precipitated on to the heads of the hapless negroes below.

“We must save ourselves, sir,” cried Stone, lifting the canoe.  “It is our only chance, or we shall be drowned with the rest.”

“Where is Cox?” exclaimed Ned.

He had fallen in among the struggling Arabs and blacks.  Ned caught sight of him for a moment, and was springing forward to help him out from their midst, when the stern of the dhow lifted.  Stone launched the canoe and leaped into her, shouting to his young officer to join him, while he paddled with a piece of board clear of the sinking vessel.  Ned seeing that Cox had managed to reach the side, sprang overboard, his example being followed by the latter, as well as by the young Arab who had remained aft.  Before any of the rest of the crew had extricated themselves, the dhow, plunging her head into the sea, rapidly glided downwards, and in an instant the despairing cries of the perishing wretches which had filled the air were silenced.  Stone, influenced by the natural desire of saving his own life, paddled away with might and main to escape being drawn down in the vortex.  Ned had also struck out bravely, though he had to exert all his swimming powers to escape.  For an instant he cast a glance back; the dhow had disappeared with all those on board; Cox was nowhere to be seen; he caught sight, however, of the young Arab, who, having clutched hold of a piece of bamboo, had come to the surface, but was evidently no swimmer.

“I must try and save that poor fellow,” he thought.  “I can manage to keep him afloat until the canoe gets up to us.”  Ned carried out his intention.  On reaching the young Arab he made a sign to him to turn on his back, placing the piece of bamboo under him.  Just then he heard a faint shout it came from Cox, who had returned to the surface, though, like the Arab, unable to swim.

“Save me, save me!” shouted Cox, who was clinging to a log of wood.

Stone heard him, and Ned saw the head of the canoe turned towards where the seaman was struggling.

“Pick him up first!” he shouted to Stone.  “I can keep this man afloat until you come to us.”

With only a board to impel the canoe, it took Stone a considerable time to reach his messmate, whom it was then no easy matter to get into the canoe without upsetting her.  While Stone was thus employed, Ned did his uttermost to calm the fears of the young Arab, who, besides being unable to swim, probably recollected that sharks abounded in those seas, and dreaded lest he and the Englishman might be attacked by one.  Ned thought only of one thing, that he had to keep himself and a fellow-creature afloat until the canoe should come up to them.  As to how they should get on board, he did not allow himself to think just then.  She was scarcely large enough to hold four people, though she might possibly support the whole party until Rhymer could send the boat to pick them up.  Ned, withdrawing his eyes from poor Cox, who was clinging to his log, and shouting to his messmate to make haste, looked towards the dhow of which Rhymer was in chase.  She had hoisted her sail, and should the breeze continue, would very probably get away, unless Rhymer, by killing or wounding some of her crew, could make the others give in.  He, it was pretty clear, was so eagerly engaged in pursuing the chase, that he had not seen the dhow go down.  The boat’s crew, however, must have perceived what had happened; and Ned thought it strange that he did not at once return to try and save him and his two men.

“Perhaps he fancies that we are all lost, and that there would be no use in coming to look after us.  If he catches the dhow, however, I hope that he will send back the boat, on the chance of any of us having escaped,” thought Ned.  He could see the sails of the corvette, and an occasional shot told him that she was still firing at the slavers.  She was already almost hull down, and the catastrophe could not have been discovered from her deck, while the eyes of the look-outs aloft were probably fixed on the dhows still trying to escape.  Still Ned did not give up hopes of being rescued, but continued energetically treading water, and speaking in as cheerful a tone as he could command to keep up the spirits of the young Arab.

“Me understand, t’ankee, t’ankee,” said the latter at last.

Still Stone could make but slow progress, and Ned began to fear that his own strength might become exhausted before the canoe could reach him.  He was truly thankful when at last he saw that Stone had got hold of Cox, and was dragging him on board.  Just at that moment, however, to his horror, he caught sight of a dark fin above the surface; that it was that of a shark he knew too well.  He must do his utmost to keep the monster at a distance.  He shouted, and splashed the water with his disengaged hand.

“Be quick, be quick, Stone!” he cried.  “Do you see that brute?”

“Aye, aye, sir, I see him; but he’ll not come nigh you while you’re splashing about, and the canoe is too big a morsel for him to attack.  Now, Ben,” he cried, turning to his messmate, “haul yourself on board while I keep at the other end of the canoe, it is the safest plan.”

But poor Cox was too much exhausted by his violent struggles to do as he was advised, and at last Stone had to help him, at the risk of upsetting the canoe or bringing her bow under the water.  By lying flat along he succeeded, however, at last in hauling his shipmate’s shoulders over the bows.  He then returned to the stern, when Ben, by great exertion, managed to drag himself in.  This done, Stone endeavoured as fast as he could to get up to Ned.  As Stone paddled, he sung out, “I’m afraid it’s of no use trying to keep that Arab fellow above water; you must let him go, for the canoe won’t hold us all.”

“Not while I have life and strength to help him,” answered Ned.  “Do not be afraid,” he added, turning to the Arab, who understood what Stone had said.  “The canoe may support us even though she is brought down to the gunwale; and if she can’t, I’ll keep outside and hold on until Mr Rhymer’s boat comes back, or the corvette sends to look for us.”

“But the shark!” cried Stone; “the brute may be grabbing you if you remain quiet even for a minute.”

“I don’t intend to remain quiet,” said Ned.  “Here, lift the Arab in.  I’ll help you it can be done.”  There certainly was a great risk of the canoe upsetting in doing as Ned proposed.  Cox, however, leaned over on the opposite side, and they at length succeeded in getting the Arab on board.  The gunwale of the canoe was scarcely a couple of inches above the water; a slight ripple would have filled her, but the sea was so smooth that there was no fear of that happening.  Ned, directing the men how to place themselves, was at last drawn safely on board.  His additional weight brought the canoe almost flush with the water.  They were, however, certainly better off in her than in the water; but at any moment, with the slightest increase of wind, she might fill and sink beneath them, and they would again be left to struggle for their lives.  Ned was afraid of moving, and urged his companions to remain perfectly still.

“Look out, Stone; what is the dhow about?  Mr Rhymer will surely soon be sending the boat to our relief he must have seen our craft go down.”

“Not so sure of that; he’ll not trouble himself about us,” muttered Stone.  “If you were there, you’d do it; all officers are not alike.”

Ned was afraid that the seaman might be right, but he did not express an opinion on the subject.  Their position was, indeed, a trying one.  The sun struck down with intense heat on their heads, while they had not a particle of food to satisfy their hunger, nor a drop of fresh water to quench their burning thirst.  The breeze had sprung up, and every now and then a ripple broke over the gunwale, even though Stone kept the canoe before the wind.

“If we had a couple of paddles, we might gain on the corvette; but I’m afraid of using this bit of board, for fear of taking the water in on one side or the other,” said Stone.

“Do not attempt it,” answered Ned; “we should not overtake her unless it should fall calm again, and the commander will surely come and look for us.”

“Provided Mr Rhymer doesn’t tell him we are all lost,” remarked Stone, who had evidently little confidence in the old mate.

Hour after hour went by, the boat was nowhere to be seen, and the dhows’ sails had sunk beneath the horizon.  Night was approaching, and as far as the occupants of the canoe could judge, no help was at hand.  Ned endeavoured, as well as he could, to keep up the spirits of his companions.

The wind remained light, and the sea was as smooth as a mill-pond.  The approaching darkness so far brought relief that they were no longer exposed to the burning rays of the sun, while the cooler air of night greatly relieved them.  As the day had passed by, so it appeared probable would the night, without bringing them succour.  Ben and the Arab slept, but Ned was too anxious to close his eyes, and Stone insisted on keeping a look-out, on the chance of any vessel passing which might take them on board.  Even an Arab dhow would be welcome, for the Arabs would doubtless be willing to receive them on board for the sake of obtaining a reward for preserving their lives.  At last the Arab, whose head was resting on Ned’s side, awoke.  He appeared to be in a very weak state, and told Ned, in his broken English, that he thought he was dying.

“Try and keep alive until to-morrow morning,” said Ned; “by that time our ship will be looking for us, and as they know where we were left, we are sure to be seen.”

Ned had been calculating that it was about two hours to dawn, when, in spite of his efforts to keep awake, he found his head dropping back on Ben’s legs, and he was soon fast asleep.  How long he had been lost in forgetfulness he could not tell, when he heard Stone give a loud hail.

“What is that?” asked Ned, lifting up his head.  “I heard voices and a splash of oars, sir,” he answered; “they were a long way off, and, I fancied, passed to the southward.”

“Silence, then,” said Ned; “we will listen for their reply.”

No answering hail came, and he feared that Stone must have been mistaken; again he listened.  “Yes, those were human voices and the dip of oars in the water.  We’ll shout together.  Rouse yourself, Cox,” he said.

Ben sat up, and, Stone leading, they shouted together at the top of their voices, the young Arab joining them.  Again they were silent, but no answer came.  “If that is a boat, they surely must have heard us,” observed Ned.

“They may be talking themselves, sir, or the noise of their oars prevented them,” remarked Stone.

“We’ll shout again, then,” said Ned.

Again they shouted, this time louder than before.  They waited a few seconds, almost afraid to breathe, and then there came across the water a British cheer, sounding faintly in the distance.

“Hurrah! hurrah!  All right, sir!” cried Stone.  They shouted several times after this to guide the boat towards them.  At length they could see her emerging from the gloom; but no one on board her had apparently seen the canoe, for, from the speed the boat was going and the course she was steering, she was evidently about to pass them.

“Boat ahoy!” shouted Stone.  “Here we are, but take care not to run us down.”

The boat’s course was altered; they soon heard a voice, it was that of Charley Meadows, crying out, “There is something floating ahead of us, a raft or a sunken boat.”

“Meadows ahoy!” hailed Ned.  “Come carefully alongside.”  The oars were thrown in, and the boat glided up to the canoe.

“Why, Ned, Ned!  I am so thankful that I have found you,” cried Charley, as he grasped the hand of his messmate after he had been helped on board.

“There is a poor Arab, take care of him, for he is pretty far gone already,” said Ned.

“Water, water,” murmured the Arab faintly.

There was fortunately a breaker in the boat, and before many words were exchanged some of the refreshing liquid was served out to Ned and his companions.  Except a few biscuits there was nothing to eat, but even these soaked in water served to refresh the well-nigh famished party.

Charley then explained that the corvette, having captured three of the dhows, all with slaves on board, had hove to for the purpose of transferring their cargoes to her deck; and that while so occupied, Rhymer had arrived with a fourth, several of the Arab crew having been wounded in attempting to get away.  “The commander seeing you were not on board, inquired what had become of you, when Rhymer, with very little concern, replied that he feared you all had gone to the bottom with the dhow, as his boat’s crew asserted that they had seen her founder.  The commander was very indignant at his not having gone back at once to try and pick you up, should you by any means have escaped.  He immediately ordered off three boats the second lieutenant going in one, Rhymer in another, while he gave me charge of the third.  What has become of the other two boats I do not know; perhaps they thought that they had come far enough and have gone back, as I confess I was on the point of doing when I heard your hail.  We shall soon, I hope, fall in with the ship, for she is sure to beat back over the ground until she has picked us up.”

“I shall be thankful to get on board for the sake of this poor Arab, who requires the doctor’s care,” said Ned.

“Why, isn’t he one of the slaver’s crew?” exclaimed Charley.  “An arrant rogue, I dare say.”

“I don’t know about that, but I saved his life,” answered Ned, “and I feel an interest in him; he seems grateful too, as far as I can judge.”

He then asked the Arab, who was sitting near him, whether he would have some more water, and handed him the cup, which was full.

“T’ankee, t’ankee!” answered the Arab; “much t’ankee!” Ned then gave him some more sopped biscuit.

“What’s his name?” inquired Charley.  “Ask him, as he seems to speak English.”

“Sayd,” answered the Arab immediately, showing that he understood what was said.

Charley was now steering the boat to the northward.  In a short time day broke, and as the sun rose, his rays fell on the white canvas of the corvette, which was standing close-hauled to the south-west, her black hull just seen above the horizon.

“Hurrah!” cried Charley, “there’s the old `barky’; I hope we shall soon be on board.”

“If she stands on that course she’ll pass us,” said Ned.

“No fear of that,” answered Charley; “she’ll soon be about, and we shall be on board and all to rights.”

He was not mistaken; the corvette immediately tacked, her canvas, which had hitherto seemed of snowy whiteness, being thrown into dark shadow.  She now stood towards the south-east, on a course which would bring her so near that the boat would soon be seen from her deck.  Before long she again came to the wind.

“She is going about again!” exclaimed Ned.

“No, no, she’s heaving to to pick up one of the boats,” answered Charley.

He was again right; in a few minutes the sails were once more filled, and she stood on.  The wind being light, the midshipmen had to wait for some time before they were certain that the boat was seen.  The corvette again appeared as if about to pass them, but soon put about, and in less than a quarter of an hour she hove to, to enable Charley to steer alongside.

“Hurrah!” he shouted as he approached, “we have them all safe.”

A cheer rose from the throats of the crew as they received this announcement.  Ned with his companions were assisted up the side.  As he passed along the gangway he observed the unusual appearance which the deck presented, covered as it was by an almost countless number of black figures, men, women, and children, most of them squatting down in the attitudes they had been compelled to preserve on board the slave vessels.  He had, however, to make his way aft to the commander, who put out his hand and cordially congratulated him on his escape.

Ned having reported what had happened to himself, added, “There’s a poor Arab with me, sir, who requires to be looked after by the doctor.  He seems grateful to me for having kept him afloat until the canoe picked us up.”

“In other words you saved his life, Garth, at the peril of your own, as far as I can understand.  The surgeon will attend to him; and I hope the risk he has run of losing his life will induce him to give up slave-trading for the future.  Now, my lad, you must turn into your hammock, you look as if you required rest.”

Ned confessed that such was the case, but hinted that he and Sayd would first of all be glad of some food.  This was soon brought him, and scarcely a minute had passed after he had tumbled into his hammock before he was fast asleep.