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NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM - CHAPTER 8

by Edgar Allan Poe

AS I viewed myself in a fragment of looking-glass which hung up

in the cabin, and by the dim light of a kind of battle-lantern, I was
so impressed with a sense of vague awe at my appearance, and at the
recollection of the terrific reality which I was thus representing,
that I was seized with a violent tremour, and could scarcely summon
resolution to go on with my part. It was necessary, however, to act
with decision, and Peters and myself went upon deck.

We there found everything safe, and, keeping close to the

bulwarks, the three of us crept to the cabin companion-way. It was
only partially closed, precautions having been taken to prevent its
being suddenly pushed to from without, by means of placing billets of
wood on the upper step so as to interfere with the shutting. We found
no difficulty in getting a full view of the interior of the cabin
through the cracks where the hinges were placed. It now proved to
have been very fortunate for us that we had not attempted to take
them by surprise, for they were evidently on the alert. Only one was
asleep, and he lying just at the foot of the companion-ladder, with a
musket by his side. The rest were seated on several mattresses, which
had been taken from the berths and thrown on the floor. They were
engaged in earnest conversation; and although they had been
carousing, as appeared from two empty jugs, with some tin tumblers
which lay about, they were not as much intoxicated as usual. All had
knives, one or two of them pistols, and a great many muskets were
lying in a berth close at hand.

We listened to their conversation for some time before we could

make up our minds how to act, having as yet resolved on nothing
determinate, except that we would attempt to paralyze their
exertions, when we should attack them, by means of the apparition of
Rogers. They were discussing their piratical plans, in which all we
could hear distinctly was, that they would unite with the crew of a
schooner Hornet, and, if possible, get the schooner herself into
their possession preparatory to some attempt on a large scale, the
particulars of which could not be made out by either of us.

One of the men spoke of Peters, when the mate replied to him in a

low voice which could not be distinguished, and afterward added more
loudly, that "he could not understand his being so much forward with
the captain's brat in the forecastle, and he thought the sooner both
of them were overboard the better." To this no answer was made, but
we could easily perceive that the hint was well received by the whole
party, and more particularly by Jones. At this period I was
excessively agitated, the more so as I could see that neither
Augustus nor Peters could determine how to act. I made up my mind,
however, to sell my life as dearly as possible, and not to suffer
myself to be overcome by any feelings of trepidation.

The tremendous noise made by the roaring of the wind in the

rigging, and the washing of the sea over the deck, prevented us from
hearing what was said, except during momentary lulls. In one of
these, we all distinctly heard the mate tell one of the men to "go
forward, have an eye upon them, for he wanted no such secret doings
on board the brig." It was well for us that the pitching of the
vessel at this moment was so violent as to prevent this order from
being carried into instant execution. The cook got up from his
mattress to go for us, when a tremendous lurch, which I thought would
carry away the masts, threw him headlong against one of the larboard
stateroom doors, bursting it open, and creating a good deal of other
confusion. Luckily, neither of our party was thrown from his
position, and we had time to make a precipitate retreat to the
forecastle, and arrange a hurried plan of action before the messenger
made his appearance, or rather before he put his head out of the
companion-hatch, for he did not come on deck. From this station he
could not notice the absence of Allen, and he accordingly bawled out,
as if to him, repeating the orders of the mate. Peters cried out,
"Ay, ay," in a disguised voice, and the cook immediately went below,
without entertaining a suspicion that all was not right.

My two companions now proceeded boldly aft and down into the

cabin, Peters closing the door after him in the same manner he had
found it. The mate received them with feigned cordiality, and told
Augustus that, since he had behaved himself so well of late, he might
take up his quarters in the cabin and be one of them for the future.
He then poured him out a tumbler half full of rum, and made him drink
it. All this I saw and heard, for I followed my friends to the cabin
as soon as the door was shut, and took up my old point of
observation. I had brought with me the two pump-handles, one of which
I secured near the companion-way, to be ready for use when required.

I now steadied myself as well as possible so as to have a good

view of all that was passing within, and endeavoured to nerve myself
to the task of descending among the mutineers when Peters should make
a signal to me, as agreed upon. Presently he contrived to turn the
conversation upon the bloody deeds of the mutiny, and by degrees led
the men to talk of the thousand superstitions which are so
universally current among seamen. I could not make out all that was
said, but I could plainly see the effects of the conversation in the
countenances of those present. The mate was evidently much agitated,
and presently, when some one mentioned the terrific appearance of
Rogers' corpse, I thought he was upon the point of swooning. Peters
now asked him if he did not think it would be better to have the body
thrown overboard at once as it was too horrible a sight to see it
floundering about in the scuppers. At this the villain absolutely
gasped for breath, and turned his head slowly round upon his
companions, as if imploring some one to go up and perform the task.
No one, however, stirred, and it was quite evident that the whole
party were wound up to the highest pitch of nervous excitement.
Peters now made me the signal. I immediately threw open the door of
the companion-way, and, descending, without uttering a syllable,
stood erect in the midst of the party.

The intense effect produced by this sudden apparition is not at

all to be wondered at when the various circumstances are taken into
consideration. Usually, in cases of a similar nature, there is left
in the mind of the spectator some glimmering of doubt as to the
reality of the vision before his eyes; a degree of hope, however
feeble, that he is the victim of chicanery, and that the apparition
is not actually a visitant from the old world of shadows. It is not
too much to say that such remnants of doubt have been at the bottom
of almost every such visitation, and that the appalling horror which
has sometimes been brought about, is to be attributed, even in the
cases most in point, and where most suffering has been experienced,
more to a kind of anticipative horror, lest the apparition might
possibly be real, than to an unwavering belief in its reality. But,
in the present instance, it will be seen immediately, that in the
minds of the mutineers there was not even the shadow of a basis upon
which to rest a doubt that the apparition of Rogers was indeed a
revivification of his disgusting corpse, or at least its spiritual
image. The isolated situation of the brig, with its entire
inaccessibility on account of the gale, confined the apparently
possible means of deception within such narrow and definite limits,
that they must have thought themselves enabled to survey them all at
a glance. They had now been at sea twenty-four days, without holding
more than a speaking communication with any vessel whatever. The
whole of the crew, too- at least all whom they had the most remote
reason for suspecting to be on board- were assembled in the cabin,
with the exception of Allen, the watch; and his gigantic stature (be
was six feet six inches high) was too familiar in their eyes to
permit the notion that he was the apparition before them to enter
their minds even for an instant. Add to these considerations the
awe-inspiring nature of the tempest, and that of the conversation
brought about by Peters; the deep impression which the loathsomeness
of the actual corpse had made in the morning upon the imaginations of
the men; the excellence of the imitation in my person, and the
uncertain and wavering light in which they beheld me, as the glare of
the cabin lantern, swinging violently to and fro, fell dubiously and
fitfully upon my figure, and there will be no reason to wonder that
the deception had even more than the entire effect which we had
anticipated. The mate sprang up from the mattress on which he was
lying, and, without uttering a syllable, fell back, stone dead, upon
the cabin floor, and was hurled to the leeward like a log by a heavy
roll of the brig. Of the remaining seven, there were but three who
had at first any degree of presence of mind. The four others sat for
some time rooted apparently to the floor, the most pitiable objects
of horror and utter despair my eyes ever encountered. The only
opposition we experienced at all was from the cook, John Hunt, and
Richard Parker; but they made but a feeble and irresolute defence.
The two former were shot instantly by Peters, and I felled Parker
with a blow on the head from the pump-handle which I had brought with
me. In the meantime, Augustus seized one of the muskets lying on the
floor and shot another mutineer Wilson through the breast. There
were now but three remaining; but by this time they had become
aroused from their lethargy, and perhaps began to see that a
deception had been practised upon them, for they fought with great
resolution and fury, and, but for the immense muscular strength of
Peters, might have ultimately got the better of us. These three men
were -- Jones, Greely, and Absolom Hicks. Jones had thrown
Augustus to the floor, stabbed him in several places along the right
arm, and would no doubt have soon dispatched him (as neither Peters
nor myself could immediately get rid of our own antagonists), had it
not been for the timely aid of a friend, upon whose assistance we,
surely, had never depended. This friend was no other than Tiger. With
a low growl, he bounded into the cabin, at a most critical moment for
Augustus, and throwing himself upon Jones, pinned him to the floor in
an instant. My friend, however, was now too much injured to render us
any aid whatever, and I was so encumbered with my disguise that I
could do but little. The dog would not leave his hold upon the throat
of Jones -- Peters, nevertheless, was far more than a match for the
two men who remained, and would, no doubt, have dispatched them
sooner, had it not been for the narrow space in which he had to act,
and the tremendous lurches of the vessel. Presently he was enabled to
get hold of a heavy stool, several of which lay about the floor. With
this he beat out the brains of Greely as he was in the act of
discharging a musket at me, and immediately afterward a roll of the
brig throwing him in contact with Hicks, he seized him by the throat,
and, by dint of sheer strength, strangled him instantaneously. Thus,
in far less time than I have taken to tell it, we found ourselves
masters of the brig.

The only person of our opponents who was left alive was Richard

Parker. This man, it will be remembered, I had knocked down with a
blow from the pump-handle at the commencement of the attack. He now
lay motionless by the door of the shattered stateroom; but, upon
Peters touching him with his foot, he spoke, and entreated for mercy.
His head was only slightly cut, and otherwise he had received no
injury, having been merely stunned by the blow. He now got up, and,
for the present, we secured his hands behind his back. The dog was
still growling over Jones; but, upon examination, we found him
completely dead, the blood issuing in a stream from a deep wound in
the throat, inflicted, no doubt, by the sharp teeth of the animal.

It was now about one o'clock in the morning, and the wind was

still blowing tremendously. The brig evidently laboured much more
than usual, and it became absolutely necessary that something should
be done with a view of easing her in some measure. At almost every
roll to leeward she shipped a sea, several of which came partially
down into the cabin during our scuffle, the hatchway having been left
open by myself when I descended. The entire range of bulwarks to
larboard had been swept away, as well as the caboose, together with
the jollyboat from the counter. The creaking and working of the
mainmast, too, gave indication that it was nearly sprung. To make
room for more stowage in the afterhold, the heel of this mast had
been stepped between decks (a very reprehensible practice,
occasionally resorted to by ignorant ship-builders), so that it was
in imminent danger of working from its step. But, to crown all our
difficulties, we plummed the well, and found no less than seven feet
of water.

Leaving the bodies of the crew lying in the cabin, we got to work

immediately at the pumps- Parker, of course, being set at liberty to
assist us in the labour. Augustus's arm was bound up as well as we
could effect it, and he did what he could, but that was not much.
However, we found that we could just manage to keep the leak from
gaining upon us by having one pump constantly going. As there were
only four of us, this was severe labour; but we endeavoured to keep
up our spirits, and looked anxiously for daybreak, when we hoped to
lighten the brig by cutting away the mainmast.

In this manner we passed a night of terrible anxiety and fatigue,

and, when the day at length broke, the gale had neither abated in the
least, nor were there any signs of its abating. We now dragged the
bodies on deck and threw them overboard. Our next care was to get rid
of the mainmast. The necessary preparations having been made, Peters
cut away at the mast (having found axes in the cabin), while the rest
of us stood by the stays and lanyards. As the brig gave a tremendous
lee-lurch, the word was given to cut away the weather-lanyards, which
being done, the whole mass of wood and rigging plunged into the sea,
clear of the brig, and without doing any material injury. We now
found that the vessel did not labour quite as much as before, but our
situation was still exceedingly precarious, and in spite of the
utmost exertions, we could not gain upon the leak without the aid of
both pumps. The little assistance which Augustus could render us was
not really of any importance. To add to our distress, a heavy sea,
striking the brig to the windward, threw her off several points from
the wind, and, before she could regain her position, another broke
completely over her, and hurled her full upon her beam-ends. The
ballast now shifted in a mass to leeward (the stowage had been
knocking about perfectly at random for some time), and for a few
moments we thought nothing could save us from capsizing. Presently,
however, we partially righted; but the ballast still retaining its
place to larboard, we lay so much along that it was useless to think
of working the pumps, which indeed we could not have done much longer
in any case, as our hands were entirely raw with the excessive labour
we had undergone, and were bleeding in the most horrible manner.

Contrary to Parker's advice, we now proceeded to cut away the

foremast, and at length accomplished it after much difficulty, owing
to the position in which we lay. In going overboard the wreck took
with it the bowsprit, and left us a complete hulk.

So far we had had reason to rejoice in the escape of our

longboat, which had received no damage from any of the huge seas
which had come on board. But we had not long to congratulate
ourselves; for the foremast having gone, and, of course, the foresail
with it, by which the brig had been steadied, every sea now made a
complete breach over us, and in five minutes our deck was swept from
stern to stern, the longboat and starboard bulwarks torn off, and
even the windlass shattered into fragments. It was, indeed, hardly
possible for us to be in a more pitiable condition.

At noon there seemed to be some slight appearance of the gale's

abating, but in this we were sadly disappointed, for it only lulled
for a few minutes to blow with redoubled fury. About four in the
afternoon it was utterly impossible to stand up against the violence
of the blast; and, as the night closed in upon us, I had not a shadow
of hope that the vessel would hold together until morning.

By midnight we had settled very deep in the water, which was now

up to the orlop deck. The rudder went soon afterward, the sea which
tore it away lifting the after portion of the brig entirely from the
water, against which she thumped in her descent with such a
concussion as would be occasioned by going ashore. We had all
calculated that the rudder would hold its own to the last, as it was
unusually strong, being rigged as I have never seen one rigged either
before or since. Down its main timber there ran a succession of stout
iron hooks, and others in the same manner down the stern-post.
Through these hooks there extended a very thick wrought-iron rod, the
rudder being thus held to the stern-post and swinging freely on the
rod. The tremendous force of the sea which tore it off may be
estimated by the fact, that the hooks in the stern-post, which ran
entirely through it, being clinched on the inside, were drawn every
one of them completely out of the solid wood.

We had scarcely time to draw breath after the violence of this

shock, when one of the most tremendous waves I had then ever known
broke right on board of us, sweeping the companion-way clear off,
bursting in the hatchways, and filling every inch of the vessel with
water.



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