THE LOSS OF THE BRIG
It was already late at night, and as dark as it ever would be at that season of the year (and that is to say, it was still pretty bright), when Hoseason clapped his head into the round-house door.
"Here," said he, "come out and see if ye can pilot."
"Is this one of your tricks?" asked Alan.
"Do I look like tricks?" cries the captain. "I have other things to think of -- my brig's in danger!"
By the concerned look of his face, and, above all, by the sharp tones in which he spoke of his brig, it was plain to both of us he was in deadly earnest; and so Alan and I, with no great fear of treachery, stepped on deck.
The sky was clear; it blew hard, and was bitter cold; a great deal of daylight lingered; and the moon, which was nearly full, shone brightly. The brig was close hauled, so as to round the southwest corner of the Island of Mull, the hills of which (and Ben More above them all, with a wisp of mist upon the top of it) lay full upon the lar-board bow. Though it was no good point of sailing for the Covenant, she tore through the seas at a great rate, pitching and straining, and pursued by the westerly swell.
Altogether it was no such ill night to keep the seas in; and I had begun to wonder what it was that sat so heavily upon the captain, when the brig rising suddenly on the top of a high swell, he pointed and cried to us to look. Away on the lee bow, a thing like a fountain rose out of the moonlit sea, and immediately after we heard a low sound of roaring.
"What do ye call that?" asked the captain, gloomily.
"The sea breaking on a reef," said Alan. "And now ye ken where it is; and what better would ye have?"
"Ay," said Hoseason, "if it was the only one."
And sure enough, just as he spoke there came a second fountain farther to the south.
"There!" said Hoseason. "Ye see for yourself. If I had kent of these reefs, if I had had a chart, or if Shuan had been spared, it's not sixty guineas, no, nor six hundred, would have made me risk my brig in sic a stoneyard! But you, sir, that was to pilot us, have ye never a word?"
"I'm thinking," said Alan, "these'll be what they call the Torran Rocks."
"Are there many of them?" says the captain.
"Truly, sir, I am nae pilot," said Alan; "but it sticks in my mind there are ten miles of them."
Mr. Riach and the captain looked at each other.
"There's a way through them, I suppose?" said the captain.
"Doubtless," said Alan, "but where? But it somehow runs in my mind once more that it is clearer under the land."
"So?" said Hoseason. "We'll have to haul our wind then, Mr. Riach; we'll have to come as near in about the end of Mull as we can take her, sir; and even then we'll have the land to kep the wind off us, and that stoneyard on our lee. Well, we're in for it now, and may as well crack on."
With that he gave an order to the steersman, and sent Riach to the foretop. There were only five men on deck, counting the officers; these being all that were fit (or, at least, both fit and willing) for their work. So, as I say, it fell to Mr. Riach to go aloft, and he sat there looking out and hailing the deck with news of all he saw.
"The sea to the south is thick," he cried; and then, after a while, "it does seem clearer in by the land."
"Well, sir," said Hoseason to Alan, "we'll try your way of it. But I think I might as well trust to a blind fiddler. Pray God you're right."
"Pray God I am!" says Alan to me. "But where did I hear it? Well, well, it will be as it must."