Forgot your password?  
Related Topics

Resources for students & teachers

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 502 pages of information about Two Years Before the Mast.

CHAPTER XXXIV

The same day, I met with one of those narrow escapes which are so often happening in a sailor’s life.  I had been aloft nearly all the afternoon, at work, standing for as much as an hour on the fore top-gallant yard, which was hoisted up, and hung only by the tie; when, having got through my work, I balled up my yarns, took my serving-board in my hand, laid hold deliberately of the top-gallant rigging, took one foot from the yard, and was just lifting the other, when the tie parted, and down the yard fell.  I was safe, by my hold upon the rigging, but it made my heart beat quick.  Had the tie parted one instant sooner, or had I stood an instant longer on the yard, I should inevitably have been thrown violently from the height of ninety or a hundred feet, overboard; or, what is worse, upon the deck.  However, ``a miss is as good as a mile’’; a saying which sailors very often have occasion to use.  An escape is always a joke on board ship.  A man would be ridiculed who should make a serious matter of it.  A sailor knows too well that his life hangs upon a thread, to wish to be often reminded of it; so, if a man has an escape, he keeps it to himself, or makes a joke of it.  I have often known a man’s life to be saved by an instant of time, or by the merest chance,—­ the swinging of a rope,—­ and no notice taken of it.  One of our boys, off Cape Horn, reefing topsails of a dark night when there were no boats to be lowered away, and where, if a man fell overboard, he must be left behind, lost his hold of the reef-point, slipped from the foot-rope, and would have been in the water in a moment, when the man who was next to him on the yard, French John, caught him by the collar of his jacket, and hauled him up upon the yard, with, ``Hold on, another time, you young monkey, and be d—–­d to you!’’—­ and that was all that was heard about it.

Sunday, August 7th.  Lat. 25 59’ S., lon. 27 0’ W. Spoke the English bark Mary Catherine, from Bahia, bound to Calcutta.  This was the first sail we had fallen in with, and the first time we had seen a human form or heard the human voice, except of our own number, for nearly a hundred days.  The very yo-ho-ing of the sailors at the ropes sounded sociably upon the ear.  She was an old, damaged-looking craft, with a high poop and top-gallant forecastle, and sawed off square, stem and stern, like a true English ``tea-wagon,’’ and with a run like a sugar-box.  She had studding-sails out alow and aloft, with a light but steady breeze, and her captain said he could not get more than four knots out of her, and thought he should have a long passage.  We were going six on an easy bowline.

Follow Us on Facebook