Masterman Ready

Author: Frederick Marryat

Chapter VII

For some time after the boat had shoved off from the ship, old Ready remained with his arms folded, watching it in silence. Mr. Seagrave stood by him; his heart was too full for utterance, for he imagined that as the boat increased her distance from the vessel, so did every ray of hope depart, and that his wife and children, himself, and the old man who was by his side were doomed to perish. His countenance was that of a man in utter despair. At last old Ready spoke.

"They think that they will be saved and that we must perish, Mr. Seagrave; they forget that there is a Power above, who will himself decide that point - a power compared to which the efforts of weak man are as nought."

"True," replied Mr. Seagrave, in a low voice; "but still what chance we can have on a sinking ship, with so many helpless creatures around us, I confess I cannot imagine."

"We must do our best, and submit to His will," replied Ready, who then went aft, and shifted the helm, so as to put the ship again before the wind.

As the old man had foretold to the seamen before they quitted the vessel, the gale was now over, and the sea had gone down considerably. The ship, however, dragged but slowly through the water, and after a short time Ready lashed the wheel, and went forward. On his return to the quarter-deck, he found Mr. Seagrave had thrown himself down (apparently in a state of despair) upon the sail on which Captain Osborn had been laid after his accident.

"Mr. Seagrave, do not give way," said Ready; "if I thought our situation hopeless, I would candidly say so; but there always is hope, even at the very worst, - and there always ought to be trust in that God without whose knowledge not a sparrow falls to the ground. But, Mr. Seagrave, I shall speak as a seaman, and tell you what our probabilities are. The ship is half-full of water, from her seams having opened by the straining in the gale, and the heavy blows which she received; but, now that the gale has abated, she has recovered herself very much. I have sounded the well, and find that she has not made many inches within the last two hours, and probably, as she closes her seams, will make less. If, therefore, it pleases God that the fine weather should continue, there is no fear of the vessel sinking under us for some time; and as we are now amongst the islands, it is not impossible, nay, it is very probable, that we may be able to run her ashore, and thins save our hives. I thought of all this when I refused to go in the boat, and I thought also, Mr. Seagrave, that if you were to have been deserted by me as well as by all the rest, you would have been unable yourself to take advantage of any chances which might turn up in your favour, and therefore I have remained, hoping, under God’s providence, to be the means of assisting you and your family in this sore position. I think now it would be better that you should go down into the cabin, and with a cheerful face encourage poor Mrs. Seagrave with the change in the weather, and the hopes of arriving in some place of safety. If she does not know that the men have quitted the ship, do not tell her; say that the steward is with the other men, which will be true enough, and, if possible, leave her in the dark as to what has taken place. Master William can be trusted, and if you will send him here to me, I will talk to him."

"I hardly know what to think, Ready, or how sufficiently to thank you for your self-devotion, if I may so term it, in this exigency. That your advice is excellent and that I shall follow it, you may be assured; and, should we be saved from the death which at present stares us in the face, my gratitude—"

"Do not speak of that, sir; I am an old man with few wants, and whose life is of little use now. All I wish to feel is, that I am trying to do my duty in that situation into which it has pleased God to call me. What can this world offer to one who has roughed it all his life, and who has neither kith nor kin that he knows of to care about his death?"

Mr. Seagrave pressed the hand of Ready, and went down without making any reply. He found that his wife had been asleep for the last hour, and was not yet awake. The children were also quiet in their beds. Juno and William were the only two who were sitting up.

William made a sign to his father that his mother was asleep, and then said in a whisper, "I did not like to leave the cabin while you were on deck, hut the steward has not been here these two hours: he went to milk the goat for baby and has not returned. We have had no breakfast, none of us."

"William, go on deck," replied his father; "Ready wishes to speak to you."

William went on deck to Ready, who explained to him the position in which they were placed; he pointed out to him the necessity of his doing all he could to assist his father and him, and not to alarm his mother in her precarious state of health. William, who, as it may be expected, looked very grave, did, however, immediately enter into Ready’s views, and proceeded to do his best. "The steward," said he, "has left with the other men, and when my mother wakes she will ask why the children have had no breakfast. What can I do?"

"I think you can milk one of the goats if I show you how, while I go and get the other things ready; I can leave the deck, for you see the ship steers herself very nicely; - and, William, I have sounded the well just before you came up, and I don’t think she makes much water; and," continued he, looking round him, and up above, "we shall have fine weather, and a smooth sea before night."

By the united exertions of Ready and William the breakfast was prepared while Mrs. Seagrave still continued in a sound sleep. The motion of the ship was now very little: she only rolled very slowly from one side to the other; the sea and wind had gone down, and the sun shone brightly over their heads; the boat had been out of sight some time, and the ship did not go through the water faster than three miles an hour, for she had no other sail upon her than the main-topgallant sail hoisted up on the stump of the foremast. Ready, who had been some time down in the cabin, proposed to Mr. Seagrave that Juno and all the children should go on deck. "They cannot be expected to be quiet, sir; and, now that Madam is in such a sweet sleep, it would be a pity to wake her. After so much fatigue she may sheep for hours, and the longer the better, for you know that (in a short time, I trust) she will have to exert herself." Mr. Seagrave agreed to the good sense of this proposal, and went on deck with Juno and the children, leaving William in the cabin to watch his mother. Poor Juno was very much astonished when she came up the ladder and perceived the condition of the vessel, and the absence of the men; but Mr. Seagrave told her what had happened, and cautioned her against saying a word to Mrs. Seagrave. Juno promised that she would not; but the poor girl perceived the danger of their position, and, as she pressed little Albert to her bosom, a tear or two rolled down her cheeks. Even Tommy and Caroline could not help asking where the masts and sails were, and what had become of Captain Osborn.

"Look there, sir," said Ready, pointing out some floating sea-weed to Mr. Seagrave.

"I perceive it," said Mr. Seagrave; "but what then?"

"That by itself would not be quite proof," replied Ready, "but we sailors have other signs and tokens. Do you see those birds hovering over the waves?"

"I do."

"Well, sir, those birds never go far from land, that’s all: and now, sir, I’ll go down for my quadrant; for, although I cannot tell the longitude just now, at all events I can find out the latitude we are in, and then by looking at the chart shall be able to give some kind of guess whereabout we are, if we see land soon.

"It is nearly noon now," observed Ready, reading off his quadrant, "the sun rises very slowly. What a happy thing a child is! Look, sir, at those little creatures playing about, and as merry now, and as unaware of danger, as if they were at home in their parlour. I often think, sir, it is a great blessing for a child to be called away early; and that it is selfish in parents to repine."

"Perhaps it is," replied Mr. Seagrave, looking mournfully at his children.

"It’s twelve o’clock, sir. I’ll just go down and work the latitude, and then I’ll bring up the chart."

Mr. Seagrave remained on deck. He was soon in deep and solemn thought; nor was it to be wondered at - the ship a wreck and deserted - left alone on the wide water with his wife and helpless family, with but one to assist him: had that one deserted as well as the rest, what would have been his position then? Utter helplessness! And now what had they to expect? Their greatest hopes were to gain some island, and, if they succeeded, perhaps a desert island, perhaps an island inhabited by savages - to be murdered, or to perish miserably of hunger and thirst. It was not until some time after these reflections had passed through his mind, that Mr. Seagrave could recall himself to a sense of thankfulness to the Almighty for having hitherto preserved them, or could say with humility, "O Lord! thy will, not mine, be done." But, having once succeeded in repressing his murmurs, he then felt that he had courage and faith to undergo every trial which might be imposed upon him.

"Here is the chart, sir," said Ready, "and I have drawn a pencil line through our latitude: you perceive that it passes through this cluster of islands; and I think we must be among them, or very near. Now I must put something on for dinner, and then look sharp out for the land. Will you take a look round, Mr. Seagrave, especially a-head and on the bows?"

Ready went down to see what he could procure for dinner, as the seamen, when they left the ship, had collected almost all which came first to hand. He soon procured a piece of salt beef and some potatoes, which he put into the saucepan, and then returned on deck.

Mr. Seagrave was forward, looking over the bows, and Ready went there to him.

"Ready, I think I see something, but I can hardly tell what it is: it appears to be in the air, and yet it is not clouds. Look there, where I point my finger."

"You’re right, sir," replied Ready, "there is something; it is not the land which you see, but it is the trees upon the land which are refracted, as they call it, so as to appear, as you say, as if they were in the air. That is an island, sir, depend upon it; but I will go down and get my glass.

"It is the land, Mr. Seagrave," said Ready, after examining it with his glass - "yes, it is so," continued he, musing; "I wish that we had seen it earlier; and yet we must be thankful."

"Why so, Ready?"

"Only, sir, as the ship forges so slowly through the water, I fear that we shall not reach it before dark, and I should have wished to have had daylight to have laid her nicely on it."

"There is very little wind now."

"Well, let us hope that there will be more," replied Ready; "if not, we must do our best. But I must now go to the helm, for we must steer right for the island; it would not do to pass it, for, Mr. Seagrave, although the ship does not leak so much as she did, yet I must now tell you that I do not think that she could be kept more than twenty-four hours above water. I thought otherwise this morning when I sounded the well; but when I went down in the hold for the beef, I perceived that we were in more danger than I had any idea of; however, there is the land, and every chance of escape; so let us thank the Lord for all his mercies."

"Amen!" replied Mr. Seagrave.

Ready went to the helm and steered a course for the land, which was not so far distant as he had imagined, for the island was very low: by degrees the wind freshened up, and they went faster through the water; and now, the trees, which had appeared as if in the air, joined on to the land, and they could make out that it was a low coral island covered with groves of cocoa-nuts. Occasionally Ready gave the helm up to Mr. Seagrave, and went forward to examine. When they were within three or four miles of it, Ready came back from the forecastle and said, "I think I see my way pretty clear, sir: you see we are to the windward of the island, and there is always deep water to the windward of these sort of isles, and reefs and shoals to leeward; we must, therefore, find some little cleft in the coral rock to dock her in, as it were, or she may fall back into deep water after she has taken the ground, for sometimes these islands run up like a wall, with forty or fifty fathom of water close to the weather-sides of them; but I see a spot where I think she may be put on shore with safety. You see those three cocoa-nut trees close together on the beach? Now, sir, I cannot well see them as I steer, so do you go forward, and if I am to steer more to the right, put out your right hand, and if to the left, the same with your left; and when the ship’s head is as it ought to be, then drop the hand which you have raised."

"I understand, Ready," replied Mr. Seagrave; who then went forward and directed the steering of the vessel as they neared the island. When they were within half a mile of it, the colour of the water changed, very much to the satisfaction of Ready, who knew that the weather-side of the island would not be so steep as was usually the case: still it was an agitating moment as they ran on to beach. They were now within a cable’s length, and still the ship did not ground; a little nearer, and there was a grating at her bottom - it was the breaking off of the coral-trees which grew below like forests under water - again she grated, and more harshly, then struck, and then again; at last she struck violently, as the swell lifted her further on, and then remained fast amid quiet. Ready let go the helm to ascertain the position of the ship. He looked over the stern and around the ship, and found that she was firmly fixed, fore and aft, upon a bed of coral rocks.


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Chicago: Frederick Marryat, "Chapter VII," Masterman Ready, ed. Altemus, Henry in Masterman Ready Original Sources, accessed September 28, 2023,

MLA: Marryat, Frederick. "Chapter VII." Masterman Ready, edited by Altemus, Henry, in Masterman Ready, Original Sources. 28 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: Marryat, F, 'Chapter VII' in Masterman Ready, ed. . cited in , Masterman Ready. Original Sources, retrieved 28 September 2023, from