[Illustration: Volney BECKNER’S first voyage.]
Volney was only nine years old when he first went to sea in a merchant ship; the same vessel in which his father sometimes sailed. Here he worked hard and fared hard, but this gave him no uneasiness; his frame was robust, he never took cold, he knew not what fear was.
[Illustration: Volney Beckner at sea.]
In the most boisterous weather, when the rain fell in torrents, and the wind howled around the ship, the little Irish boy would fearlessly and cheerfully climb the stays and sailyards, mount the topmast, or perform any other duty required of him. At twelve years old the captain promoted the clever, good tempered, and trustworthy boy; spoke well of him before the whole crew, and doubled his pay.
Volney was very sensible to his praises. His messmates loved him for his generous nature, and because he had often shown himself ready to brave danger in order to assist them; but an occasion soon arrived in which he had an opportunity of performing one of the most truly heroic deeds on record.
The vessel in which Volney and his father sailed was bound to Port au Prince, in St. Domingo. A little girl, the daughter of one of the passengers, having slipped away from her nurse, ran on deck to amuse herself. While gazing on the expanse of water, the heaving of the vessel made her dizzy, and she fell overboard.
Volney’s father saw the accident, darted after her, and quickly caught her by the dress; but while with one hand he swam to reach the ship, and with the other held the child, he saw a shark advancing towards them. He called aloud for help; there was no time to lose, yet none dared to afford him any. No one, did I say? Yes, little Volney, prompted by filial love, ventured on a deed which strong men dared not attempt.
Armed with a broad, sharp sabre, he threw himself into the sea, then diving like a fish under the shark, he stabbed the weapon into his body up to the hilt. Thus wounded the shark quitted his prey, and turned on the boy, who again and again attacked him with the sabre, but the struggle was too unequal; ropes were quickly thrown from the deck to the father and son; each succeeded in grasping one, and loud rose the cry of joy, “They are saved!” Not so! The shark, enraged at seeing that he was about to be altogether disappointed of his prey, made one desperate spring, and tore asunder the body of the noble-hearted little boy, while his father and the fainting child in his arms were saved.
[Illustration: The poultry basket—A life-preserver.]
I will tell you an old story of an incident which occurred many years ago, but perhaps it may be new to you, and please you as much as it did me when I was a little girl, and used to sit on my grandpapa’s knee, and listen to this tale among many others.