Masterman Ready

Author: Frederick Marryat

Chapter XIV

Ready was up before the sun had appeared, and he awakened William. The knapsacks had been already packed, with two bottles of water in each, wrapped round with cocoa-nut leaves, to prevent their breaking, and the beef and pork divided between each knapsack. Ready’s, which was larger than William’s, held the biscuit and several other things which Ready had prepared in case they might require them.

As soon as the knapsacks were on, Ready took the axe and gun, and asked William if he thought he could carry a small spade on his shoulder, which they had brought on shore along with the shovels. William replied that he could; and the dogs, who appeared to know they were going, were all ready standing by them. Then, just as the sun rose, they turned into the cocoa-nut grove, and were soon out of sight of the tents.

"Now, William, do you know," said Ready, stopping after they had walked twenty yards, "by what means we may find our way back again; for you see this forest of trees is rather puzzling, and there is no path to guide us?"

"No, I am sure I cannot tell; I was thinking of the very same thing when you spoke; and of Tom Thumb, who strewed peas to find his way back, but could not do it, because the birds picked them all up."

"Well, Tom Thumb did not manage well, and we must try to do better; we must do as the Americans always do in their woods, - we must blaze the trees."

"Blaze them! what, set fire to them?" replied William.

"No, no, William. Blaze is a term they use when they cut a slice of the bark off the trunk of a tree, just with one blow of a sharp axe, as a mark to find their way back again. They do not blaze every tree, but about every tenth tree as they go along, first one to the right, and then one to the left, which is quite sufficient; and it is very little trouble, - they do it as they walk along, without stopping. So now we’ll begin: you take the other side, it will be more handy for you to have your hatchet in your right hand; I can use my left. See now - just a slice off the bark - the weight of the axe does it almost."

"What an excellent plan!" observed William.

"But I have another friend in my pocket," replied Ready, "and I must use him soon."

"What is that?"

"Poor Captain Osborn’s pocket-compass. You see, William, the blazing will direct us how to go back again; but it will not tell us what course we are now to steer. At present, I know we are going right, as I can see through the wood behind us; but by and by we shall not be able, and then I must make use of the compass."

"I understand that very well; but tell me, Ready, why do you bring the spade with us - what will be the use of it? You did not say yesterday that you were going to bring me."

"No, William, I did not, as I did not like to make your mother anxious; but the fact is, I am very anxious myself as to whether there is any water on this island; if there is not, we shall have to quit it sooner or later, for although we may get water by digging in the sand, it would be too brackish to use for any time, and would make us all ill. Very often there will be water if you dig for it, although it does not show above-ground; and therefore I brought the spade."

"You think of everything, Ready."

"No, I do not, William; but, in our present situation, I think of more things than perhaps your father and mother would: they have never known what it is to be put to their shifts; but a man like me, who has been all his life at sea, and who has been wrecked, and suffered hardships and difficulties, and has been obliged to think or die, has a greater knowledge, not only from his own sufferings, but by hearing how others have acted when they were in distress. Necessity sharpens a man’s wits; and it is very curious what people do contrive when they are compelled to do so, especially seamen."

"And where are we going to now, Ready?"

"Right to the leeward side of the island."

"Why do you call it the leeward side of the island?"

"Because among these islands the winds almost always blow one way; we landed on the windward side; the wind is at our back; now put up your finger, and you will feel it even among the trees."

"No, I cannot," replied William, as he held up his finger.

"Then wet your finger, and try again."

William wet his finger, and held it up again. "Yes, I feel it now," said he; "but why is that?"

"Because the wind blows against the wet, and you feel the cold."

As Ready said this the dogs growled, then started forward and barked.

"What can be there?" cried William.

"Stand still, William," replied Ready, cocking his gun, "and I will go forward to see." Ready advanced cautiously with the gun to his hip. The dogs barked more furiously; and at last, out of a heap of cocoa-nut leaves collected together, burst all the pigs which had been brought on shore, grunting and galloping away as fast as they could, with the dogs in pursuit of them.

"It’s only the pigs," said Ready, smiling; "I never thought I should be half-frightened by a tame pig. Here, Romulus! here, Remus! come back!" continued Ready, calling to the dogs. "Well, William, this is our first adventure."

"I hope we shall not meet with any one more dangerous," replied William, laughing; "but I must say that I was alarmed."

"No wonder; for, although not likely, it is possible there may be wild animals on this island, or even savages; but being alarmed is one thing, and being afraid is another: a man may be alarmed, and stand his ground; but a man that is afraid will run away."

"I do not think I shall ever run away and leave you, Ready, if there is danger."

"I’m sure you will not; but still you must not be rash; and now we will go on again, as soon as I have uncocked my gun. I have seen more accidents happen from people cocking their guns, and forgetting to uncock them afterwards, than you can have any idea of. Recollect, also, until you want to fire, never cock your gun."

Ready and William continued their way through the cocoa-nut grove for more than an hour longer, marking the trees as they went along; they then sat down to take their breakfast.

"Don’t give the dogs any water, William, nor any of the salt meat; give them biscuit only."

"But they are very thirsty; may not I give them a little?"

"No: we shall want it all ourselves, in the first place; and, in the next, I wish them to be thirsty. And, William, take my advice, and only drink a small quantity of water at a time. The more you drink, the more you want."

"Then I should not eat so much salt meat."

"Very true; the less you eat the better, unless we find water, and fill our bottles again."

"But we have our axes, and can always cut down a cocoa-nut, and get the milk from the young nuts."

"Very true; and fortunate it is that we have that to resort to; but still we could not do very well on cocoa-nut milk alone, even if it were to be procured all the year round. Now we will go on if you do not feel tired."

"Not in the least; I am tired of seeing nothing but the stems of cocoa-nut trees, and shall be glad when we are through the wood."

"Then the faster we walk the better," said Ready; "as far as I can judge, we must be about half-way across now."

Ready and William recommenced their journey; and, after half-an-hour’s walking, they found that the ground was not so level as it had been - sometimes they went gradually up hill, at others down.

"I am very glad to find the island is not so flat here; we have a better chance of finding water."

"It is much steeper before us," replied William; "it’s quite a hill."

The ground now became more undulating, although still covered with cocoa-nut trees, even thicker together than before. They continued their march, occasionally looking at the compass, until William showed symptoms of weariness, for the wood had become more difficult to get through than at first.

"How many miles do you think we have walked, Ready?" said Willy.

"About eight, I should think."

"Not more than eight?"

"No; I do not think that we have made more than two miles an hour: it’s slow work, travelling by compass and marking the trees; but I think the wood looks lighter before us, now that we are at the top of this hill."

"It does, Ready; I fancy I can see the blue sky again."

"Your eyes are younger than mine, William, and perhaps you may - however, we shall soon find out."

They now descended into a small hollow, and then went up hill again. As soon as they arrived at the top, William cried out, "The sea, Ready! there’s the sea!"

"Very true, William, and I’m not sorry for it."

"I thought we never should get out of that nasty wood again," said William, as he impatiently pushed on, and at last stood clear of the cocoa-nut grove. Ready soon joined him, and they surveyed the scene before them in silence.


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Chicago: Frederick Marryat, "Chapter XIV," Masterman Ready, ed. Altemus, Henry in Masterman Ready Original Sources, accessed October 5, 2022,

MLA: Marryat, Frederick. "Chapter XIV." Masterman Ready, edited by Altemus, Henry, in Masterman Ready, Original Sources. 5 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Marryat, F, 'Chapter XIV' in Masterman Ready, ed. . cited in , Masterman Ready. Original Sources, retrieved 5 October 2022, from