Treasure Island: Chapter XXIV

Author: Jane Austen

Format: online reading

Category: Novel

Posted on 2007-05-11, updated at 2007-06-01. By anonymous.


  • Author: Jane Austen

IT was broad day when I awoke, and found myself tossing at the south-west end of
Treasure Island. The sun was up, but was still hid from me behind the great bulk of the
Spy-glass, which on this side descended almost to the sea in formidable cliffs.

Haulbowline Head and Mizzen-mast Hill were at my elbow; the hill bare and dark, the
head bound with cliffs forty or fifty feet high, and fringed with great masses of fallen
rock. I was scarce a quarter of a mile to seaward, and it was my first thought to paddle
in and land.

That notion was soon given over. Among the fallen rocks the breakers spouted and
bellowed; loud reverberations, heavy sprays flying and falling, succeeded one another from
second to second; and I saw myself, if I ventured nearer, dashed to death upon the rough
shore, or spending my strength in vain to scale the beetling crags.

Nor was that all; for crawling together on flat tables of rocks or letting themselves
drop into the sea with loud reports, I beheld huge slimy monsters - soft snails as it
were, of incredible bigness - two or three score of them together, making the rocks to
echo with their barkings.

I have understood since that they were sea lions, and entirely harmless. But the look
of them, added to the difficulty of the shore and the high running of the surf, was more
than enough to disgust me of that landing-place. I felt willing rather to starve at sea
than to confront such perils.

In the meantime I had a better chance, as I supposed, before me. North of Haulbowline
Head, the land runs in a long way, leaving, at low tide, a long stretch of yellow sand. To
the north of that, again, there comes another cape - Cape of the Woods, as it was marked
upon the chart - buried in tall green pines, which descended to the margin of the sea.

I remembered what Silver had said about the current that sets northward along the whole
west coast of Treasure Island; and seeing from my position that I was already under its
influence, I preferred to leave Haulbowline Head behind me, and reserve my strength for an
attempt to land upon the kindlier-looking Cape of the Woods.

There was a great, smooth swell upon the sea. The wind blowing steady and gentle from
the south, there was no contrariety between that and the current, and the billows rose and
fell unbroken.

Had it been otherwise, I must long ago have perished; but as it was, it is surprising
how easily and securely my little and light boat could ride. Often, as I still lay at the
bottom, and kept no more than an eye above the gunwale, I would see a big blue summit
heaving close above me; yet the coracle would but bounce a little, dance as if on springs,
and subside on the other side into the trough as lightly as a bird.

I began after a little to grow very bold, and sat up to try my skill at paddling. But
even a small change in the disposition of the weight will produce violent changes in the
behaviour of a coracle. And I had hardly moved before the boat, giving up at once her
gentle dancing movement, ran straight down a slope of water so steep that it made me
giddy, and struck her nose, with a spout of spray, deep into the side of the next wave.

I was drenched and terrified, and fell instantly back into my old position, whereupon
the coracle seemed to find her head again, and led me as softly as before among the
billows. It was plain she was not to be interfered with, and at that rate, since I could
in no way influence her course, what hope had I left of reaching land?

I began to be horribly frightened, but I kept my head, for all that. First, moving with
all care, I gradually baled out the coracle with my sea-cap; then getting my eye once more
above the gunwale, I set myself to study how it was she managed to slip so quietly through
the rollers.

I found each wave, instead of the big, smooth glossy mountain it looks from shore, or
from a vessel's deck, was for all the world like any range of hills on the dry land, full
of peaks and smooth places and valleys. The coracle, left to herself, turning from side to
side, threaded, so to speak, her way through these lower parts, and avoided the steep
slopes and higher, toppling summits of the wave.

`Well, now,' thought I to myself, `it is plain I must lie where I am, and not disturb
the balance; but it is plain, also, that I can put the paddle over the side, and from time
to time, in smooth places, give her a shove or two towards land.' No sooner thought upon
than done. There I lay on my elbows, in the most trying attitude, and every now and again
gave a weak stroke or two to turn her head to shore.

It was very tiring, and slow work, yet I did visibly gain ground; and, as we drew near
the Cape of the Woods, though I saw I must infallibly miss that point, I had still made
some hundred yards of easting. I was, indeed, close in. I could see the cool, green
tree-tops swaying together in the breeze, and I felt sure I should make the next
promontory without fail.

It was high time, for I now began to be tortured with thirst. The glow of the sun from
above, its thousandfold reflection from the waves, the seawater that fell and dried upon
me caking my very lips with salt, combined to make my throat burn and my brain ache. The
sight of the trees so near at hand had almost made me sick with longing; but the current
had soon carried me past the point; and, as the next reach of sea opened out, I beheld a
sight that changed the nature of my thoughts.

Right in front of me, not half a mile away, I beheld the Hispaniola under sail. I made
sure, of course, that I should be taken; but I was so distressed for want of water, that I
scarce knew whether to be glad or sorry at the thought; and long before I had come to a
conclusion, surprise had taken entire possession of my mind, and I could do nothing but
stare and wonder.

The Hispaniola was under her main-sail and two jibs, and the beautiful white canvas
shone in the sun like snow or silver, When I first sighted her, all her sails were
drawing; she was lying a course about north-west; and I presumed the men on board were
going round the island on their way back to the anchorage. Presently she began to fetch
more and more to the westward, so that I thought they had sighted me and were going about
in chase. At last, however, she fell right into the wind's eye, was taken dead aback, and
stood there a while helpless, with her sails shivering.

`Clumsy fellows,' said I; `they must still be drunk as owls.' And I thought how Captain
Smollett would have set them skipping.

Meanwhile, the schooner gradually fell off, and filled again upon another tack, sailed
swiftly for a minute or so, and brought up once more dead in the wind's eye. Again and
again was this repeated. To and fro, up and down, north, south, east, and west, the
Hispaniola sailed by swoops and dashes, and at each repetition ended as she had begun,
with idly-flapping canvas. It became plain to me that nobody was steering. And, if so,
where were the men? Either they were dead drunk, or had deserted her, I thought, and
perhaps if I could get on board, I might return the vessel to her captain.

The current was bearing coracle and schooner southward at an equal rate. As for the
latter's sailing, it was so wild and intermittent, and she hung each time so long in
irons, that she certainly gained nothing, if she did not even lose. If only I dared to sit
up and paddle, I made sure that I could overhaul her. The scheme had an air of adventure
that inspired me, and the thought of the water-breaker beside the fore companion doubled
my growing courage.

Up I got, was welcomed almost instantly by another cloud of spray, but this time stuck
to my purpose; and set myself, with all my strength and caution, to paddle after the
unsteered Hispaniola. Once I shipped a sea so heavy that I had to stop and bale, with my
heart fluttering like a bird; but gradually I got into the way of the thing, and guided my
coracle among the waves, with only now and then a blow upon her bows and a dash of foam in
my face.

I was now gaining rapidly on the schooner; I could see the brass glisten on the tiller
as it banged about; and still no soul appeared upon her decks. I could not choose but
suppose she was deserted. If not, the men were lying drunk below, where I might batten
them down, perhaps, and do what I chose with the ship.

For some time she had been doing the worst thing possible for me - standing still. She
headed nearly due south, yawing, of course, all the time. Each time she fell off her sails
partly filled, and these brought her, in a moment, right to the wind again. I have said
this was the worst thing possible for me; for helpless as she looked in this situation,
with the canvas cracking like cannon, and the blocks trundling and banging on the deck,
she still continued to run away from me, not only with the speed of the current, but by
the whole amount of her leeway, which was naturally great.

But now, at last, I had my chance. The breeze fell, for some seconds, very low, and the
current gradually turning her, the Hispaniola revolved slowly round her centre, and at
last presented me her stern, with the cabin window still gaping open, and the lamp over
the table still burning on into the day. The main- sail hung drooped like a banner. She
was stock-still, but for the current.

For the last little while I had even lost; but now, redoubling my efforts, I began once
more to overhaul the chase.

I was not a hundred yards from her when the wind came again in a clap; she filled on
the port tack, and was off again, stooping and skimming like a swallow.

My first impulse was one of despair, but my second was towards joy. Round she came,
till she was broadside on to me - round still till she had covered a half, and then
two-thirds, and then three-quarters of the distance that separated us. I could see the
waves boiling white under her forefoot. Immensely tall she looked to me from my low
station in the coracle.

And then, of a sudden, I began to comprehend. I had scarce time to think - scarce time
to act and save myself. I was on the summit of one swell when the schooner came stooping
over the next. The bowsprit was over my head. I sprang to my feet, and leaped, stamping
the coracle under water. With one hand I caught the jib-boom, while my foot was lodged
between the stay and the brace; and as I still clung there panting, a dull blow told me
that the schooner had charged down upon and struck the coracle, and that I was left
without retreat on the Hispaniola.

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More on This Book:
  1. Treasure Island: Chapter XIV
  2. Treasure Island: Chapter XIII
  3. Treasure Island: Chapter XI
  4. Treasure Island: Chapter X
  5. Treasure Island: Chapter IX
  6. Treasure Island: Chapter VIII
  7. Treasure Island: Chapter VII
  8. Treasure Island: Chapter VI
  9. Treasure Island: Chapter V
  10. Treasure Island: Chapter IV
  11. Treasure Island: Chapter II
  12. Treasure Island: Chapter III
  13. Treasure Island: Chapter I
  14. Treasure Island: Chapter XII

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