قراءة كتاب The Frozen Pirate

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‏اللغة: English
The Frozen Pirate

The Frozen Pirate

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

nearness of the iceberg, and by the cry of the captain, and by the perception that there was nothing to be done. That which I best recollect is the appearance of the mass of ice lying solidly, like a little island, upon the seas which roared in creaming waters about it. Every blow of the black and arching surge was reverberated in a dull hollow tremble back to the ear through the hissing flight of the gale. The frozen body was not taller than our mastheads, yet it showed like a mountain hanging over us as the brig was flung swirling into the deep Pacific hollow, leaving us staring upwards out of the instant's stagnation of the trough with lips set breathlessly and with dying eyes. It put a kind of film of faint light outside the lines of its own shape, and this served to magnify it, and it showed spectrally in the darkness as though it reflected some visionary light that came neither from the sea nor the sky. These points I recollect; likewise the maddening and maddened motion of our vessel, sliding towards it down one midnight declivity to another.

All other features were swallowed up in the agony of the time. One monstrous swing the brig gave, like to some doomed creature's last delirious struggle; the bowsprit caught the ice and snapped with the noise of a great tree crackling in fire. I could hear the masts breaking overhead—the crash and blows of spars and yards torn down and striking the hull; above all the grating of the vessel, that was now head on to the sea and swept by the billows, broadside on, along the sharp and murderous projections. Two monster seas tumbled over the bows, floated me off my legs, and dashed me against the tiller, to which I clung. I heard no cries. I regained my feet, clinging with a death-grip to the tiller, and, seeing no one near me, tried to holloa, to know if any man were living, but could not make my voice sound.

The fearful grating noise ceased on a sudden, and the faintness of the berg loomed upon the starboard bow. We had been hurled clear of it and were to leeward; but what was our condition? I tried to shout again, but to no purpose; and was in the act of quitting the tiller to go forward when I was struck over the brows by something from aloft—a block, as I believe—and fell senseless upon the deck.



I lay for a long while insensible; and that I should have recovered my mind instead of dying in that swoon I must ever account as the greatest wonder of a life that has not been wanting in the marvellous. I had no sooner sat up than all that had happened and my present situation instantly came to me. My hair was stiff with ice; there was no more feeling in my hands than had they been of stone; my clothes weighed upon me like a suit of armour, so inflexibly hard were they frozen. Yet I got upon my legs, and found that I could stand and walk, and that life flowed warm in my veins, for all that I had been lying motionless for an hour or more, laved by water that would have become ice had it been still.

It was intensely dark; the binnacle lamp was extinguished, and the light in the cabin burned too dimly to throw the faintest colour upon the hatchway. One thing I quickly noticed, that the gale had broken and blew no more than a fresh breeze. The sea still ran very high, but though every surge continued to hurl its head of snow, and the heavens to resemble ink from contrast with the passage, as it seemed, close under them of these pallid bodies, there was less spite in its wash, less fury in its blow. The multitudinous roaring of the heaving blackness had sobered into a hard and sullen growling, a sound as of thunder among mountains heard in a valley.

The brig pitched and rolled heavily. Much of the buoyancy of her earlier dance was gone out of her. Nevertheless, I could not persuade myself that this sluggishness was altogether due to the water she had taken in. It was wonderful, however, that she should still be afloat. No man could have heard the rending and grating of her side against the ice without supposing that every plank in it was being torn out.

Finding that I had the use of my voice, I holloaed as loudly as I could, but no human note responded. Three or four times I shouted, giving some of the people their names, but in vain. Father of mercy! I thought, what has come to pass? Is it possible that all my companions have been washed overboard? Certainly, five men at least were living before we fouled the ice. And again I cried out, "Is there any one alive?" looking wildly along the black decks, and putting so much force into my voice with the consternation that the thought of my being alone raised in me, that I had like to have burst a blood-vessel.

My loneliness was more terrible to me than any other condition of my situation. It was dreadful to be standing, nearly dead with cold, in utter darkness, upon the flooded decks of a hull wallowing miserably amid the black hollows and eager foaming peaks of the labouring sea, convinced that she was slowly filling, and that at any moment she might go down with me; it was dreadful, I say, to be thus placed, and to feel that I was in the heart of the rudest, most desolate space of sea in the world, into which the commerce of the earth dispatched but few ships all the year round. But no feature of my lamentable situation so affrighted me, so worked upon the passions of my mind, as my loneliness. Oh, for one companion, even one only, to make me an echo for mine own speech! Nay, God Himself, the merciful Father of all, even He seemed not! The blackness lay like a pall upon the deep, and upon my soul. Misery and horror were within that shadow, and beyond it nothing that my spirit could look up to!

I stood for some moments as one stunned, and then my manhood—trained to some purpose by the usage of the sea—reasserted itself; and maybe I also got some slender comfort from observing that, dull and heavy as was the motion of the brig, there was yet the buoyancy of vitality in her manner of mounting the seas, and that, after all, her case might not be so desperate as was threatened by the way in which she had been torn and precipitated past the iceberg. At moments when she plunged the whiteness of the water creaming upon the surges on either hand threw out a phantom light of sufficient power to enable me to see that the forward part of the brig was littered with wreckage, which served to a certain extent as a breakwater by preventing the seas, which washed on to the forecastle, from cascading with their former violence aft; also that the whole length of the main and top masts lay upon the larboard rail and over the side, held in that position by the gear, attached to them. This was all that I could distinguish, and of this only the most elusive glimpse was to be had.

Feeling as though the very marrow in my bones were frozen, I crawled to the companion and, pulling open the door, descended. The lamp in the companion burnt faintly. There was a clock fixed to a beam over the table; my eyes directly sought it, and found the time twenty minutes after ten. This signified that I had ten or eleven hours of darkness before me!

I took down the lamp, trimmed it, and went to the lazarette hatch at the after end of the cabin. Here were kept the stores for the crew. I lifted the hatch and listened, and could hear the water in the hold gurgling and rushing with every lift of the brig's bows; and I could not question from the volume of water which the sound indicated that the vessel was steadily taking it in, but not rapidly. I swallowed half a pannikin of the hollands for the sake of the warmth and life of the draught, and entering my cabin, put on thick dry stockings, first, chafing my feet till I felt the blood in them; and I then, with a seaman's dispatch, shifted the rest of my apparel, and cannot express how greatly I was comforted by the change, though the jacket and trousers I put on were still damp with the soaking of previous days. To render myself as waterproof as