The oars had been lost, but the rudder of the boat was fortunately made fast by a pennant. In the afternoon he drew up his grapnel, and made sail in the direction, as well as he could judge from the position of the sun, to the English isles. As the night closed in, he watched the stars, and steered his course by them.
The next day came, and, although the boat sailed well, and went fast before a free wind, no land was in sight. Newton had again recourse to the cider and the wine.
The second night he could hardly keep his eyes open; yet, wearied as he was, he still continued his course, and never quitted his helm. The day again dawned, and Newton’s strength was gone, from constant watching; still he bore up against it, until the sun had set.
No land was yet to be seen, and sleep overpowered him. He took a hitch of the main-sheet round his finger, that, should the breeze freshen, he might be roused, in case he should go to sleep; and, having taken this precaution, in a few minutes the boat was steering herself.
“But man, proud man,
Dress’d in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high Heaven.”
The reef upon which the brig had been wrecked was one of those extending along the southward of the Virgin Isles. Newton had intended to steer well to the eastward, with the view of reaching one of the northernmost English colonies; but not having a compass, he naturally was not very equal in his course. The fact was that he steered well to the southward of it; and after he fell asleep, the boat ran away still further off her course, for she was on the larboard tack, and having no weight in her except Newton, who was aft in the stern-sheets, she did not feel inclined to keep her wind. Newton’s sleep was so profound, that neither the pulling of the main-sheet, which he held with a round turn round his hand, nor the dancing of the boat, which during the night had run fast before an increasing breeze, roused him from his lethargy. On sailed the boat, left to the steerage of Providence; on slept Newton, as if putting firm reliance in the same. It was not until the break of day that his repose was very abruptly broken by a shock, which threw him from the stern-sheets of the boat, right over the aftermost thwart. Newton recovered his legs, and his senses, and found himself alongside of a vessel. He had run stem on to a small schooner, which was lying at anchor. As the boat was drifting fast by, Newton made a spring, and gained the deck of the vessel.
“Ah! mon Dieu!—les Anglais—les Anglais—nous sommes prisonniers!” cried out the only man on deck, jumping on his feet, and making a precipitate dive below.
The vessel, of which Newton had thus taken possession, was one employed in carrying the sugars from the plantations round to Basse Terre, the port of Guadaloupe, there to be shipped for Europe,—Newton’s boat having run away so far to the southward, as to make this island. She was lying at anchor off the mouth of a small river, waiting for a cargo.