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Stories by English Authors: the Sea   By:

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STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS

THE SEA

THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE OF A CHIEF MATE BY W. CLARK RUSSELL QUARANTINE ISLAND BY SIR WALTER BESANT THE ROCK SCORPIONS ANONYMOUS THE MASTER OF THE "CHRYSTOLITE" BY G. B. O'HALLORAN "PETREL" AND "THE BLACK SWAN" ANONYMOUS MELISSA'S TOUR BY GRANT ALLEN VANDERDECKEN'S MESSAGE HOME ANONYMOUS

THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE OF A CHIEF MATE

BY W. CLARK RUSSELL

In the newspapers of 1876 appeared the following extracts from the log of a merchantman: "VOLCANIC ISLAND IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC. The ship Hercules, of Liverpool, lately arrived in the Mersey, reports as follows: March 23, in 2 deg. 12' north latitude, 33 deg. 27' west longitude, a shock of earthquake was felt, and shortly afterward a mass of land was hove up at a distance of about two miles from the ship. Michael Balfour, the chief officer, fell overboard. A buoy was thrown to him, the ship brought to the wind, and a boat lowered within fifteen minutes of the occurence. But though the men sought the chief mate for some time, nothing could be seen of him, and it is supposed that he sank shortly after falling into the sea. Masters of vessels are recommended to keep a sharp lookout in approaching the situation of the new island as given above. No doubt it will be sighted by other ships, and duly reported."

I am Michael Balfour; I it was who fell overboard; and it is needless for me to say here that I not drowned. The volcanic island was only reported by one other ship, and the reason why will be read at large in this account of my strange adventure and merciful deliverance.

It was the evening of the 23d of March, 1876. Our passage to the equator from Sydney had been good, but for three days we had been bothered with light head winds and calms, and since four o'clock this day the ocean had stretched in oil smooth undulations to its margin, with never a sigh of air to crispen its marvellous serenity into shadow. The courses were hauled up, the staysails down, the mizzen brailed up; the canvas delicately beat the masts to the soft swing of the tall spars, and sent a small rippling thunder through the still air, like a roll of drums heard at a distance. The heat was great; I had never remembered a more biting sun. The pitch in the seams was soft as putty, the atmosphere was full of the smell of blistered paint, and it was like putting your hand on a red hot stove to touch the binnacle hood or grasp for an an instant an iron belaying pin.

A sort of loathing comes into a man with a calm like this. "The very deep did rot," says the poet; and you understood his fancy when you marked the blind heave of the swell to the sun standing in the midst of a sky of brass, with his wake under him sinking in a sinuous dazzle, as though it was his fiery glance piercing to the green depths a thousand fathoms deep. It was hot enough to slacken the nerves and give the imagination a longer scope than sanity would have it ride by.

That was why, perhaps, I found something awful and forbidding in the sunset, though at another time it might scarcely have detained my gaze a minute. But it is true, nevertheless, that others besides me gaped at the wonderful gushings of hot purple, arrested whirlpools of crimson haze, they looked, in the heart of which the orb sat rayless, flooding the sea with blood under him, so magnificently fell was the hue, and flushing the sky with twenty dyes of gold and orange, till, in the far east, the radiance fainted into the delicacy of pale amber.

"Yon's a sunset," said Captain Matthews, a North of England man, to me, "to make a fellow think of the last day."

"I'm looking at it, sir," said I, "as though I had never seen a sunset before. That's the oddest part of it, to my mind. There's fire enough there to eat a gale up... Continue reading book >>




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