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NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM - CHAPTER 5

by Edgar Allan Poe

FOR some minutes after the cook had left the forecastle, Augustus

abandoned himself to despair, never hoping to leave the berth alive.
He now came to the resolution of acquainting the first of the men who
should come down with my situation, thinking it better to let me take
my chance with the mutineers than perish of thirst in the hold,- for
it had been ten days since I was first imprisoned, and my jug of
water was not a plentiful supply even for four. As he was thinking on
this subject, the idea came all at once into his head that it might
be possible to communicate with me by the way of the main hold. In
any other circumstances, the difficulty and hazard of the undertaking
would have prevented him from attempting it; but now he had, at all
events, little prospect of life, and consequently little to lose, he
bent his whole mind, therefore, upon the task.

His handcuffs were the first consideration. At first he saw no

method of removing them, and feared that he should thus be baffled in
the very outset; but upon a closer scrutiny he discovered that the
irons could be slipped off and on at pleasure, with very little
effort or inconvenience, merely by squeezing his hands through them,-
this species of manacle being altogether ineffectual in confining
young persons, in whom the smaller bones readily yield to pressure.
He now untied his feet, and, leaving the cord in such a manner that
it could easily be readjusted in the event of any person's coming
down, proceeded to examine the bulkhead where it joined the berth.
The partition here was of soft pine board, an inch thick, and he saw
that he should have little trouble in cutting his way through. A
voice was now heard at the forecastle companion-way, and he had just
time to put his right hand into its handcuff (the left had not been
removed) and to draw the rope in a slipknot around his ankle, when
Dirk Peters came below, followed by Tiger, who immediately leaped
into the berth and lay down. The dog had been brought on board by
Augustus, who knew my attachment to the animal, and thought it would
give me pleasure to have him with me during the voyage. He went up to
our house for him immediately after first taking me into the hold,
but did not think of mentioning the circumstance upon his bringing
the watch. Since the mutiny, Augustus had not seen him before his
appearance with Dirk Peters, and had given him up for lost, supposing
him to have been thrown overboard by some of the malignant villains
belonging to the mate's gang. It appeared afterward that he had
crawled into a hole beneath a whale-boat, from which, not having room
to turn round, he could not extricate himself. Peters at last let him
out, and, with a species of good feeling which my friend knew well
how to appreciate, had now brought him to him in the forecastle as a
companion, leaving at the same time some salt junk and potatoes, with
a can of water, he then went on deck, promising to come down with
something more to eat on the next day.

When he had gone, Augustus freed both hands from the manacles and

unfastened his feet. He then turned down the head of the mattress on
which he had been lying, and with his penknife (for the ruffians had
not thought it worth while to search him) commenced cutting
vigorously across one of the partition planks, as closely as possible
to the floor of the berth. He chose to cut here, because, if suddenly
interrupted, he would be able to conceal what had been done by
letting the head of the mattress fall into its proper position. For
the remainder of the day, however, no disturbance occurred, and by
night he had completely divided the plank. It should here be observed
that none of the crew occupied the forecastle as a sleeping-place,
living altogether in the cabin since the mutiny, drinking the wines
and feasting on the sea-stores of Captain Barnard, and giving no more
heed than was absolutely necessary to the navigation of the brig.
These circumstances proved fortunate both for myself and Augustus;
for, had matters been otherwise, he would have found it impossible to
reach me. As it was, he proceeded with confidence in his design. It
was near daybreak, however, before he completed the second division
of the board (which was about a foot above the first cut), thus
making an aperture quite large enough to admit his passage through
with facility to the main orlop deck. Having got here, he made his
way with but little trouble to the lower main hatch, although in so
doing he had to scramble over tiers of oil-casks piled nearly as high
as the upper deck, there being barely room enough left for his body.
Upon reaching the hatch he found that Tiger had followed him below,
squeezing between two rows of the casks. It was now too late,
however, to attempt getting to me before dawn, as the chief
difficulty lay in passing through the close stowage in the lower
hold. He therefore resolved to return, and wait till the next night.
With this design, he proceeded to loosen the hatch, so that he might
have as little detention as possible when he should come again. No
sooner had he loosened it than Tiger sprang eagerly to the small
opening produced, snuffed for a moment, and then uttered a long
whine, scratching at the same time, as if anxious to remove the
covering with his paws. There could be no doubt, from his behaviour,
that he was aware of my being in the hold, and Augustus thought it
possible that he would be able to get to me if he put him down. He
now hit upon the expedient of sending the note, as it was especially
desirable that I should make no attempt at forcing my way out at
least under existing circumstances, and there could be no certainty
of his getting to me himself on the morrow as he intended.
After-events proved how fortunate it was that the idea occurred to
him as it did; for, had it not been for the receipt of the note, I
should undoubtedly have fallen upon some plan, however desperate, of
alarming the crew, and both our lives would most probably have been
sacrificed in consequence.

Having concluded to write, the difficulty was now to procure the

materials for so doing. An old toothpick was soon made into a pen;
and this by means of feeling altogether, for the between-decks was as
dark as pitch. Paper enough was obtained from the back of a letter- a
duplicate of the forged letter from Mr. Ross. This had been the
original draught; but the handwriting not being sufficiently well
imitated, Augustus had written another, thrusting the first, by good
fortune, into his coat-pocket, where it was now most opportunely
discovered. Ink alone was thus wanting, and a substitute was
immediately found for this by means of a slight incision with the
pen-knife on the back of a finger just above the nail- a copious flow
of blood ensuing, as usual, from wounds in that vicinity. The note
was now written, as well as it could be in the dark and under the
circumstances. It briefly explained that a mutiny had taken place;
that Captain Barnard was set adrift; and that I might expect
immediate relief as far as provisions were concerned, but must not
venture upon making any disturbance. It concluded with these words:
"I have scrawled this with blood- your life depends upon lying
close.
"

This slip of paper being tied upon the dog, he was now put down

the hatchway, and Augustus made the best of his way back to the
forecastle, where be found no reason to believe that any of the crew
had been in his absence. To conceal the hole in the partition, he
drove his knife in just above it, and hung up a pea-jacket which he
found in the berth. His handcuffs were then replaced, and also the
rope around his ankles.

These arrangements were scarcely completed when Dirk Peters came

below, very drunk, but in excellent humour, and bringing with him my
friend's allowance of provision for the day. This consisted of a
dozen large Irish potatoes roasted, and a pitcher of water. He sat
for some time on a chest by the berth, and talked freely about the
mate and the general concerns of the brig. His demeanour was
exceedingly capricious, and even grotesque. At one time Augustus was
much alarmed by odd conduct. At last, however, he went on deck,
muttering a promise to bring his prisoner a good dinner on the
morrow. During the day two of the crew (harpooners) came down,
accompanied by the cook, all three in nearly the last stage of
intoxication. Like Peters, they made no scruple of talking
unreservedly about their plans. It appeared that they were much
divided among themselves as to their ultimate course, agreeing in no
point, except the attack on the ship from the Cape Verd Islands, with
which they were in hourly expectation of meeting. As far as could be
ascertained, the mutiny had not been brought about altogether for the
sake of booty; a private pique of the chief mate's against Captain
Barnard having been the main instigation. There now seemed to be two
principal factions among the crew- one headed by the mate, the other
by the cook. The former party were for seizing the first suitable
vessel which should present itself, and equipping it at some of the
West India Islands for a piratical cruise. The latter division,
however, which was the stronger, and included Dirk Peters among its
partisans, were bent upon pursuing the course originally laid out for
the brig into the South Pacific; there either to take whale, or act
otherwise, as circumstances should suggest. The representations of
Peters, who had frequently visited these regions, had great weight,
apparently, with the mutineers, wavering, as they were, between
half-engendered notions of profit and pleasure. He dwelt on the world
of novelty and amusement to be found among the innumerable islands of
the Pacific, on the perfect security and freedom from all restraint
to be enjoyed, but, more particularly, on the deliciousness of the
climate, on the abundant means of good living, and on the voluptuous
beauty of the women. As yet, nothing had been absolutely determined
upon; but the pictures of the hybrid line-manager were taking strong
hold upon the ardent imaginations of the seamen, and there was every
possibility that his intentions would be finally carried into effect.

The three men went away in about an hour, and no one else entered

the forecastle all day. Augustus lay quiet until nearly night. He
then freed himself from the rope and irons, and prepared for his
attempt. A bottle was found in one of the berths, and this he filled
with water from the pitcher left by Peters, storing his pockets at
the same time with cold potatoes. To his great joy he also came
across a lantern, with a small piece of tallow candle in it. This he
could light at any moment, as be had in his possession a box of
phosphorus matches. When it was quite dark, he got through the hole
in the bulkhead, having taken the precaution to arrange the
bedclothes in the berth so as to convey the idea of a person covered
up. When through, he hung up the pea-jacket on his knife, as before,
to conceal the aperture- this manoeuvre being easily effected, as he
did not readjust the piece of plank taken out until afterward. He was
now on the main orlop deck, and proceeded to make his way, as before,
between the upper deck and the oil-casks to the main hatchway. Having
reached this, he lit the piece of candle, and descended, groping with
extreme difficulty among the compact stowage of the hold. In a few
moments he became alarmed at the insufferable stench and the
closeness of the atmosphere. He could not think it possible that I
had survived my confinement for so long a period breathing so
oppressive an air. He called my name repeatedly, but I made him no
reply, and his apprehensions seemed thus to be confirmed. The brig
was rolling violently, and there was so much noise in consequence,
that it was useless to listen for any weak sound, such as those of my
breathing or snoring. He threw open the lantern, and held it as high
as possible, whenever an opportunity occurred, in order that, by
observing the light, I might, if alive, be aware that succor was
approaching. Still nothing was heard from me, and the supposition of
my death began to assume the character of certainty. He determined,
nevertheless, to force a passage, if possible, to the box, and at
least ascertain beyond a doubt the truth of his surmises. He pushed
on for some time in a most pitiable state of anxiety, until, at
length, he found the pathway utterly blocked up, and that there was
no possibility of making any farther way by the course in which he
had set out. Overcome now by his feelings, he threw himself among the
lumber in despair, and wept like a child. It was at this period that
he heard the crash occasioned by the bottle which I had thrown down.
Fortunate, indeed, was it that the incident occurred- for, upon this
incident, trivial as it appears, the thread of my destiny depended.
Many years elapsed, however, before I was aware of this fact. A
natural shame and regret for his weakness and indecision prevented
Augustus from confiding to me at once what a more intimate and
unreserved communion afterward induced him to reveal. Upon finding
his further progress in the hold impeded by obstacles which he could
not overcome, he had resolved to abandon his attempt at reaching me,
and return at once to the forecastle. Before condemning him entirely
on this head, the harassing circumstances which embarrassed him
should be taken into consideration. The night was fast wearing away,
and his absence from the forecastle might be discovered; and indeed
would necessarily be so, if be should fail to get back to the berth
by daybreak. His candle was expiring in the socket, and there would
be the greatest difficulty in retracing his way to the hatchway in
the dark. It must be allowed, too, that he had every good reason to
believe me dead; in which event no benefit could result to me from
his reaching the box, and a world of danger would be encountered to
no purpose by himself. He had repeatedly called, and I had made him
no answer. I had been now eleven days and nights with no more water
than that contained in the jug which he had left with me- a supply
which it was not at all probable I had boarded in the beginning of my
confinement, as I had every cause to expect a speedy release. The
atmosphere of the hold, too, must have appeared to him, coming from
the comparatively open air of the steerage, of a nature absolutely
poisonous, and by far more intolerable than it had seemed to me upon
my first taking up my quarters in the box- the hatchways at that time
having been constantly open for many months previous. Add to these
considerations that of the scene of bloodshed and terror so lately
witnessed by my friend; his confinement, privations, and narrow
escapes from death, together with the frail and equivocal tenure by
which he still existed- circumstances all so well calculated to
prostrate every energy of mind- and the reader will be easily
brought, as I have been, to regard his apparent falling off in
friendship and in faith with sentiments rather of sorrow than of
anger.

The crash of the bottle was distinctly heard, yet Augustus was

not sure that it proceeded from the hold. The doubt, however, was
sufficient inducement to persevere. He clambered up nearly to the
orlop deck by means of the stowage, and then, watching for a lull in
the pitchings of the vessel, he called out to me in as loud a tone as
he could command, regardless, for the moment, of being overheard by
the crew. It will be remembered that on this occasion the voice
reached me, but I was so entirely overcome by violent agitation as to
be incapable of reply. Confident, now, that his worst apprehensions
were well founded, be descended, with a view of getting back to the
forecastle without loss of time. In his haste some small boxes were
thrown down, the noise occasioned by which I heard, as will be
recollected. He had made considerable progress on his return when the
fall of the knife again caused him to hesitate. He retraced his steps
immediately, and, clambering up the stowage a second time, called out
my name, loudly as before, having watched for a lull. This time I
found voice to answer. Overjoyed at discovering me to be still alive,
he now resolved to brave every difficulty and danger in reaching me.
Having extricated himself as quickly as possible from the labyrinth
of lumber by which he was hemmed in, he at length struck into an
opening which promised better, and finally, after a series of
struggles, arrived at the box in a state of utter exhaustion.



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