Page:Paine--Lost ships and lonely seas.djvu/301

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THE WAGER MAN-OF-WAR

Chelsea Hospital, who were very low in their minds at the prospect of so long and hazardous a cruise. They could not be called a dashing lot aboard the Wager, and as for the captain of her his name was Cheap, and he was not much better than that. You shall have the pleasure of damning him as heartily for yourselves as did his forlorn ship's company.

The crazy old hooker of a store-ship began to go to pieces as soon as she encountered the wild gales and swollen seas off the Horn. Decks were swept, boats smashed, and the mizzenmast carried clean out of her. Disabled and leaking, the Wager was somehow worked into the Pacific; but the captain had no charts of the coast, and he blundered along in the hope of finding the rest of the squadron at the rendezvous, which was the island of Juan Fernandez. He was warned by the first lieutenant, the gunner, and other officers that the floating weed, the flocks of land birds, and the longitude, as they had figured it out, indicated a lee shore not many miles distant. The gunner was a man of sorts and he was bold enough to protest:

"Sir, the ship is a perfect wreck; our mizzenmast gone, and all our people ill or exhausted; there are only twelve fit for duty,—therefore it may be dangerous to fall in with the land."

Captain Cheap stubbornly held on until he was