FOUR days of good wind and fair weather brought the “Speedwell” to England. There the Pilgrims found about forty friends who wished to go with them to America. They had hired a little ship called the “Mayflower,” which now lay in the harbor ready to sail. It, too, was loaded with provisions for the long journey and the cold winter.
The “Speedwell” was a smaller vessel than the “Mayflower,” so some of the Pilgrims from Holland joined their friends on the larger boat. Then the two ships sailed out of the harbor into the blue sea.
The Pilgrims watched the shores of their native land grow faint and fainter. Would they ever see dear old England again? Surely none expected to see it so soon as they did.
They were hardly out of sight of land when the “Speedwell” began to leak. They could see no hole, but slowly the water rose in the bottom of the boat. It crept around the boxes and barrels stored there. “The hole must be behind this pile of boxes,” said the captain.
While some of the men pumped the water out of the ship, others quickly moved the great boxes away.
Yes, there was a little stream of water running down from a hole in the side of the ship. This was soon mended, but still the water slowly rose in the boat. The men at the pumps worked harder than ever, but the water came in as fast as they could pump it out.
More holes were found and mended, but still the ship leaked. There was nothing to do but go back to land as soon as possible. Those on the “Mayflower” did not wish to go on without their friends, so both ships returned to England.
When the “Speedwell” reached shore, the ship builders came to look at it.
“It carries too heavy a mast for so small a ship,” said one.
“The hull is worn out,” said another. “See, it needs new boards, and fresh tar, and fresh paint. It will take weeks to repair this ship and make it safe for so long a voyage.”
What could the Pilgrims do? The fine weather was passing. They would hardly reach America now before the heavy storms of winter came. It was quite plain they could not wait until the “Speedwell” was repaired.
The “Mayflower” could not hold all who wished to go to America, yet the Pilgrims could not hire another ship. The passengers on the “Speedwell” were a long way from home. It seemed hard for them to return to Holland.
So some of those who lived in England offered to give up their places in the “Mayflower” and return to their homes.
“Next summer there will be other ships sailing to America from England, and it may be a long time before another will go from Holland,” they said.
THE VOYAGE OF THE “MAYFLOWER”
WHEN the provisions and the boxes of other goods had been moved from the “Speedwell” to the larger boat, the “Mayflower” started once more. Now she carried a hundred passengers besides her sailors.
We should think the “Mayflower” a very small boat in which to cross the ocean. The cabin was badly crowded, and there was only one small deck.
At that time no one had thought of making a boat go by steam. The “Mayflower” had large white sails, and when the wind was good she sped over the water like a great sea bird.
But sometimes there was no wind, and the little vessel lay still upon the quiet water. Sometimes the sky grew black with storm clouds and the fierce winds swept down upon the ship. Then the sailors quickly bound the sails close to the masts, but still the vessel was often driven far out of her course. No wonder it took so long to cross the ocean in those days.
In one of these great storms a young man almost lost his life. For many days the passengers had been kept in the cabin by the weather. The deck was wet and slippery. The rough winds swept across it; the waves washed over it. It was not safe for any of the passengers there.
But John Howland did not like to stay quietly in the crowded cabin. So he climbed the narrow stairs and stepped out upon the slippery deck.
How wild and terrible the storm was! The waves were almost as high as the masts! Sometimes the “Mayflower” rode high upon the tops of the waves. At other times it was quite hidden between them.
John saw a great wave about to break over the ship. He tried to reach the cabin door, but he was too late. With a crash like thunder, the wave struck the ship and swept away one of the masts. John seized the railing with both hands, but the wave was stronger than he. It flung him into the sea.
“Help! Oh, help!” he cried. “Help!”
But his voice could not be heard above the storm. He fought with the waves and tried to swim, but it was of no use. The water closed over his head. Who could help him now?
Over the side of the ship hung some ropes dragged down by the falling mast. John saw one of these long ropes trailing through the water. The rope was close at hand, and he reached out and grasped it.
Hand over hand, he pulled himself toward the ship. His strength was fast going. Would no one come to his rescue?
Some sailors on the “Mayflower” saw John struggling for his life. “Hold on, John!” they shouted, as they pulled in the rope.
John did hold on, though his hands were stiff with cold, and the waves beat him back from the ship. Slowly he was lifted from the water, and strong arms reached down to help him. At last he lay upon the deck, faint but safe.