The Survivors of the Chancellor
Curtis Becomes Captain
OCTOBER 22. -- Curtis has told the captain everything; for he persists in ostensibly
recognizing him as his superior officer, and refuses to conceal from him our true
situation. Captain Huntly received the communication in perfect silence, and merely
passing his hand across his forehead as though to banish some distressing thought, re-
entered his cabin without a word.
Curtis, Lieutenant Walter, Falsten, and myself have been discussing the chances of our
safety, and I am surprised to find with how much composure we can all survey our anx-
"There is no doubt," said Curtis, "that we must abandon all hope of arresting the fire; the
heat toward the bow has already become well-nigh unbearable, and the time must come
when the flames will find a vent through the deck. If the sea is calm enough for us to
make use of the boats, well and good; we shall of course get quit of the ship as quietly as
we can; if, on the other hand the weather should be adverse, or the wind be boisterous, we
must stick to our place, and contend with the flames to the very last; perhaps, after all, we
shall fare far better with the fire as a declared enemy than as a hidden one."
Falsten and I agreed with what he said, and I pointed out to him that he had quite
overlooked the fact of there being thirty pounds of explosive matter in the hold.
"No," he gravely replied, "I have not forgotten it, but it is a circumstance of which I do
not trust myself to think. I dare not run the risk of admitting air into the hold by going
down to search for the powder, and yet I know not at what moment it may explode. No; it
is a matter that I can- not take at all into my reckoning; it must remain in higher hands
We bowed our heads in a silence which was solemn. In the present state of the weather,
immediate flight was, we knew, impossible.
After considerable pause, Mr. Falsten, as calmly as though he were delivering some
philosophic dogma, quietly observed:
"The explosion, if I may use the formula of science, is not necessary, but contingent."
"But tell me, Mr. Falsten," I asked, "is it possible for picrate of potash to ignite without
"Certainly it is," replied the engineer. "Under ordinary circumstances, picrate of potash
although not MORE inflam- mable than common powder, yet possesses the SAME
degree of inflammability."