Stories of the Pilgrims - M. B. Pumphrey

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.