Page images
PDF
EPUB

the coming coolness of the evening, or else my growing apprehensions, had set me trembling and chattering most painfully. I braced my nerves, and set my teeth, and tried to hum“ begone dull care,” keeping time with my fists upon my thighs. But what music! what melancholy merriment! I started and shuddered at the doleful sound of my own voice. I am not naturally a coward, but I should like to know the man who would not, in such a situation, be alarmed. It is a a cruel death to die, to be merely drowned, and to go through the ordinary common places of suffocation, but to see your death gradually rising to your eyes, to feel the water mounting, inch by inch, upon your shivering sides, and to anticipate the certainly coming, choking struggle for your last breath, when, with the gurgling sound of an overflowing brook taking a new direction, the cold brine pours into mouth, ears, and nostrils, usurping the seat and avenues of health and life, and, with gradual flow, stifling-smothering—suffocating!-It were better to die a thousand common deaths.

This is one of the instances, in which, it must be admitted, salt water is not a pleasant subject of contemplation. However, the rock was not yet covered, and hope, blessed hope, stuck faithfully by me. To beguile, if possible, the weary time, I put on a bait, and threw out for a fish. I was sooner successful than I could have wished to be, for hardly had my line struck the water, before the hook was swallowed, and my rod was bent with the dead hard pull of a twelve foot shark. I let it run about fifty yards, and then reeled up. He appeared not at all alarmed, and I could scarcely feel him bear upon my fine hair line. He followed the pull gently, and unresisting, came up to the rock, laid his nose upon its side, and looked up into my face, not as if utterly unconcerned, but with a sort of quizzical impudence, as though he perfectly understood the precarious nature of my situation The conduct of my captive renewed and increased my

alarm. And well it might; for the tide was now running over a corner of the rock behind me, and a small stream rushed through a clest, or fissure, by my side, and formed a puddle at my very feet. I broke my hook out of the monster's mouth, and leaned upon my rod for support.

“ Where is Tim Titus ?”—I cried aloud—“ Curse on the drunken vagabond! will he never come ?"

My ejaculations did no good. No Timothy appeared. It became evident, that I must prepare for drowning, or for action. The reef was completely covered, and the water was above the soles of my feet. I was not much of a swimmer, and as to ever reaching the Island, I could not even hope for that. However, there was no alternative, and I tried to encourage myself, by reflecting that necessity was the mother of invention and that desperation will sometimes ensure success. Besides , too, I considered and took comfort, from the thought that I could wait for Tim, so long as I had a foothold, and then commit myself to the uncertain strength of my arms, and legs, for salvation. So I turned my bait box upside down, and mounting upon that, endeavored 10 comfort my spirits, and to be courageous, but submissive to my fate. I thought of death, and what it might bring with it, and I tried to repent of the multiplied iniquities of my almost wasted life; but I found that that was no place for a sinner to settle his accounts. Wretched soul ! pray, I could not.

The water had now got above my ankles, when, to my inexpressible joy, I saw a sloop bending down towards me, with the evident intention of picking me up. No man can imagine what were the sensations of gratitude which filled my bosom at that moment,

When she got within a hundred yards of the reef, I sung out to the man at the helm to luff up, and lie by, and lower the boat ; but to my amazenient, I could get no reply, nor notice of my request. I entreated them, for the love of heaven to take me off, and I promised, I know not what rewards, that were entirely beyond my power of bestowal. But the brutal wretch of a Captain, muttering something to the effect of " that he had'nt time to stop," and giving me the kind and sensible advice to pull of my coat, and swim ashore, put the helm hard down, and away bore the sloop on the other tack.

“ Heartless villain !”—I shrieked out, in the torture of my disappointment; "may God reward your inhumanity.” The crew answered my prayer with a coarse, loud laugh, and the cook asked me through a speaking trumpet, “If I was'nt afraid of catching cold,”—The black rascal !

It was now time to strip; for my knees felt the cold tide, and the wind, dying away, left a heavy swell, that swayed and shook the box upon which I was mounted, so that I had occasionally to stoop, and paddle with my hands, against the water, in order to preserve my perpendicular. The setting sun sent his almost horizontal streams of fire across the dark waters, making them gloomy, and terrific, by the contrast of his amber and purple glories.

Something glided by me in the water, and then made a sudden halt. I looked upon the black mass, and, as my eye ran along its dark outline, I saw, with horror, that it was a shark ; the identical monster, out of whose mouth I had just hook. He was fishing, now, for me,

and

was, evidently, only waiting for the tide to rise high enough above the rock, to glut at once his hunger and revenge. As the water continued to mount above my knees, he seemed to

broken my

grow more hungry, and familiar. At last, he made a desperate dash, and approaching within an inch of my legs, turned upon his back, and opened his huge jaws for an attack. With desperate strength, I thrust the end of my rod violently at his mouth ; and the brass head, ringing against his teeth, threw him back into the deep current, and I lost sight of him entirely. This, however, was but a momentary repulse ; for in the next minute, he was close behind my back, and pulling at the skirts of my fustian coat, which hung dipping into the water. I leaned forward hastily, and endeavored to extricate myself from the dangerous grasp, but the monster's teeth were too firmly set, and his immense strength nearly drew me over. So, down flew my rod, and off went my jacket, devoted peace-offerings to my voracious visiter.

In an instant, the waves all around me were lashed into froth and foam. No sooner was my poor old sporting friend drawn under the surface, than it was fought for by at least a dozen enormous combatants! The battle raged upon every side. High, black fins rushed now here, now there, and long, strong tails scattered sleet and froth, and the brine was thrown up in jets, and eddied, and curled, and fell, and swelled, like a whirlpool, in Hell-gate.

Of no long duration, however, was this fishy tourney. It seemed soon to be discovered that the prize contended for, contained nothing edible but cheese and crackers, and no flesh, and as its mutilated fragments rose to the surface, the waves subsided into their former smooth condition. Not till then did I experience the real terrors of my situation. As I looked around me, to see what had become of the robbers, I counted one, two, three, yes, up to twelve, successively of the largest sharks I ever saw, floating in a circle around me, like divergent rays, all mathematically equi-distant from the rock, and from each other; each perfectly motionless, and with his gloating, fiery eye fixed full and fierce upon me. Basilisks and rattle-snakes ! how the fire of their steady eyes entered into my heart! I was the centre of a circle, whose radii were sharks! I was the unsprung, or rather unchewed game, at which a pack of hunting sea-dogs was making a dead point!

There was one old fellow, that kept within the circumference of the circle. He seemed to be a sort of captain, or leader of the band; or, rather, he acted as the coroner for the other twelve of the inquisition, that were summoned to sit on, and eat up my body. He glided around and about, and every now and then would stop, and touch his nose against some one of his comrades, and seem to consult, or to give instructions as to the time and mode of operation. Occasionally, he would skull himself up towards me, and examine the condition of my flesh, and then again glide back, and rejoin the troupe, and flap his tail, and have another confabulation. The old rascal had, no doubt, been out into the highways and byeways, and collected this company of his friends and kin-fish, and invited them to supper. I must confess, that horribly as I felt, I could not help but think of a tea party of demure old maids, sitting in a solemn circle, with their skinny hands in their laps, licking their expecting lips, while their hostess bustles about in the important functions of her preparations. With what an eye, have I seen such appurtenances of humanity survey the location and adjustment of some especial condiment, which is about to be submitted to criticism, and consumption.

My sensations began to be, now, most exquisite, indeed; but I will not attempt to describe them. I was neither hot nor

« PreviousContinue »