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thunder. The confines of this ghastly storm-laden pall drooped to the sea within three miles of the yacht, so that the horizon seemed within cannon-shot-a merging and mingling of stationary shadows whose stirlessness was rendered the more portentous by the sulky peasesoup-coloured welter of the ocean washing into the shrouded distance and vanishing there. All hands were on the alert. What was to come Finn told me he could not tell, but he was ready for it. His maintopmast was struck, that is, sent down on deck; he had also sent down the topgallantyard. Every stitch of canvas was furled, saving the close reefed gaff-foresail and the reefed stayforesail. Extra lashings secured everything that was movable. Much to my satisfaction, I observed that he had struck the long gun forward down below. There was not a breath of wind as yet, and the yacht looked most forlorn and naked, as though indeed she were fresh from the furious tussle as she rolled, burying her sides upon the southerly swell that was growing heavier and heavier hour by hour. We were at breakfast when the first of the wind took
It came along moaning at first, with a small dying away, and then a longer wail as it poured hot as the breath of a furnace blast between our masts.
This was followed by some five minutes of breathless calm, during which the yacht fell off into the trough again; then, having my eye upon a cabin-window, I bawled out, “There it comes !" seeing the flying white line of it like a cloud of desert sand sweeping through the evening dusk, and before the words were well out of my mouth the yacht was down to it, bowed to her bulwark rail, every blessed article on the breakfast table fetching away with a hideous crash upon the deck, with the figures
of the two stewards reeling to leeward, myself gripping the table, Wilfrid depending wholly for support upon his fixed chair, and Miss Jennings buoying herself off to windward upon her outstretched arms with her face white with consternation.
The uproar is not to be described. The voice of the gale bellowing through the gloom was a continuous note of thunder, and trembled upon the ear for all the world as though it was the cannonading of some fierce electric storm. The boiling and hissing of the seas made one think of a sky full of water falling into the ocean. The yacht at the first going off was beaten down on to her broadside and lay motionless, the froth washing over the rail; and the horror of that posture of seemingly drowning prostration, together with the fears it put into one, was prodigiously increased by the heavy blows of seas smiting the round of the hull to windward and bursting over her in vast bodies of snow. But she was a noble sea boat, and was soon gallantly breasting the surge, but with a dance that rapidly grew wilder and wilder as the tempestuous music on high rang out more fiercely yet, until it became absolutely impossible to use one's legs. The sea rose as if by magic, and the slide of the hull down the liquid heights, which came roaring at her from a very smother of scud and vapour and flying spray, gave her such a heel that every recovery of her for the next buoyant upward flight was a miracle of resurrection in its way. The hatches were battened down, tarpaulins over the skylight, and as for some time the stewards were unable to light the lamp we remained seated in the cabin in a gloom so deep that we could scarcely discern one another's faces. Off the cabin deck rose a miserable jangling and clatter of broken crockery and glass and the like, rolling to and fro with the violent movements of the yacht. For a long while the stewards were rendered helpless. They swung by stanchions or held on grimly to seats, and it was indeed as much as their lives were worth to let go; for there were moments when the decks sloped like the steep roof of a house, promising a headlong fall to any one who relaxed his grip of a sort to break his neck or beat his brains out. At regular intervals the cabin portholes would turn blind to a thunderous rush of green sea, and those were moments, I vow, to drive a man on to his knees with full conviction that he would be giving up the ghost in a very little while; for to these darkening, glimmering, green delugings the cabin interior turned a dead black as though it were midnight; down lay the yacht to the mighty sweeping curl of water; a shock as of the discharge of heavy artillery trembled with a stunning effect right through her to the blows of the tons upon tons of water which burst over the rail to the height of the cross-trees, falling upon the resounding deck from that elevation with a crash that made one think of the fabric having struck, followed on by a distracting sound of seething as the deluge, flung from side to side, boiled between the bulwarks.
We had met with a few dustings before we fell in with this tempest, but nothing to season us for such an encounter as this. I made an effort after two hours of it to scramble on all-fours up the cabin ladder and to put my head out through one of the companion doors. Such was the power of the wind that to the first protrusion of my nose I felt as if my face had been cut off as by a knife and swept overboard. The hurricane was as hot as though charged with fire; the clouds of foam blown off the sea and whirling hoarily under the black vapour low down above our mastheads looked like steam boiling up off the hissing surface of the mighty ocean cauldron. I caught sight of a couple of fellows lashed to the wheel and the figure of Finn glittering in black oilskins crouching aft under the lee of the bulwark, swinging to a rope's end round his waist; but all forward was haze, storms of foam, a glimpse of the yacht's bows soaring black and streaming, then striking down madly into a very hell of white waters which leapt upwards to the smiting of the structure in marble-like columns, round, firm, brilliant, like the stem of a waterspout, but with heads which instantly vanished in a smoke of crystals before the shriek and thunder of the blast. The fragment of gaff foresail held bravely, dark with brine from peak to clew, with a furious salival draining of wet from the foot of it out of the hollow into which there was a ceaseless mad hurling of water.
Heaven preserve mel never could I have imagined such a sight as that sea presented. It might well have scared the heart of a far bolder man than ever I professed to be to witness the height and arching of the great liquid acclivities with their rage of boiling summits; the dusk of the atmosphere darkened yet by the flying rain of spume torn by the fingers of the storm out of the maddened waters; the ghastliness of the dissolving mountains of whiteness glaring out into the wet and leaden shadow; the leaping of the near horizon against the thick gloom that looked to whirl like a teetotum, mingling scud and foam and hurtling billow into a sickening confusion of phantasmal shapes, a mad, chaotic blending of vanishing and reappearing forms timed by the yell and hum of the gale sounding high above the crash of the breaking surge and the shattering of wave
by wave as though in very truth it fetched an echo of its own deafening roaring out of the dark sky rushing low over this tremenduous scene of commotion.
Whatever it might be that blew, whether a straightlined hurricane or some wing of rotating storm, it lasted for three days; not, indeed, continuing the terrible severity with which it had set in, for we were all afterwards agreed that a few hours of the weight of tempest that had first sprung upon us must have beaten the yacht down to her grave by mere blows of green seas, let alone the addition of the incalculable pressure of the wind. The stay-foresail in one blast that caught the yacht when topping a sea was blown into rags, and whirled into the dusklike smoke. A fragment of head sail was wanted, but whilst some men were clawing forwards to effect what was necessary the vessel shipped a sea that carried three of them overboard like chips of wood, leaving the fourth stranded in the scuppers as far aft as the gangway with his neck and both legs broken! We were but a small ship, and luxurious fittings counted for nothing in such a hellish tumblefication as that. Occasionally Finn would arrive haggard, streaming, the completest figure imaginable of a tempest-beaten man, and report of matters above; but I remember wishing him at the devil when he told us of the loss of the four men, for a more depressing piece of news could not have reached us at such a time. It was impossible to light the galley fire, and we had to subsist upon the remains of past cookery and on tinned food. However, Finn told us that on the evening of the first day of the gale the cook had fallen and broken two fingers of his right hand: so that could a fire have been kindled there was no one to prepare a hot meal for us.