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Blown North
by [?]

Now the crew went aft and told the captain that they could not keep the “Wansbeck” floating much longer; they thought the flag should be put in the main rigging, “union down.” The captain said, “All right, my lads. There’s but poor hopes for us, I know, whether we take to the boat or stick to the ship. Take your own way and do what you think is best. Our time will soon be over.” So the flag was hoisted, and the men prepared for the end–without fear, for sheer physical misery had made them dull and silently reckless. The captain told a young hand to go into the forepeak and see if the water had reached far up: the same hand was ordered to clear away the longboat. Now the fore-trysail bad come down on the boat; and when it was flung down the young seaman noticed that it seemed to be sucked down into a kind of eddy. There had been so many false alarms that the lad did not say anything until he had examined this new phenomenon carefully. Wading forward, he felt cautiously with his bare feet and found that his toes went into a large hole. He called out, “Here’s the big leak; our decks are stove in!” and indeed it was this hole, through which the constant burden of water on deck had poured, that had caused the pumps to be mastered.

After some very hard work the leak was stopped, and the men began to labour with new heart. The courage of the men had revived, and they cheered each other on. For four hours the whole crew went at it with a will; torn and bleeding hands were unheeded, and the thought of death was put away. All the same the boat was kept ready for leaving the ship; but just as the night came down and the white crests began to lighten on the following seas, the pump sucked slightly, and the crew knew that they might stand by the vessel. For six-and-twenty hours they had been on deck without a spell; they had been working in an incessant flood of water; their sleeves had been doubled up, and every man had ugly salt-water boils on his arms. The little cabin-boy had stuck gallantly to work with the rest, but both his feet were frost-bitten, and he could not stand alone. A more deplorable ordeal was never undergone by men, and nothing but indomitable hardihood could have kept them up. On the 17th of the month they had got so far north that there was scarcely any daylight in each twenty-four hours. At noon on that day the poor fellows saw a thing which was not calculated to cheer them. They were looking gloomily out, when a little brig like their own seemed to start up amid the driving haze. She laboured past them; and then they watched her stagger, stop, and founder. Next day they ran into a comparative calm; and when the “Wansbeck” reached latitude 65 degrees north, the sea fell away, and the brig was safe. Then the men felt the misery of their sores; for after they slept for a while the act of unclosing the hands was terribly painful. The poor boy was very resigned and brave. He could not be helped in any way, and both his feet had to be cut off when the vessel reached Malmo.

A few days’ fine weather enabled the crew to repair sails and broken gear; then the “Wansbeck” clawed her way down the Norwegian coast and got into the “Sleeve.” What the men longed for most was tobacco; and when at the end of some days’ sailing they sighted a Dutch galliot they boarded her, and the poor English scarecrows were helped liberally. That night was passed in smoking and a blessed forgetfulness of pain. The “Wansbeck” was given up at home, and some women had put on mourning before she was heard of. Nothing could have saved her had not the young seaman seen that ugly dangerous place where the falling yard had smashed the dock in; and the owner had to thank the dogged hopeless bravery of his men for saving the brig even after the great leak was discovered. The “Wansbeck” is still running; but she has patent rigging and serviceable pumps, and probably her owner is not so much the object of unfriendly wishes.