The Survivors of the Chancellor by Jules Verne - HTML preview
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The Survivors of the Chancellor
The Chancellor.................................................................................................................. 4
Crew And Passengers ....................................................................................................... 6
Bill Of Lading.................................................................................................................... 8
Something About My Fellow Passengers........................................................................ 9
An Unusual Route ........................................................................................................... 12
The Sargasso Sea............................................................................................................. 14
Voices In The Night ........................................................................................................ 16
Fire On Board ................................................................................................................. 19
Curtis Explains The Situation ....................................................................................... 21
Picrate Of Potash On Board .......................................................................................... 23
The Passengers Discover Their Danger ........................................................................ 25
Curtis Becomes Captain ................................................................................................. 27
Between Fire And Water................................................................................................ 30
Breakers To Starboard! ................................................................................................. 33
Shipwrecked .................................................................................................................... 35
Silas Huntly Rescued From The Waves........................................................................ 37
M. Letourneur Is Pessimistic ......................................................................................... 41
We Explore The Reef...................................................................................................... 43
The Cargo Unloaded....................................................................................................... 47
Examination Of The Hold.............................................................................................. 49
The "Chancellor" Released From Her Prison ............................................................. 52
A New Danger ................................................................................................................. 54
An Attempt At Mutiny ................................................................................................... 56
Curtis Resolves To Abandon The Ship ......................................................................... 58
While There's Life There's Hope................................................................................... 60
Mr. Kear Makes A Business Deal.................................................................................. 62
The Whale-Boat Missing ................................................................................................ 65
Mrs. Kear Succumbs To Fever ...................................................................................... 67
We Embark On The Raft............................................................................................... 69
Our Situation Critical..................................................................................................... 71
First Day On The Raft.................................................................................................... 72
We Catch A Supply Of Fish........................................................................................... 74
Mutiny On The Raft ....................................................................................................... 77
A Squall............................................................................................................................ 80
Two Sailors Washed Overboard ................................................................................... 82
We Lose Nearly All Our Provisions .............................................................................. 84
Lieutenant Walter's Condition ...................................................................................... 86
Mutiny Again................................................................................................................... 89
A Father's Love ............................................................................................................... 92
Death Of Lieutenant Walter .......................................................................................... 95
Human Flesh For Bait .................................................................................................... 97
Oxide Of Copper Poisoning ......................................................................................... 100
Owen's Death................................................................................................................. 102
The Depths Of Despair ................................................................................................. 106
Our Thirst Relieved ...................................................................................................... 109
My Fast Is Broken......................................................................................................... 111
Hobart Hangs Himself.................................................................................................. 113
Hobart's Body Stolen.................................................................................................... 115
The Negro Becomes Insane .......................................................................................... 117
All Hope Gone ............................................................................................................... 119
Flaypole Becomes Delirious ......................................................................................... 120
I Decide To Commit Suicide ........................................................................................ 122
We Decide To Draw Lots ............................................................................................. 125
Miss Herbey Pleads For One Day More ..................................................................... 127
Fresh Water................................................................................................................... 129
Near The Coast Of South America.............................................................................. 131
Land Ahoy! .................................................................................................................... 132
CHARLESTON, September 27, 1898. -- It is high tide, and three o'clock in the afternoon when we leave the Battery quay; the ebb carries us off shore, and as Captain Huntly has hoisted both main and top sails, the north- erly breeze drives the Chancellor briskly across the bay. Fort Sumter ere long is doubled, the sweeping batteries of the mainland on our left are soon passed, and by four o'clock the rapid current of the ebbing tide has carried us through the harbor mouth.
But as yet we have not reached the open sea we have still to thread our way through the narrow channels which the surge has hollowed out amongst the sand-banks. The captain takes a southwest course, rounding the lighthouse at the corner of the fort; the sails are closely trimmed; the last sandy point is safely coasted, and at length, at seven o'clock in the evening, we are out free upon the wide At- lantic.
The Chancellor is a fine square-rigged three-master, of 900 tons burden, and belongs to the wealthy Liverpool firm of Laird Brothers. She is two years old, is sheathed and secured with copper, her decks being of teak, and the base of all her masts, except the mizzen, with all their fittings, being of iron. She is registered first class, A 1, and is now on her third voyage between Charleston and Liverpool. As she wended her way through the channels of Charleston harbor, it was the British flag that was lowered from her masthead; but without colors at all, no sailor could have hesitated for a moment in telling her nationality, -- for Eng- lish she was, and nothing but English from her water-line upward to the truck of her masts.I must now relate how it happens that I have taken my passage on board the Chancellor on her return voyage to England.
At present there is no direct steamship service between South Carolina and Great Britain, and all who wish to cross must go either northward to New York or southward to New Orleans. It is quite true that if I had chosen a start from New York I might have found plenty of vessels be- longing to English, French, or Hamburg lines, any of which would have conveyed me by a rapid voyage to my destina- tion; and it is equally true that if I had selected New Or- leans for my embarkation I could readily have reached Europe by one of the vessels of the National Steam Naviga- tion Company, which join the French transatlantic line of Colon and Aspinwall. But it was fated to be otherwise. One day, as I was loitering about the Charleston quays, my eye lighted on this vessel. There was something about the Chancellor that pleased me, and a kind of involuntary impulse took me on board, where I found the internal ar- rangements perfectly comfortable. Yielding to the idea that a voyage in a sailing vessel had certain charms beyond the transit in a steamer, and reckoning that with wind and wave in my favor there would be little material difference in time; considering, moreover, that in these low latitudes the weather in early autumn is fine and unbroken, I came to my decision, and proceeded forthwith to secure my pas- sage by this route to Europe.
Have I done right or wrong? Whether I shall have rea- son to regret my determination is a problem to be solved in the future. However, I will begin to record the incidents of our daily experience, dubious as I feel whether the lines of my chronicle will ever find a reader.
Crew And Passengers
SEPTEMBER 28. -- John Silas Huntly, the captain of the Chancellor, has the reputation of being a most experienced navigator of the Atlantic. He is a Scotchman by birth, a native of Dundee, and is about fifty years of age. He is of the middle height and slight build, and has a small head, which he has a habit of holding a little over his left shoulder. I do not pretend to be much of a physiognomist, but I am inclined to believe that my few hours' acquaintance with our captain has given me considerable insight into his charac- ter. That he is a good seaman and thoroughly understands his duties I could not for a moment venture to deny; but that he is a man of resolute temperament, or that he pos- sesses the amount of courage that would render him, phy- sically or morally, capable of coping with any great emer- gency, I confess I cannot believe. I observed a certain heaviness and dejection about his whole carriage. His wavering glances, the listless motion of his hands, and his slow, unsteady gait, all seem to me to indicate a weak and sluggish disposition. He does not appear as though he could be energetic enough ever to be stubborn; he never frowns, sets his teeth, or clenches his fists. There is some- thing enigmatical about him; however, I shall study him closely, and do what I can to understand the man who, as commander of a vessel, should be to those around him "second only to God."
Unless I am greatly mistaken there is another man on board who, if circumstances should require it, would take the more prominent position -- I mean the mate. I have hitherto, however, had so little opportunity of observing his character, that I must defer saying more about him at pres- ent.
Besides the captain and this mate, whose name is Robert Curtis, our crew consists of Walter, the lieutenant, the boat- swain, and fourteen sailors, all English or Scotch, making eighteen altogether, a number quite sufficient for working a vessel of 900 tons burden. Up to this time my sole ex- perience of their capabilities is, that under the command of the mate, they brought us skillfully enough through the narrow channels of Charleston; and I have no reason to doubt that they are well up to their work.My list of the ship's officials is incomplete unless I men- tion Hobart the steward and Jynxstrop the negro cook.
In addition to these, the Chancellor carries eight pas- sengers, including myself. Hitherto, the bustle of em- barkation, the arrangement of cabins, and all the variety of preparations inseparable from starting on a voyage for at least twenty or five-and-twenty days have precluded the formation of any acquaintanceships; but the monotony of the voyage, the close proximity into which we must be thrown, and the natural curiosity to know something of each other's affairs, will doubtless lead us in due time to an ex- change of ideas. Two days have elapsed and I have not even seen all the passengers. Probably seasickness has prevented some of them from making an appearance at the common table. One thing, however, I do know; namely, that there are two ladies occupying the stern cabin, the win- dows of which are in the aft-board of the vessel.I have seen the ship's list, and subjoin a list of the pas- sengers. They are as follows: Mr. and Mrs. Kear, Americans, of Buffalo. Miss Herbey, a young English lady, companion to Mrs. Kear. M. Letourneur and his son Andre, Frenchmen, of Havre. William Falsten, a Manchester engineer. John Ruby, a Cardiff merchant; and myself, J. R. Kazal- lon, of London.
Bill Of Lading
SEPTEMBER 29. -- Captain Huntly's bill of lading, that is to say, the document that describes the Chancellor's cargo and the conditions of transport, is couched in the following terms:Bronsfield and Co., Agents, Charleston:
I, John Silas Huntly, of Dundee, Scotland, commander of the ship Chancellor, of about 900 tons burden, now at Charleston, do purpose, by the blessing of God, at the earli- est convenient season, and by the direct route, to sail for the port of Liverpool, where I shall obtain my discharge. I do hereby acknowledge that I have received from you, Messrs. Bronsfield and Co., Commission Agents, Charles- ton, and have placed the same under the gun-deck of the aforesaid ship, seventeen hundred bales of cotton, of the estimated value of 26,000 L., all in good condition, marked and numbered as in the margin; which goods I do undertake to transport to Liverpool, and there to deliver, free from injury (save only such injury as shall have been caused by the chances of the sea), to Messrs. Laird Brothers, or to their order, or to their representatives, who shall on due delivery of the said freight pay me the sum of 2,000 L. inclu- sive, according to the charter-party, and damages in addi- tion, according to the usages and customs of the sea.
And for the fulfillment of the above covenant, I have pledged and do pledge my person, my property, and my interest in the vessel aforesaid, with all its appurtenances. In witness whereof, I have signed three agreements all of the same purport, on the condition that when the terms of one are accomplished, the other two shall be absolutely null and void.Given at Charleston, September 13th, 1869. J. S. HUNTLY.
From the foregoing document it will be understood that the Chancellor is conveying 1,700 bales of cotton to Liver- pool; that the shippers are Bronsfield, of Charleston, and the consignees are Laird Brothers of Liverpool. The ship was constructed with the especial design of carrying cotton, and the entire hold, with the exception of a very limited space reserved for passenger's luggage, is closely packed with the bales. The lading was performed with the utmost care, each bale being pressed into its proper place by the aid of screw-jacks, so that the whole freight forms one solid and compact mass; not an inch of space is wasted, and the vessel is thus made capable of carrying her full complement of cargo.
Something About My Fellow Passengers
SEPTEMBER 30 to October 6. -- The Chancellor is a rapid sailer, and more than a match for many a vessel of the same dimensions. She scuds along merrily in the freshen- ing breeze, leaving in her wake, far as the eye can reach, a long white line of foam as well defined as a delicate strip of lace stretched upon an azure ground.
The Atlantic is not visited by many gales, and I have every reason to believe that the rolling and pitching of the vessel no longer incommode any of the passengers, who are all more or less accustomed to the sea. A vacant seat at our table is now very rare; we are beginning to know some- thing about each other, and our daily life, in consequence, is becoming somewhat less monotonous.
M. Letourneur, our French fellow-passenger, often has a chat with me. He is a fine tall man, about fifty years of age, with white hair and a grizzly beard. To say the truth, he looks older than he really is: his drooping head, his de- jected manner, and his eye, ever and again suffused with tears, indicate that he is haunted by some deep and abiding sorrow. He never laughs; he rarely even smiles, and then only on his son; his countenance ordinarily bearing a look of bitterness tempered by affection, while his general ex- pression is one of caressing tenderness. It excites an invol- untary commiseration to learn that M. Letourneur is con- suming himself by exaggerated reproaches on account of the infirmity of an afflicted son.
Andre Letourneur is about twenty years of age, with a gentle, interesting countenance, but, to the irrepressible grief of his father, is a hopeless cripple. His left leg is miserably deformed, and he is quite unable to walk without the assistance of a stick. It is obvious that the father's life is bound up with that of his son; his devotion is unceas- ing; every thought, every glance is for Andre; he seems to anticipate his most trifling wish, watches his slightest move- ment, and his arm is ever ready to support or otherwise assist the child whose sufferings he more than shares.M. Letourneur seems to have taken a peculiar fancy to myself, and constantly talks about Andre. This morning, in the course of conversation, I said: "You have a good son, M. Letourneur. I have just been talking to him. He is a most intelligent young man." "Yes, Mr. Kazallon," replied M. Letourneur, brighten- ing up into a smile, "his afflicted frame contains a noble mind. He is like his mother, who died at his birth." "He is full of reverence and love for you, sir," I re- marked.
"Dear boy!" muttered the father half to himself. "Ah, Mr. Kazallon," he continued, "you do not know what it is to a father to have a son a cripple, beyond hope of cure." "M. Letourneur," I answered, "you take more than your share of the affliction which has fallen upon you and your son. That M. Andre is entitled to the very greatest commiseration no one can deny; but you should remember, that after all a physical infirmity is not so hard to bear as mental grief. Now, I have watched your son pretty closely, and unless I am much mistaken there is nothing that troubles him so much as the sight of your own sorrow."
"But I never let him see it," he broke in hastily. "My sole thought is how to divert him. I have discovered that, in spite of his physical weakness, he delights in traveling; so for the last few years we have been constantly on the move. We first went all over Europe, and are now re- turning from visiting the principal places in the United States. I never allowed my son to go to college, but in- structed him entirely myself, and these travels, I hope, will serve to complete his education. He is very intelligent, and has a lively imagination, and I am sometimes tempted to hope that in contemplating the wonders of nature he forgets his own infirmity.""Yes, sir, of course he does," I assented.
"But," continued M. Letourneur, taking my hand, "al- though, perhaps, HE may forget, I can never forget. Ah, sir, do you suppose that Andre can ever forgive his parents for bringing him into the world a cripple?"
The remorse of the unhappy father was very distressing, and I was about to say a few kind words of sympathy when Andre himself made his appearance. M. Letourneur has- tened toward him and assisted him up the few steep steps that led to the poop.
As soon as Andre was comfortably seated on one of the benches, and his father had taken his place by his side, I joined them, and we fell into conversation upon ordinary topics, discussing the various points of the Chancellor, the probable length of the passage, and the different details of our life on board. I find that M. Letourneur's estimate of Captain Huntly's character very much coincides with my own, and that, like me, he is impressed with the man's un- decided manner and sluggish appearance. Like me, too, he has formed a very favorable opinion of Robert Curtis, the mate, a man of about thirty years of age, of great muscular power, with a frame and a will that seem ever ready for action.
While we were still talking of him, Curtis himself came on deck, and as I watched his movements I could not help being struck with his physical development; his erect and easy carriage, his fearless glance and slightly contracted brow all betoken a man of energy, thoroughly endowed with the calmness and courage that are indispensable to the true sailor. He seems a kind-hearted fellow, too, and is al- ways ready to assist and amuse young Letourneur, who evi- dently enjoys his company. After he had scanned the weather and examined the trim of the sails, he joined our party and proceeded to give us some information about those of our fellow-passengers with whom at present we have made but slight acquaintance.
Mr. Kear, the American, who is accompanied by his wife, has made a large fortune in the petroleum springs in the United States. He is a man of about fifty, a most uninter- esting companion, being overwhelmed with a sense of his own wealth and importance, and consequently supremely indifferent to all around him. His hands are always in his pockets, and the chink of money seems to follow him wherever he goes. Vain and conceited, a fool as well as an egotist, he struts about like a peacock showing its plumage, and to borrow the words of the physiognomist Gratiolet, "il se flaire, il se savoure, il se goute." Why he should have taken his passage on board a mere merchant vessel instead of enjoying the luxuries of a transatlantic steamer, I am altogether at a loss to explain.
The wife is an insignificant, insipid woman, of about forty years of age. She never reads, never talks, and I believe I am not wrong in saying, never thinks. She seems to look without seeing, and listen without hearing, and her sole occupation consists in giving her orders to her com- panion, Miss Herbey, a young English girl of about twenty.
Miss Herbey is extremely pretty. Her complexion is fair and her eyes deep blue, while her pleasing countenance is altogether free from that insignificance of feature which is not unfrequently alleged to be characteristic of English beauty. Her mouth would be charming if she ever smiled, but, exposed as she is to the ridiculous whims and fancies of a capricious mistress, her lips rarely relax from their ordinary grave expression. Yet, humiliating as her posi- tion must be, she never utters a word of open complaint, but quietly and gracefully performs her duties, accepting without a murmur the paltry salary which the bumptious petroleum-merchant condescends to allow her.
The Manchester engineer, William Falsten, looks like a thorough Englishman. He has the management of some extensive hydraulic works in South Carolina, and is now on his way to Europe to obtain some improved apparatus, and more especially to visit the mines worked by centrifugal force, belonging to the firm of Messrs. Cail. He is forty- five years of age, with all his interests so entirely absorbed by his machinery that he seems to have neither a thought nor a care beyond his mechanical calculations. Once let him engage you in conversation, and there is no chance of escape; you have no help for it but to listen as patiently as you can until he has completed the explanation of his designs.
The last of our fellow-passengers, Mr. Ruby, is the type of a vulgar tradesman. Without any originality or magnanimity in his composition, he has spent twenty years of his life in mere buying and selling, and as he has gener- ally contrived to do business at a profit, he has realized a considerable fortune. What he is going to do with the money, he does not seem able to say: his ideas do not go beyond retail trade, his mind having been so long closed to all other impressions that it appears incapable of thought or reflection on any subject besides. Pascal says, "L'homme est visiblement fait pour penser. C'est toute sa dignite et tout son merite;" but to Mr. Ruby the phrase seems altogether inapplicable.
An Unusual Route
OCTOBER 7. -- This is the tenth day since we left Charles- ton, and I should think our progress has been very rapid. Robert Curtis, the mate, with whom I continue to have many a friendly chat, informed me that we could not be far off the Bermudas; the ship's bearings, he said, were lat. 32 deg. 20' N. and long. 64 deg. 50' W. so that he had every reason to believe that we should sight St. George's Island before night.
"The Bermudas!" I exclaimed. "But how is it we are off the Bermudas? I should have thought that a vessel sail- ing from Charleston to Liverpool, would have kept north- ward, and have followed the track of the Gulf Stream.""Yes, indeed, sir," replied Curtis, "that is the usual course; but you see that this time the captain hasn't chosen to take it." "But why not?" I persisted. "That's not for me to say, sir; he ordered us eastward, and eastward we go." "Haven't you called his attention to it?" I inquired.
Curtis acknowledged that he had already pointed out what an unusual route they were taking, but that the cap- tain had said that he was quite aware what he was about. The mate made no further remark; but the knit of his brow, as he passed his hand mechanically across his forehead, made me fancy that he was inclined to speak out more strongly.
"All very well, Curtis," I said, "but I don't know what to think about trying new routes. Here we are at the 7th of October, and if we are to reach Europe before the bad weather sets in, I should suppose there is not a day to be lost.""Right, sir, quite right; there is not a day to be lost." Struck by his manner, I ventured to add, "Do you mind, Curtis, giving me your honest opinion of Captain Huntly?" He hesitated a moment, and then replied shortly, "He is my captain, sir." This evasive answer of course put an end to any further interrogation on my part.
Curtis was not mistaken. At about three o'clock the look-out man sung out that there was land to windward, and descried what seemed as if it might be a line of smoke in the northeast horizon. At six, I went on deck with M. Letourneur and his son, and we could then distinctly make out the low group of the Bermudas, encircled by their formidable chain of breakers.
"There," said Andre Letourneur to me, as we stood gaz- ing at the distant land, "there lies the enchanted archipel- ago, sung by your poet Moore. The exile Waller, too, as long ago as 1643, wrote an enthusiastic panegyric on the islands, and I have been told that at one time English ladies would wear no other bonnets than such as were made of the leaves of the Bermuda palm."
"But let me tell you, M. Andre," interposed Curtis, who had as usual joined our party, "that although poets may rave, and be as enthusiastic as they like about these islands, sailors will tell a different tale. The hidden reefs that lie in a semicircle about two or three leagues from shore make the attempt to land a very dangerous piece of business. And another thing, I know. Let the natives boast as they will about their splendid climate, they are visited by the most frightful hurricanes. They get the fag-end of the storms that rage over the Antilles; and the fag-end of a storm is like the tail of a whale; it's just the strongest bit of it. I don't think you'll find a sailor listening much to your poets -- your Moores, and your Wallers."
"No doubt you are right, Mr. Curtis," said Andre, smil- ing, "but poets are like proverbs; you can always find one to contradict another. Although Waller and Moore have chosen to sing the praises of the Bermudas, it has been sup- posed that Shakspeare was depicting them in the terrible scenes that are found in 'The Tempest.'"
I may mention that there was not another of our fellow- passengers who took the trouble to come on deck and give a glance at this strange cluster of islands. Miss Herbey, it is true, was making an attempt to join us, but she had barely reached the poop, when Mrs. Kear's languid voice was heard recalling her for some trifling service to her side.
The Sargasso Sea
OCTOBER 8 to October 13. -- The wind is blowing hard from the northeast, and the Chancellor, under low-reefed top-sail and fore-sail, and laboring against a heavy sea, has been obliged to be brought ahull. The joists and girders all creak again until one's teeth are set on edge. I am the only passenger not remaining below; but I prefer being on deck notwithstanding the driving rain, fine as dust, which penetrates to the very skin. We have been driven along in this fashion for the best part of two days; the "stiffish breeze" has gradually freshened into "a gale"; the top- gallants have been lowered, and, as I write, the wind is blowing with a velocity of fifty or sixty miles an hour. Al- though the Chancellor has many good points, her drift is considerable, and we have been carried far to the south; we can only guess at our precise position, as the cloudy at- mosphere entirely precludes us from taking the sun's alti- tude.
All along, throughout this period, my fellow-passengers are totally ignorant of the extraordinary course that we are taking. England lies to the northeast, yet we are sailing directly southeast, and Robert Curtis owns that he is quite be- wildered; he cannot comprehend why the captain, ever since this northeasterly gale has been blowing, should persist in allowing the ship to drive to the south, instead of tacking to the northwest until she gets into better quarters.I was alone with Robert Curtis to-day upon the poop, and could not help saying to him, "Curtis, is your captain mad?" "Perhaps, sir, I might be allowed to ask what YOU think upon that matter," was his cautious reply.
"Well, to say the truth," I answered. "I can hardly tell; but I confess there is every now and then a wandering in his eye, and an odd look on his face that I do not like. Have you ever sailed with him before?""No; this is our first voyage together. Again last night I spoke to him about the route we were taking, but he only said he knew all about it, and that it was all right." "What do Lieutenant Walter and your boatswain think of it all?" I inquired. "Think; why, they think just the same as I do," replied the mate; "but if the captain chooses to take the ship to China we should obey his orders." "But surely," I exclaimed, "there must be some limit to your obedience! Suppose the man is actually mad, what then?"
"If he should be mad enough, Mr. Kazallon, to bring the vessel into any real danger, I shall know what to do."
With this assurance I am forced to be content. Matters, however, have taken a different turn to what I bargained for when I took my passage on board the Chancellor. The weather has become worse and worse. As I have already said, the ship under her large low-reefed top-sail and fore stay-sail has been brought ahull, that is to say, she copes directly with the wind, by presenting her broad bows to the sea; and so we go on still drift, drift, continually to the south.
How southerly our course has been is very apparent; for upon the night of the 11th we fairly entered upon that por- tion of the Atlantic which is known as the Sargasso Sea. An extensive tract of water is this, inclosed by the warm current of the Gulf Stream, and thickly covered with the wrack, called by the Spaniards "sargasso," the abundance of which so seriously impeded the progress of Columbus's vessel on his first voyage.
Each morning at daybreak the Atlantic has presented an aspect so remarkable, that at my solicitation, M. Letourneur and his son have ventured upon deck to witness the unusual spectacle. The squally gusts make the metal shrouds vibrate like harp-strings; and unless we were on our guard to keep our clothes wrapped tightly to us, they would have been torn off our backs in shreds. The scene presented to our eyes is one of strangest interest. The sea, carpeted thickly with masses of prolific fucus, is a vast unbroken plain of vegetation, through which the vessel makes her way as a plow. Long strips of seaweed caught up by the wind become entangled in the rigging, and hang between the masts in festoons of verdure; while others, varying from two to three hundred feet in length, twine themselves up to the very mast-head, from whence they float like streaming pennants. For many hours now, the Chancellor has been contending with this formidable accumulation of algae; her masts are circled with hydrophytes; her rigging is wreathed everywhere with creepers, fantastic as the untrammeled ten- drils of a vine, and as she works her arduous course, there are times when I can only compare her to an animated grove of verdure making its mysterious way over some illimitable prairie.
Voices In The Night
OCTOBER 14. -- At last we are free from the sea of vegeta- tion, the boisterous gale has moderated into a steady breeze, the sun is shining brightly, the weather is warm and genial, and thus, two reefs in her top-sails, briskly and merrily sails the Chancellor.Under conditions so favorable, we have been able to take the ship's bearings: our latitude, we find, is 21 deg. 33' N., our longitude, 50 deg. 17' W.
Incomprehensible altogether is the conduct of Captain Huntly. Here we are, already more than ten degrees south of the point from which we started, and yet still we are per- sistently following a southeasterly course! I cannot bring myself to the conclusion that the man is mad. I have had various conversations with him: he has always spoken rationally and sensibly. He shows no tokens of insanity. Perhaps his case is one of those in which insanity is partial, and where the mania is of a character which extends only to the matters connected with his profession. Yet it is un- accountable.
I can get nothing out of Curtis; he listens coldly when- ever I allude to the subject, and only repeats what he has said before, that nothing short of an overt act of madness on the part of the captain could induce him to supersede the captain's authority, and that the imminent peril of the ship could alone justify him in taking so decided a measure.
Last evening I went to my cabin about eight o'clock, and after an hour's reading by the light of my cabin-lamp, I retired to my berth and was soon asleep. Some hours later I was aroused by an unaccustomed noise on deck. There were heavy footsteps hurrying to and fro, and the voices of the men were loud and eager, as if the crew were agitated by some strange disturbance. My first impression was, that some tacking had been ordered which rendered it needful to fathom the yards; but the vessel continuing to lie to star- board convinced me that this was not the origin of the com- motion. I was curious to know the truth, and made all haste I could to go on deck; but before I was ready, the noise had ceased. I heard Captain Huntly return to his cabin, and accordingly I retired again to my own berth. Whatever may have been the meaning of the maneuver, I cannot tell; it did not seem to result in any improvement in the ship's pace; still it must be owned there was not much wind to speed us along.
At six o'clock this morning I mounted the poop and made as keen a scrutiny as I could of everything on board. Everything appeared as usual. The Chancellor was run- ning on the larboard tack, and carried low-sails, top-sails, and gallant-sails. Well braced she was; and under a fresh, but not uneasy breeze, was making no less than eleven knots an hour.
Shortly afterward M. Letourneur and Andre came on deck. The young man enjoyed the early morning air, laden with its briny fragrance, and I assisted him to mount the poop. In answer to my inquiry as to whether they had been disturbed by any bustle in the night, Andre replied that he did not wake at all, and had heard nothing.
"I am glad, my boy," said the father, "that you have slept so soundly. I heard the noise of which Mr. Kazallon speaks. It must have been about three o'clock this morning, and it seemed to me as though they were shouting. I thought I heard them say; 'Here, quick, look to the hatches!' but as nobody was called up, I presumed that nothing serious was the matter."
As he spoke I cast my eye at the panel-slides, which fore and aft of the main-mast open into the hold. They seemed to be all close as usual, but I now observed for the first time that they were covered with heavy tarpauling. Wondering in my own mind what could be the reason for these ex- tra precautions I did not say anything to M. Letourneur, but determined to wait until the mate should come on watch, when he would doubtless give me, I thought, an explanation of the mystery.
The sun rose gloriously, with every promise of a fine dry day. The waning moon was yet above the western horizon, for as it still wants three days to her last quarter she does not set until 10:57 A. M. On consulting my al- manac, I find that there will be a new moon on the 24th, and that on that day, little as it may affect us here in mid- ocean, the phenomenon of the high sygyzian tides will take place on the shores of every continent and island.
At the breakfast hour M. Letourneur and Andre went below for a cup of tea, and I remained on the poop alone. As I expected, Curtis appeared, that he might relieve Lieu- tenant Walter of the watch. I advanced to meet him, but be- fore he even wished me good morning, I saw him cast a quick and searching glance upon the deck, and then, with a slightly contracted brow, proceed to examine the state of the weather and the trim of the sails."Where is Captain Huntly?" he said to Walter. "I have seen nothing of him," answered the lieutenant; "is there anything fresh up?" "Nothing whatever," was the curt reply.
They then conversed for a few moments in an undertone, and I could see that Walter by his gesture gave a negative answer to some question which the mate had asked him. "Send me the boatswain, Walter," said Curtis aloud as the lieutenant moved away.
The boatswain immediately appeared, and another con- versation was carried on in whispers. The man repeatedly shook his head as he replied to Curtis's inquiries, and then, in obedience to orders, called the men who were on watch, and made them plentifully water the tarpauling that covered the great hatchway.
Curious to fathom the mystery I went up to Curtis and began to talk with him upon ordinary topics, hoping that he would himself introduce the subject that was uppermost in my mind; finding, however, that he did not allude to it, I asked him point blank: "What was the matter in the night, Curtis?"He looked at me steadily, but made no reply. "What was it?" I repeated. "M. Letourneur and my- self were both of us disturbed by a very unusual commotion overhead."
"Oh, a mere nothing," he said at length; "the man at the helm had made a false move, and we had to pipe hands to brace the ship a bit; but it was soon all put to rights. It was nothing, nothing at all."I said no more; but I can not resist the impression that Robert Curtis has not acted with me in his usual straight- forward manner.
Fire On Board
OCTOBER 15 to October 18. -- The wind is still in the northeast. There is no change in the Chancellor's course, and to an unprejudiced eye all would appear to be going on as usual. But I have an uneasy consciousness that some- thing is not quite right. Why should the hatchways be so hermetically closed as though a mutinous crew was im- prisoned between decks? I can not help thinking too that there is something in the sailors so constantly standing in groups and breaking off their talk so suddenly whenever we approach; and several times I have caught the word "hatches" which arrested M. Letourneur's attention on the night of the disturbance.On the 15th, while I was walking on the forecastle, I over- heard one of the sailors, a man named Owen, say to his mates: "Now I just give you all warning that I am not going to wait until the last minute. Everyone for himself, say I." "Why, what do you mean to do?" asked Jynxstrop, the cook. "Pshaw!" said Owen, "do you suppose that longboats were only made for porpoises?"
Something at that moment occurred to interrupt the con- versation, and I heard no more. It occurred to me whether there was not some conspiracy among the crew, of which probably Curtis had already detected the symptoms. I am quite aware that some sailors are most rebelliously disposed, and required to be ruled with a rod of iron.
Yesterday and to-day I have observed Curtis remonstrat- ing somewhat vehemently with Captain Huntly, but there is no obvious result arising from their interviews; the cap- tain apparently being bent upon some purpose, of which it is only too manifest that the mate decidedly disapproves.
Captain Huntly is undoubtedly laboring under strong nervous excitement; and M. Letourneur has more than once remarked how silent he has become at meal-times; for al- though Curtis continually endeavors to start some subject of general interest, yet neither Mr. Falsten, Mr. Kear, nor Mr. Ruby are the men to take it up, and consequently the conversation flags hopelessly, and soon drops. The pas- sengers too are now, with good cause, beginning to murmur at the length of the voyage, and Mr. Kear, who considers that the very elements ought to yield to his convenience, lets the captain know by his consequential and haughty manner that he holds him responsible for the delay.
During the course of yesterday the mate gave repeated orders for the deck to be watered again and again, and al- though as a general rule this is a business which is done, once for all, in the early morning, the crew did not utter a word of complaint at the additional work thus imposed upon them. The tarpaulins on the hatches have thus been kept con- tinually wet, so that their close and heavy texture is rendered quite impervious to the air. The Chancellor's pumps afford a copious supply of water, so that I should not suppose that even the daintiest and most luxurious craft belonging to an aristocratic yacht club was ever subject to a more thorough scouring. I tried to reconcile myself to the belief that it was the high temperature of the tropical regions upon which we are entering, that rendered such extra sousings a neces- sity, and recalled to my recollection how, during the night of the 13th, I had found the atmosphere below deck so stifling, that in spite of the heavy swell I was obliged to open the porthole of my cabin, on the starboard side, to get a breath of air.
This morning at daybreak I went on deck. The sun had scarcely risen, and the air was fresh and cool, in strange con- trast to the heat which below the poop had been quite op- pressive. The sailors as usual were washing the deck. A great sheet of water, supplied continuously by the pumps, was rolling in tiny wavelets, and escaping now to starboard, now to larboard through the scupper-holes. After watch- ing the men for a while as they ran about bare-footed, I could not resist the desire to join them, so taking off my shoes and stockings, I proceeded to dabble in the flowing water.Great was my amazement to find the deck perfectly hot to my feet! Curtis heard my exclamation of surprise, and be- fore I could put my thoughts into words, said: "Yes! there is fire on board!"
Curtis Explains The Situation
OCTOBER 19. -- Everything, then, is clear. The uneas- iness of the crew, their frequent conferences, Owen's mys- terious words, the constant scourings of the deck and the oppressive heat of the cabins which had been noticed even by my fellow-passengers, all are explained.
After his grave communication, Curtis remained silent. I shivered with a thrill of horror; a calamity the most ter- rible that can befall a voyager stared me in the face, and it was some seconds before I could recover sufficient com- posure to inquire when the fire was first discovered."Six days ago," replied the mate. "Six days ago!" I exclaimed; "why, then, it was that night."
"Yes," he said, interrupting me; "it was the night you heard the disturbance upon deck. The men on watch no- ticed a slight smoke issuing from the large hatchway and immediately called Captain Huntly and myself. We found beyond all doubt, that the cargo was on fire, and what was worse, that there was no possibility of getting at the seat of the combustion. What could we do? Why, we took the only precaution that was practicable under the circumstances, and resolved most carefully to exclude every breath of air from penetrating into the hold. For some time I hoped that we had been successful. I thought that the fire was stifled; but during the last three days there is every reason to make us know that it has been gaining strength. Do what we will, the deck gets hotter and hotter, and unless it were kept constantly wet, it would be unbearable to the feet. But I am glad, Mr. Kazallon," he added; "that you have made the discovery. It is better that you should know it." I listened in silence. I was now fully aroused to the gravity of the situation and thoroughly comprehended how we were in the very face of a calamity which it seemed that no human power could avert."Do you know what has caused the fire?" I presently inquired.
"It probably arose," he answered, "from the sponta- neous combustion of the cotton. The case is rare, but it is far from unknown. Unless the cotton is perfectly dry when it is shipped, its confinement in a damp or ill-ventilated hold will sometimes cause it to ignite; and I have no doubt it is this that has brought about our misfortune.""But after all," I said, "the cause matters very little. Is there no remedy? Is there nothing to be done?"
"Nothing, Mr. Kazallon," he said. "As I told you be- fore, we have adopted the only possible measure within our power to check the fire. At one time I thought of knock- ing a hole in the ship's timbers just on her water-line, and letting in just as much water as the pumps could afterward get rid of again; but we found the combustion was right in the middle of the cargo and that we should be obliged to flood the entire hold before we could get at the right place. That scheme consequently was no good. During the night, I had the deck bored in various places and water poured down through the holes; but that again seemed of no use. There is only one thing that can be done; we must persevere in excluding most carefully every breath of outer air, so that perhaps the conflagration, deprived of oxygen, may smoulder itself out. That is our only hope.""But, you say the fire is increasing?" "Yes; and that shows that in spite of all our care there is some aperture which we have not been able to discover, by which, somehow or other, air gets into the hold." "Have you ever heard of a vessel surviving such cir- cumstances?" I asked.
"Yes, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis; "it is not at all an unusual thing for ships laden with cotton to arrive at Liver- pool or Havre with a portion of their cargo consumed; and I have myself known more than one captain run into port with his deck scorching his very feet, and who, to save his vessel and the remainder of his freight has been compelled to un- load with the utmost expedition. But, in such cases, of course the fire has been more or less under control through- out the voyage; with us, it is increasing day by day, and I tell you I am convinced there is an aperture somewhere which has escaped our notice.""But would it not be advisable for us to retrace our course, and make for the nearest land?"
"Perhaps it would," he answered. "Walter and I, and the boatswain, are going to talk the matter over seriously with the captain to-day. But, between ourselves, I have taken the responsibility upon myself; I have already changed the tack to the southwest; we are now straight be- fore the wind, and consequently we are sailing toward the coast.""I need hardly ask," I added; "whether any of the other passengers are at all aware of the imminent danger in which we are placed."
"None of them," he said; "not in the least; and I hope you will not enlighten them. We don't want terrified women and cowardly men to add to our embarrassment; the crew are under orders to keep a strict silence on the subject. Silence is indispensable."I promised to keep the matter a profound secret, as I fully entered into Curtis's views as to the absolute necessity for concealment.
Picrate Of Potash On Board
OCTOBER 20 and 21. -- The Chancellor is now crowded with all the canvas she can carry, and at times her topmasts threaten to snap with the pressure. But Curtis is ever on the alert; he never leaves his post beside the man at the helm, and without compromising the safety of the vessel, he contrives, by tacking to the breeze, to urge her on at her utmost speed.
All day long on the 20th the passengers were assembled on the poop. Evidently they found the heat of the cabins painfully oppressive, and most of them lay stretched upon benches and quietly enjoyed the gentle rolling of the vessel. The increasing heat of the deck did not reveal itself to their well-shod feet, and the constant scouring of the boards did not excite any suspicion in their torpid minds. M. Letourneur, it is true, did express his surprise that the crew of an ordinary merchant vessel should be distinguished by such extraordinary cleanliness; but as I replied to him in a very casual tone, he passed no further remark. I could not help regretting that I had given Curtis my pledge of silence, and longed intensely to communicate the melancholy secret to the energetic Frenchman; for at times when I re- flect upon the eight-and-twenty victims who may probably, only too soon, be a prey to the relentless flames, my heart seems ready to burst.
The important consultation between captain, mate, lieuten- ant and boatswain has taken place. Curtis has confided the result to me. He says that Huntly, the captain, is completely demoralized; he has lost all power and energy; and practically leaves the command of the ship to him. It is now certain the fire is beyond control, and that sooner or later it will burst out in full violence. The temperature of the crew's quarters has already become almost unbearable. One solitary hope remains; it is that we may reach the shore before the final catastrophe occurs. The Lesser Antilles are the nearest land; and although they are some five or six hundred miles away, if the wind remains northeast there is yet a chance of reaching them in time.
Carrying royals and studding-sails, the Chancellor during the last four-and-twenty hours has held a steady course. M. Letourneur is the only one of all the passengers who has re- marked the change of tack; Curtis, however, has set all speculation on his part at rest by telling him that he wanted to get ahead of the wind, and that he was tacking to the west to catch a favorable current.
To-day, the 21st, all has gone on as usual; and as far as the observation of the passengers has reached, the ordinary routine has been undisturbed. Curtis indulges the hope even yet that by excluding the air the fire may be stifled be- fore it ignites the general cargo; he has hermetically closed every accessible aperture, and has even taken the precaution of plugging the orifices of the pumps, under the impression that their suction-tubes, running as they do to the bottom of the hold, may possibly be channels for conveying some molecules of air. Altogether, he considers it a good sign that the combustion has not betrayed itself by some external issue of smoke.
The day would have passed without any incident worth recording, if I had not chanced to overhear a fragment of a conversation which demonstrated that our situation, hitherto precarious enough, had now become most appalling.
As I was sitting on the poop, two of my fellow-passengers, Falsten, the engineer, and Ruby, the merchant, whom I had observed to be often in company, were engaged in conversa- tion almost close to me. What they said was evidently not intended for my hearing, but my attention was directed to- ward them by some very emphatic gestures of dissatisfaction on the part of Falsten, and I could not forbear listening to what followed."Preposterous! shameful!" exclaimed Falsten; "nothing could be more imprudent." "Pooh! pooh!" replied Ruby, "it's all right; it is not the first time I have done it." "But don't you know that any shock at any time might cause an explosion?" "Oh, it's all properly secured," said Ruby, "tight enough; I have no fears on that score, Mr. Falsten." "But why," asked Falsten, "did you not inform the cap- tain?" "Just because if I had informed him, he would not have taken the case on board."
The wind dropped for a few seconds; and for a brief in- terval I could not catch what passed; but I could see that Falsten continued to remonstrate, while Ruby answered by shrugging his shoulders. At length I heard Falsten say."Well, at any rate, the captain must be informed of this, and the package shall be thrown overboard. I don't want to be blown up."
I started. To what could the engineer be alluding? Evi- dently he had not the remotest suspicion that the cargo was already on fire. In another moment the words "picrate of potash" brought me to my feet, and with an involuntary impulse I rushed up to Ruby, and seized him by the shoulder."Is there picrate of potash on board?" I almost shrieked. "Yes," said Falsten, "a case containing thirty pounds." "Where is it?" I cried. "Down in the hold, with the cargo."
The Passengers Discover Their Danger
WHAT my feelings were I cannot describe; but it was hardly in terror so much as with a kind of resignation that I made my way to Curtis on the forecastle, and made him aware that the alarming character of our situation was now complete, as there was enough explosive matter on board to blow up a mountain. Curtis received the information as coolly as it was delivered, and after I had made him ac- quainted with all the particulars said, "Not a word of this must be mentioned to anyone else, Mr. Kazallon. Where is Ruby, now?""On the poop," I said. "Will you then come with me, sir?" Ruby and Falsten were sitting just as I had left them. Curtis walked straight up to Ruby, and asked him whether what he had been told was true. "Yes, quite true," said Ruby, complacently, thinking that the worst that could befall him would be that he might be convicted of a little smuggling.
I observed that Curtis was obliged for a moment or two to clasp his hands tightly together behind his back to pre- vent himself from seizing the unfortunate passenger by the throat; but suppressing his indignation, he proceeded quietly, though sternly, to interrogate him about the facts of the case. Ruby only confirmed what I had already told him. With characteristic Anglo-Saxon incautiousness he had brought on board, with the rest of his baggage, a case con- taining no less than thirty pounds of picrate, and had allowed the explosive matter to be stowed in the hold with as little compunction as a Frenchman would feel in smuggling a single bottle of wine. He had not informed the captain of the dangerous nature of the contents of the package, because he was perfectly aware that he would have been refused per- mission to bring the package on board.
"Anyway," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders, "you can't hang me for it; and if the package gives you so much concern, you are quite at liberty to throw it into the sea. My luggage is insured."I was beside myself with fury; and not being endowed with Curtis's reticence and selfcontrol, before he could in- terfere to stop me, I cried out: "You fool! don't you know that there is fire on board?"
In an instant I regretted my words. Most earnestly I wished them unuttered. But it was too late -- their effect upon Ruby was electrical. He was paralyzed with terror; his limbs stiffened convulsively; his eye was dilated; he gasped for breath, and was speechless. All of a sudden he threw up his arms, and, as though he momentarily expected an explosion, he darted down from the poop, and paced frantically up and down the deck, gesticulating like a mad- man, and shouting:"Fire on board! Fire! Fire!"
On hearing the outcry, all the crew, supposing that the fire had now in reality broken out, rushed on deck; the rest of the passengers soon joined them, and the scene that ensued was one of the utmost confusion. Mrs. Kear fell down senseless on the deck, and her husband, occupied in looking after himself, left her to the tender mercies of Miss Herbey. Curtis endeavored to silence Ruby's ravings, whilst I, in as few words as I could, made M. Letourneur aware of the extent to which the cargo was on fire. The father's first thought was for Andre, but the young man preserved an ad- mirable composure, and begged his father not to be alarmed, as the danger was not immediate. Meanwhile the sailors had loosened all the tacklings of the long-boat, and were pre- paring to launch it, when Curtis's voice was heard peremp- torily bidding them to desist; he assured them that the fire had made no further progress; that Mr. Ruby had been unduly excited and not conscious of what he had said; and he pledged his word that when the right moment should ar- rive he would allow them all to leave the ship; but that mo- ment, he said, had not yet come.
At the sound of a voice which they had learned to honor and respect, the crew paused in their operations, and the long-boat remained suspended in its place. Fortunately, even Ruby himself in the midst of his ravings, had not dropped a word about the picrate that had been deposited in the hold; for although the mate had a power over the sailors that Captain Huntly had never possessed, I feel cer- tain that if the true state of the case had been known, noth- ing on earth would have prevented some of them, in their consternation, from effecting an escape. As it was, only Curtis, Falsten, and myself were cognizant of the terrible secret.
As soon as order was restored, the mate and I joined Falsten on the poop, where he had remained throughout the panic, and where we found him with folded arms, deep in thought, as it might be, solving some hard mechanical prob- lem. He promised, at my request, that he would reveal nothing of the new danger to which we were exposed through Ruby's imprudence. Curtis himself took the re- sponsibility of informing Captain Huntly of our critical situation.
In order to insure complete secrecy, it was necessary to secure the person of the unhappy Ruby, who, quite beside himself, continued to rave up and down the deck with the incessant cry of "Fire! fire!" Accordingly Curtis gave or- ders to some of his men to seize him and gag him; and before he could make any resistance the miserable man was captured and safely lodged in confinement in his own cabin.
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, reentered 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 anxious predicament.
"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 than mine."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 concussion?"
"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."
We now prepared to go on deck. As we left the saloon, in which we had been sitting, Curtis seized my hand.
"Oh, Mr. Kazallon," he exclaimed, "if you only knew the bitterness of the agony I feel at seeing this fine vessel doomed to be devoured by flames, and at being so powerless to save her." Then quickly recovering himself, he continued: "But I am forgetting myself; you, if no other, must know what I am suffering. It is all over now," he said more cheerfully."Is our condition quite desperate?" I asked. "It is just this," he answered deliberately, "we are over a mine, and already the match has been applied to the train. How long that train may be, 'tis not for me to say." And with these words he left me.
The other passengers, in common with the crew, are still in entire ignorance of the extremity of peril to which we are exposed, although they are all aware that there is fire in the hold. As soon as the fact was announced, Mr. Kear, after communicating to Curtis his instructions that he thought he should have the fire immediately extinguished, and intimat- ing that he held him responsible for all contingencies that might happen, retired to his cabin, where he has remained ever since, fully occupied in collecting and packing together the more cherished articles of his property and without the semblance of a care or a thought for his unfortunate wife, whose condition, in spite of her ludicrous complaints, was truly pitiable. Miss Herbey, however, is unrelaxing in her attentions, and the unremitted diligence with which she fulfills her offices of duty, commands my highest ad- miration.OCTOBER 23. -- This morning, Captain Huntly sent for Curtis into his cabin, and the mate has since made me ac- quainted with what passed between them. "Curtis," began the captain, his haggard eye betraying only too plainly some mental derangement, "I am a sailor, am I not?" "Certainly, captain," was the prompt acquiescence of the mate.
"I do not know how it is," continued the captain, "but I seem bewildered; I can not recollect anything. Are we not bound for Liverpool? Ah! yes! of course. And have we kept a northeasterly direction since we left?""No, sir, according to your orders we have been sailing southeast, and here we are in the tropics." "And what is the name of the ship?"
"The Chancellor, sir." "Yes, yes, the Chancellor, so it is. Well, Curtis, I really can't take her back to the north. I hate the sea, the very sight of it makes me ill, I would much rather not leave my cabin."
Curtis went on to tell me how he had tried to persuade him that with a little time and care he would soon recover his indisposition, and feel himself again; but the captain had in- terrupted him by saying:
"Well, well; we shall see by-and-by; but for the present you must take this for my positive order; you must, from this time, at once take the command of the ship, and act just as if I were not on board. Under present circum- stances, I can do nothing. My brain is all in a whirl, you can not tell what I am suffering;" and the unfortunate man pressed both his hands convulsively against his forehead.
"I weighed the matter carefully for a moment," added Curtis, "and seeing what his condition too truly was, I ac- quiesced in all that he required and withdrew, promising him that all his orders should be obeyed."
After hearing these particulars, I could not help remark- ing how fortunate it was that the captain had resigned of his own accord, for although he might not be actually in- sane, it was very evident that his brain was in a very morbid condition."I succeeded him at a very critical moment," said Curtis thoughtfully; "but I shall endeavor to do my duty."
A short time afterward he sent for his boatswain and or- dered him to assemble the crew at the foot of the main-mast. As soon as the men were together, he addressed them very calmly, but very firmly.
"My men," he said, "I have to tell you that Captain Huntly, on account of the dangerous situation in which cir- cumstances have placed us, and for other reasons known to myself, has thought right to resign his command to me. From this time forward, I am captain of this vessel."
Thus quietly and simply was the change effected, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that the Chancellor is now under the command of a conscientious, energetic man, who will shirk nothing that he believes to be for our common good. M. Letourneur, Andre, Mr. Falsten, and myself im- mediately offered him our best wishes, in which Lieutenant Walter and the boatswain most cordially joined.The ship still holds her course southwest, and Curtis crowds on all sail and makes as speedily as possible for the nearest of the Lesser Antilles.
Between Fire And Water
OCTOBER 24 to 29. -- For the last five days the sea has been very heavy, and although the Chancellor sails with wind and wave in her favor, yet her progress is considerably im- peded. Here on board this veritable fire-ship I cannot help contemplating with a longing eye this vast ocean that sur- rounds us. The water supply should be all we need.
"Why not bore the deck?" I said to Curtis. "Why not admit the water by tons into the hold? What could be the harm? The fire would be quenched; and what would be easier than to pump the water out again?"
"I have already told you, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis, "that the very moment we admit the air, the flames will rush forth to the very top of the masts. No; we must have cour- age and patience; we must wait. There is nothing whatever to be done, except to close every aperture."
The fire continued to progress even more rapidly than we had hitherto suspected. The heat gradually drove the pas- sengers nearly all on deck, and the two stern cabins, lighted, as I said, by their windows in the aft-board were the only quarters below that were inhabitable. Of these Mrs. Kear occupied one, and Curtis reserved the other for Ruby, who, a raving maniac, had to be kept rigidly under restraint. I went down occasionally to see him, but invariably found him in a state of abject terror, uttering horrible shrieks, as though possessed with the idea that he was being scorched by the most excruciating heat.
Once or twice, too, I looked in upon the ex-captain. He was always calm and spoke quite rationally on any subject except his own profession; but in connection with that he prated away the merest nonsense. He suffered greatly, but steadily declined all my offers of attention, and pertina- ciously refused to leave his cabin.
To-day, an acrid, nauseating smoke made its way through the panelings that partition off the quarters of the crew. At once Curtis ordered the partition to be enveloped in wet tar- paulin, but the fumes penetrated even this, and filled the whole neighborhood of the ship's bows with a reeking vapor that was positively stifling. As we listened, too, we could hear a dull rumbling sound, but we were as mystified as ever to comprehend where the air could have entered that was evidently fanning the flames. Only too certainly, it was now becoming a question not of days nor even of hours before we must be prepared for the final catastrophe. The sea was still running high, and escape by the boats was plainly impossible. Fortunately, as I have said, the main- mast and the mizzen are of iron; otherwise the great heat at their base would long ago have brought them down and our chances of safety would have been very much imperiled; but by crowding on sail the Chancellor in the full northeast wind continued to make her way with undiminished speed.
It is now a fortnight since the fire was first discovered, and the proper working of the ship has gradually become a more and more difficult matter. Even with thick shoes any attempt to walk upon deck up to the forecastle was soon im- practicable, and the poop, simply because its floor is elevated somewhat above the level of the hold, is now the only avail- able standing-place. Water began to lose its effect upon the scorched and shriveling planks; the resin oozed out from the knots in the wood, the seams burst open, and the tar, melted by the heat, followed the rollings of the vessel, and formed fantastic patterns about the deck.
Then to complete our perplexity, the wind shifted sud- denly round to the northwest, whence it blew a perfect hur- ricane. To no purpose did Curtis do everything in his power to bring the ship ahull; every effort was in vain; the Chancellor could not bear her trysail, so there was nothing to be done but to let her go with the wind, and drift further and further from the land for which we are longing so eagerly.
To-day, the 29th, the tempest seemed to reach its height; the waves appeared to us mountains high, and dashed the spray most violently across the deck. A boat could not live a moment in such a sea.
Our situation is terrible. We all wait in silence, some few on the forecastle, the great proportion of us on the poop. As for the picrate, for the time we have quite for- gotten its existence; indeed it might almost seem as though its explosion would come as a relief, for no catastrophe, how- ever terrible, could far exceed the torture of our suspense.
While he had still the remaining chance, Curtis rescued from the store-room such few provisions as the heat of the compartment allowed him to obtain; and a lot of cases of salt meat and biscuits, a cask of brandy, some barrels of fresh water, together with some sails and wraps, a compass and other instruments are now lying packed in a mass all ready for prompt removal to the boats whenever we shall be obliged to leave the ship.
About eight o'clock in the evening, a noise is heard, dis- tinct even above the raging of the hurricane. The panels of the deck are upheaved, and volumes of black smoke issue up- ward as if from a safety-valve. A universal consternation seizes one and all; we must leave the volcano which is about to burst beneath our feet. The crew run to Curtis for or- ders. He hesitates; looks first at the huge and threatening waves; looks then at the boats. The long-boat is there, sus- pended right along the center of the deck; but it is impos- sible to approach it now; the yawl, however, hoisted on the starboard side, and the whaleboat suspended aft, are still available. The sailors make frantically for the yawl."Stop, stop," shouts Curtis; "do you mean to cut off our last and only chance of safety? Would you launch a boat in such a sea as this?" A few of them, with Owen at their head, give no heed to what he says. Rushing to the poop, and seizing a cutlass, Curtis shouts again:
"Touch the tackling of the davit, one of you; only touch it, and I'll cleave your skull." Awed by his determined manner, the men retire, some clambering into the shrouds, while others mount to the very top of the masts.
At eleven o'clock, several loud reports are heard, caused by the bursting asunder of the partitions of the hold. Clouds of smoke issue from the front, followed by a long tongue of lambent flame that seems to encircle the mizzen-mast. The fire now reaches to the cabin of Mrs. Kear, who, shrieking wildly, is brought on deck by Miss Herbey. A moment more, and Silas Huntly makes his appearance, his face all blackened with the grimy smoke; he bows to Curtis, as he passes, and then proceeds in the calmest manner to mount the aft-shrouds, and installs himself at the very top of the mizzen.
The sight of Huntly recalls to my recollection the prisoner still below, and my first impulse is to rush to the staircase and do what I can to set him free. But the maniac has al- ready eluded his confinement, and with singed hair and his clothes already alight, rushes upon deck. Like a sal- amander he passes across the burning deck with unscathed feet, and glides through the stifling smoke with unchoked breath. Not a sound escapes his lips.
Another loud report; the long-boat is shivered into frag- ments; the middle panel bursts the tarpaulin that covered it, and a stream of fire, free at length from the restraint that had held it, rises half-mast high."The picrate! the picrate!" shrieks the madman; "we shall all be blown up! the picrate will blow us all up." And in an instant, before we can get near him, he has buried himself, through the open hatchway, down into the fiery furnace below.
Breakers To Starboard!
OCTOBER 20. -- Night. -- The scene, as night came on, was terrible indeed. Notwithstanding the desperateness of our situation, however, there was not one of us so paralyzed by fear, but that we fully realized the horror of it all.
Poor Ruby, indeed, is lost and gone, but his last words were productive of serious consequences. The sailors caught his cry of "Picrate, picrate!" and being thus for the first time made aware of the true nature of their peril, they resolved at every hazard to accomplish their escape. Beside themselves with terror, they either did not, or would not, see that no boat could brave the tremendous waves that were raging around, and accordingly they made a frantic rush to- ward the yawl. Curtis again made a vigorous endeavor to prevent them, but this time all in vain; Owen urged them on, and already the tackling was loosened, so that the boat was swung over to the ship's side. For a moment it hung sus- pended in mid-air, and then, with a final effort from the sailors, it was quickly lowered into the sea. But scarcely had it touched the water, when it was caught by an enor- mous wave which, recoiling with resistless violence, dashed it to atoms against the Chancellor's side.
The men stood aghast; they were dumbfounded. Long- boat and yawl both gone, there was nothing now remaining to us but a small whale-boat. Not a word was spoken; not a sound was heard but the hoarse whistling of the wind, and the mournful roaring of the flames. From the center of the ship, which was hollowed out like a furnace, there issued a column of sooty vapor that ascended to the sky. All the passengers, and several of the crew, took refuge in the aft-quarters of the poop. Mrs. Kear was lying sense- less on one of the hen-coops, with Miss Herbey sitting pas- sively at her side; M. Letourneur held his son tightly clasped to his bosom. I saw Falsten calmly consult his watch, and note down the time in his memorandum-book, but I was far from sharing his composure, for I was overcome by a nervous agitation that I could not suppress.
As far as we knew, Lieutenant Walter, the boatswain, and such of the crew as were not with us, were safe in the bow; but it was impossible to tell how they were faring, because the sheet of fire intervened like a curtain, and cut off all communication between stem and stern.I broke the dismal silence, saying, "All over now Curtis." "No, sir, not yet," he replied, "now that the panel is open we will set to work, and pour water with all our might down into the furnace, and may be, we shall put it out, even yet." "But how can you work your pumps while the deck is burning? and how can you get at your men beyond that sheet of flame?"
He made no answer to my impetuous questions, and find- ing he had nothing more to say, I repeated that it was all over now.
After a pause, he said, "As long as a plank of the ship remains to stand on, Mr. Kazallon, I shall not give up my hope."
But the conflagration raged with redoubled fury, the sea around us was lighted with a crimson glow, and the clouds above shone with a lurid glare. Long jets of fire darted across the hatchways, and we were forced to take refuge on the taffrail at the extreme end of the poop. Mrs. Kear was laid in the whale-boat that hung from the stern. Miss Herbey persisting to the last in retaining her post by her side.
No pen could adequately portray the horrors of this fear- ful night. The Chancellor under bare poles, was driven, like a gigantic fire-ship with frightful velocity across the raging ocean; her very speed as it were, making common cause with the hurricane to fan the fire that was consuming her. Soon there could be no alternative between throwing ourselves into the sea, or perishing in the flames.But where, all this time, was the picrate? Perhaps, after all, Ruby had deceived us and there was no volcano, such as we dreaded, below our feet.
At half-past eleven, when the tempest seems at its very height, there is heard a peculiar roar distinguishable even above the crash of the elements. The sailors in an instant recognize its import."Breakers to starboard!" is the cry. Curtis leaps on to the netting, casts a rapid glance at the snow-white billows, and turning to the helmsman shouts with all his might, "Starboard the helm!"
But it is too late. There is a sudden shock; the ship is caught up by an enormous wave; she rises upon her beam ends; several times she strikes the ground; the mizzen-mast snaps short off level with the deck, falls into the sea, and the Chancellor is motionless.
THE night of the 29th continued. -- It was not yet mid- night; the darkness was most profound, and we could see nothing. But was it probable that we had stranded on the coast of America?Very shortly after the ship had thus come to a stand-still a clanking of chains was heard proceeding from her bows. "That is well," said Curtis; "Walter and the boatswain have cast both the anchors. Let us hope they will hold."
Then, clinging to the netting, he clambered along the starboard side, on which the ship had heeled, as far as the flames would allow him. He clung to the holdfasts of the shrouds, and in spite of the heavy seas that dashed against the vessel he maintained his position for a considerable time, evidently listening to some sound that had caught his ear in the midst of the tempest. In about a quarter of an hour he returned to the poop."Heaven be praised! " he said, "the water is coming in, and perhaps may get the better of the fire." "True," said I, "but what then?" "That," he replied, "is a question for bye-and-bye. We can think now only of the present."
Already I fancied that the violence of the flames was somewhat abated, and that the two opposing elements were in fierce contention. Some plank in the ship's side was evidently stove in, admitting free passage for the waves. But how, when the water had mastered the fire, should we be able to master the water? Our natural course would be to use the pumps, but these, in the very midst of the con- flagration, were quite unavailable.
For three long hours, in anxious suspense, we watched, and waited. Where we were we could not tell. One thing alone was certain; the tide was ebbing beneath us, and the waves were relaxing in their violence. Once let the fire be extinguished, and then, perhaps, there would be room to hope that the next high tide would set us afloat.
Toward half-past four in the morning the curtain of fire and smoke, which had shut off communication between the two extremities of the ship, became less dense, and we could faintly distinguish that party of the crew who had taken refuge in the forecastle; and before long, although it was impracticable to step upon the deck, the lieutenant and the boatswain contrived to clamber over the gunwale, along the rails, and joined Curtis on the poop.
Here they held a consultation, to which I was admitted. They were all of opinion that nothing could be done until daylight should give us something of an idea of our actual position. If we then found that we were near the shore, we would, weather permitting, endeavor to land, either in the boat or upon a raft. If, on the other hand, no land were in sight, and the Chancellor were ascertained to be stranded on some isolated reef, all we could do would be to get her afloat, and put her into condition for reaching the nearest coast. Curtis told us that it was long since he had been able to take any observation of latitude, but there was no doubt the northwest wind had driven us far to the south; and he thought, as he was ignorant of the existence of any reef in this part of the Atlantic, that it was just possible that we had been driven on to the coast of some portion of South America.
I reminded him that we were in momentary expectation of an explosion, and suggested that it would be advisable to abandon the ship and take refuge on the reef. But he would not hear of such a proceeding, said that the reef would probably be covered at high tide, and persisted in the original resolution, that no decided action could be taken before the daylight appeared.
I immediately reported this decision of the captain to my fellow-passengers. None of them seemed to realize the new danger to which the Chancellor may be exposed by be- ing cast upon an unknown reef, hundreds of miles it may be from land. All are for the time possessed with one idea, one hope; and that is, that the fire may now be quenched and the explosion averted.
And certainly their hopes seem in a fair way of being ful- filled. Already the raging flames that poured forth from the hatches have given place to dense black smoke, and al- though occasionally some fiery streaks dart across the dusky fumes, yet they are instantly extinguished. The waves are doing what pumps and buckets could never have effected; by their inundation they are steadily stifling the fire which was as steadily spreading to the whole bulk of the 1,700 bales of cotton.
Silas Huntly Rescued From The Waves
OCTOBER 30. -- At the first gleam of daylight we eagerly scanned the southern and western horizons, but the morn- ing mists limited our view. Land was nowhere to be seen. The tide was now almost at its lowest ebb, and the color of the few peaks of rock that jutted up around us showed that the reef on which we had stranded was of basaltic formation. There were now only about six feet of water around the Chancellor, though with a full freight she draws about fifteen. It was remarkable how far she had been carried on to the shelf of rock, but the number of times that she had touched the bottom before she finally ran aground left us no doubt that she had been lifted up and borne along on the top of an enormous wave. She now lies with her stern considerably higher than her bows, a position which renders walking upon the deck anything but an easy matter, moreover as the tide receded she heeled over so much to lar- board that at one time Curtis feared she would altogether capsize; that fear, however, since the tide has reached its lowest mark, has happily proved groundless.
At six o'clock some violent blows were felt against the ship's side, and at the same time a voice was distinguished, shouting loudly, "Curtis! Curtis!" Following the direc- tion of the cries we saw that the broken mizzen-mast was being washed against the vessel, and in the dusky morning twilight we could make out the figure of a man clinging to the rigging. Curtis, at the peril of his life, hastened to bring the man on board. It proved to be none other than Silas Huntly, who, after being carried overboard with the mast, had thus, almost by a miracle, escaped a watery grave. Without a word of thanks to his deliverer, the ex-captain, passive, like an automaton, passed on and took his seat in the most secluded corner of the poop. The broken mizzen may, perhaps, be of service to us at some future time, and with that idea it has been rescued from the waves and lashed securely to the stern.
By this time it was light enough to see for a distance of three miles round; but as yet nothing could be discerned to make us think that we were near a coast. The line of breakers ran for about a mile from southwest to northeast, and two hundred fathoms to the north of the ship an ir- regular mass of rocks formed a small islet. This islet rose about fifty feet above the sea, and was consequently above the level of the highest tides; while a sort of causeway, available at low water, would enable us to reach the island, if necessity required. But there the reef ended; beyond it the sea again resumed its somber hue, betokening deep water. In all probability, then, this was a solitary shoal, unattached to a shore, and the gloom of a bitter disappoint- ment began to weigh upon our spirits.
In another hour the mists had totally disappeared, and it was broad daylight. I and M. Letourneur stood watching Curtis as he continued eagerly to scan the western horizon. Astonishment was written on his countenance; to him it appeared perfectly incredible that, after our course for so long had been due south from the Bermudas, no land should be in sight. But not a speck, however minute, broke the clearly-defined line that joined sea and sky. After a time Curtis made his way along the netting to the shrouds, and swung himself quickly up to the top of the mainmast. For several minutes he remained there examining the open space around, then seizing one of the backstays he glided down and rejoined us on the poop."No land in sight," he said, in answer to our eager looks. At this point Mr. Kear interposed, and in a gruff, ill- tempered tone, asked Curtis where we were. Curtis replied that he did not know. "You don't know, sir? Then all I can say is that you ought to know!" exclaimed the petroleum merchant. "That may be, sir; but at present I am as ignorant of our whereabouts as you are yourself," said Curtis. "Well," said Mr. Kear, "just please to know that I don't want to stay forever on your everlasting ship, so I beg you will make haste and start off again."
Curtis condescended to make no other reply than a shrug of the shoulders, and turning away he informed M. Letour- neur and myself that if the sun came out he intended to take its altitude and find out to what part of the ocean we had been driven.
His next care was to distribute preserved meat and biscuit among the passengers and crew already half fainting with hunger and fatigue, and then he set to work to devise measures for setting the ship afloat.
The conflagration was greatly abated; no flames now ap- peared, and although some black smoke still issued from the interior, yet its volume was far less than before. The first step was to discover how much water had entered the hold. The deck was still too hot to walk upon; but after two hours' irrigation the boards became sufficiently cool for the boatswain to proceed to take some soundings, and he shortly afterward announced that there were five feet of water below. This the captain determined should not be pumped out at present, as he wanted it thoroughly to do its duty before he got rid of it.
The next subject for consideration was whether it would be advisable to abandon the vessel, and to take refuge on the reef. Curtis thought not; and the lieutenant and the boatswain agreed with him. The chances of an explosion were greatly diminished, as it had been ascertained that the water had reached that part of the hold in which Ruby's luggage had been deposited; while, on the other hand, in the event of rough weather, our position even upon the most elevated points of rock might be very critical. It was ac- cordingly resolved that both passengers and crew were saf- est on board.
Acting upon this decision we proceeded to make a kind of encampment on the poop, and a few mattresses that were rescued uninjured have been given up for the use of the two ladies. Such of the crew as had saved their hammocks have been told to place them under the forecastle where they would have to stow themselves as best they could, their ordinary quarters being absolutely uninhabitable.
Fortunately, although the store-room has been consider- ably exposed to the heat, its contents are not very seriously damaged, and all the barrels of water and the greater part of the provisions are quite intact. The stock of spare sails, which had been packed away in front, is also free from in- jury. The wind has dropped considerably since the early morning, and the swell in the sea is far less heavy. On the whole our spirits are reviving and we begin to think we may yet find a way out of our troubles.
M. Letourneur, his son, and I, have just had a long con- versation about the ship's officers. We consider their con- duct, under the late trying circumstances, to have been most exemplary, and their courage, energy, and endurance to have been beyond all praise. Lieutenant Walter, the boat- swain, and Dowlas the carpenter have all alike distinguished themselves, and made us feel that they are men to be relied on. As for Curtis, words can scarcely be found to express our admiration of his character; he is the same as he has ever been, the very life of his crew, cheering them on by word or gesture; finding an expedient for every difficulty, and always foremost in every action.
The tide turned at seven this morning, and by eleven all the rocks were submerged, none of them being visible ex- cept the cluster of those which formed the rim of a small and almost circular basin from 230 to 300 feet in diameter, in the north angle of which the ship is lying. As the tide rose the white breakers disappeared, and the sea, fortunately for the Chancellor, was pretty calm; otherwise the dashing of the waves against her sides, as she lies motionless, might have been attended by serious consequences.
As might be supposed, the height of the water in the hold increased with the tide from five feet to nine; but this was rather a matter of congratulation, inasmuch as it sufficed to inundate another layer of cotton.
At half-past eleven the sun, which had been behind the clouds since ten o'clock, broke forth brightly. The captain, who had already in the morning been able to calculate an horary angle, now prepared to take the meridian altitude, and succeeded at midday in making his observation most satisfactorily. After retiring for a short time to calculate the result, he returned to the poop and announced that we are in lat. 18 deg. 5' N. and long. 45 deg. 53' W., but that the reef on which we are aground is not marked on the charts. The only explanation that can be given for the omission is that the islet must be of recent formation, and has been caused by some subterranean volcanic disturbance. But whatever may be the solution of the mystery, here we are 800 miles from land; for such, on consulting the map, we find to be the actual distance to the coast of Guiana, which is the near- est shore. Such is the position to which we have been brought, in the first place, by Huntly's senseless obstinacy, and, secondly, by the furious northwest gale. Yet, after all, the captain's communication does not dis- hearten us. As I said before, our spirits are reviving. We have escaped the peril of fire; the fear of explosion is past and gone: and oblivious of the fact that the ship with a hold full of water is only too likely to founder when she puts out to sea, we feel a confidence in the future that for- bids us to despond.
Meanwhile Curtis prepares to do all that common sense demands. He proposes, when the fire is quite extinguished, to throw overboard the whole, or the greater portion of the cargo, including, of course, the picrate; he will next plug up the leak, and then, with a lightened ship, he will take ad- vantage of the first high tide to quit the reef as speedily as possible.
M. Letourneur Is Pessimistic
OCTOBER 30. -- Once again I talked to M. Letourneur about our situation, and endeavored to animate him with the hope that we should not be detained for long in our present pre- dicament; but he could not be brought to take a very san- guine view of our prospects."But surely," I protested, "it will not be difficult to throw overboard a few hundred bales of cotton; two or three days at most will suffice for that."
"Likely enough," he replied, "when the business is once begun; but you must remember, Mr. Kazallon, that the very heart of the cargo is still smoldering, and that it will still be several days before anyone will be able to venture into the hold. Then the leak, too, that has to be caulked; and, un- less it is stopped up very effectually, we shall only be doomed most certainly to perish at sea. Don't then, be deceiving yourself; it must be three weeks at least before you can ex- pect to put out to sea. I can only hope meanwhile that the weather will continue propitious; it wouldn't take many storms to knock the Chancellor, shattered as she is, com- pletely into pieces."
Here, then, was the suggestion of a new danger to which we were to be exposed; the fire might be extinguished, the water might be got rid of by the pumps, but, after all, we must be at the mercy of the wind and waves; and, although the rocky island might afford a temporary refuge from the tempest, what was to become of passengers and crew if the vessel should be reduced to a total wreck? I made no remonstrance, however, to this view of our case, but merely asked M. Letourneur if he had confidence in Robert Curtis?
"Perfect confidence," he answered; "and I acknowledge it most gratefully, as a providential circumstance, that Cap- tain Huntly had given him the command in time. What- ever man can do I know that Curtis will not leave undone to extricate us from our dilemma."
Prompted by this conversation with M. Letourneur I took the first opportunity of trying to ascertain from Curtis himself how long he reckoned we should be obliged to re- main upon the reef; but he merely replied, that it must de- pend upon circumstances, and that he hoped the weather would continue favorable. Fortunately the barometer is rising steadily, and there is every sign of a prolonged calm.
Meantime Curtis is taking active measures for totally extinguishing the fire. He is at no great pains to spare the cargo, and as the bales that lie just above the level of the water are still a-light he has resorted to the expedient of thoroughly saturating the upper layers of the cotton, in order that the combustion may be stifled between the mois- ture descending from above and that ascending from below. This scheme has brought the pumps once more into requisi- tion. At present the crew are adequate to the task of work- ing them, but I and some of our fellow-passengers are ready to offer our assistance whenever it shall be necessary.
With no immediate demand upon our labor, we are thrown upon our own resources for passing our time. M. Letourneur, Andre, and myself, have frequent conversa- tions; I also devote an hour or two to my diary. Falsten holds little communication with any of us, but remains ab- sorbed in his calculations, and amuses himself by tracing mechanical diagrams with ground-plan, section, elevation, all complete. It would be a happy inspiration if he could invent some mighty engine that could set us all afloat again. Mr. and Mrs. Kear, too, hold themselves aloof from their fellow-passengers, and we are not sorry to be relieved from the necessity of listening to their incessant grumbling; un- fortunately, however, they carry off Miss Herbey with them, so that we enjoy little or nothing of the young lady's society. As for Silas Huntly, he has become a complete nonen- tity; he exists, it is true, but merely, it would seem, to vegetate.
Hobart, the steward, an obsequious, sly sort of fellow, goes through his routine of duties just as though the vessel were pursuing her ordinary course; and, as usual, is con- tinually falling out with Jynxstrop, the cook, an impudent, ill-favored negro, who interferes with the other sailors in a manner which, I think, ought not to be allowed.
Since it appears likely that we shall have abundance of time on our hands, I have proposed to M. Letourneur and his son that we shall together explore the reef on which we are stranded. It is not very probable that we shall be able to discover much about the origin of this strange accumula- tion of rocks, yet the attempt will at least occupy us for some hours, and will relieve us from the monotony of our confinement on board. Besides, as the reef is not marked in any of the maps, I could not but believe that it would be rendering a service to hydrography if we were to take an accurate plan of the rocks, of which Curtis could afterward verify the true position by a second observation made with a closer precision than the one he has already taken.
M. Letourneur agrees to my proposal, Curtis has promised to let us have the boat and some sounding-lines, and to allow one of the sailors to accompany us; so to-morrow morning, we hope to make our little voyage of investigation.
We Explore The Reef
OCTOBER 31 to November 5. -- Our first proceeding on the morning of the 31st was to make the proposed tour of the reef, which is about a quarter of a mile long. With the aid of our sounding-lines we found that the water was deep, right up to the very rocks, and that no shelving shores prevented us coasting along them. There was not a shadow of doubt as to the rock being of purely volcanic origin, up- heaved by some mighty subterranean convulsion. It is formed of blocks of basalt, arranged in perfect order, of which the regular prisms give the whole mass the effect of being one gigantic crystal; and the remarkable transparency of the sea enabled us plainly to observe the curious shafts of the prismatic columns that support the marvelous sub- structure."This is indeed a singular island," said M. Letourneur; "evidently it is of quite recent origin."
"Yes, father," said Andre, "and I should think it has been caused by a phenomenon similar to those which pro- duced the Julia Island, off the coast of Sicily, or the group of the Santorini, in the Grecian Archipelago. One could almost fancy that it had been created expressly for the Chan- cellor to strand upon."
"It is very certain," I observed, "that some upheaving has lately taken place. This is by no means an unfrequented part of the Atlantic, so that it is not at all likely that it could have escaped the notice of sailors if it had been always in existence; yet it is not marked even in the most modern charts. We must try and explore it thoroughly and give future navigators the benefit of our observations."
"But, perhaps, it will disappear as it came," said Andre. "You are no doubt aware, Mr. Kazallon, that these volcanic islands sometimes have a very transitory existence. Not impossibly, by the time it gets marked upon the maps it may no longer be here."
"Never mind, my boy," answered his father, "it is bet- ter to give warning of a danger that does not exist than overlook one that does. I dare say the sailors will not grumble much, if they don't find a reef where we have marked one."
"No, I dare say not, father," said Andre, "and after all this island is very likely as firm as a continent. However, if it is to disappear, I expect Captain Curtis would be glad to see it take its departure as soon as possible after he has finished his repairs; it would save him a world of trouble in getting his ship afloat."
"Why, what a fellow you are, Andre!" I said, laugh- ing; "I believe you would like to rule Nature with a magic wand, first of all, you would call up a reef from the depth of the ocean to give the Chancellor time to extinguish her flames, and then you would make it disappear just that the ship might be free again."
Andre smiled; then, in a more serious tone, he expressed his gratitude for the timely help that had been vouchsafed us in our hour of need.
The more we examined the rocks that formed the base of the little island, the more we became convinced that its formation was quite recent. Not a mollusk, not a tuft of seaweed was found clinging to the sides of the rocks; not a germ had the wind carried to its surface, not a bird had taken refuge amid the crags upon its summits. To a lover of natural history, the spot did not yield a single point of interest; the geologist alone would find subject of study in the basaltic mass.
When we reached the southern point of the island I pro- posed that we should disembark. My companions readily assented, young Letourneur jocosely observing that if the little island was destined to vanish, it was quite right that it should first be visited by human beings. The boat was accordingly brought alongside, and we set foot upon the reef, and began to ascend the gradual slope that leads to its highest elevation.
The walking was not very rough, and as Andre could get along tolerably well without the assistance of an arm, he led the way, his father and I following close behind. A quarter of an hour sufficed to bring us to the loftiest point in the islet, when we seated ourselves on the basaltic prism that crowned its summit.Andre took a sketch-book from his pocket, and proceeded to make a drawing of the reef. Scarcely had he completed the outline when his father exclaimed: "Why, Andre, you have drawn a ham!" "Something uncommonly like it, I confess," replied Andre. "I think we had better ask Captain Curtis to let us call our island Ham Rock." "Good," said I; "though sailors will need to keep it at a respectful distance, for they will scarcely find that their teeth are strong enough to tackle it."
M. Letourneur was quite correct; the outline of the reef as it stood clearly defined against the deep green water resembled nothing so much as a fine York ham, of which the little creek, where the Chancellor had been stranded, corresponded to the hollow place above the knuckle. The tide at this time was low, and the ship now lay heeled over very much to the starboard side, the few points of rock that emerged in the extreme south of the reef plainly marking the narrow passage through which she had been forced before she finally ran aground.
As soon as Andre had finished his sketch we descended by a slope as gradual as that by which we had come up, and made our way toward the west. We had not gone very far when a beautiful grotto, perfect as an architectural struc- ture, arrested our attention. M. Letourneur and Andre, who have visited the Hebrides, pronounced it to be a Fingal's cave in miniature; a Gothic chapel that might form a fit vestibule for the cathedral cave of Staffa. The basaltic rocks had cooled down into the same regular concentric prisms; there was the same dark canopied roof with its in- terstices filled up with its yellow lutings; the same precision of outline in the prismatic angles, sharp as though chiseled by a sculptor's hand; the same sonorous vibration of the air across the basaltic rocks, of which the Gaelic poets have feigned that the harps of the Fingal minstrelsy were made. But whereas at Staffa the floor of the cave is always covered with a sheet of water, here the grotto was beyond the reach of all but the highest waves, while the prismatic shafts them- selves formed quite a solid pavement.
After remaining nearly an hour in our newly-discovered grotto we returned to the Chancellor, and communicated the result of our explorations to Curtis, who entered the island upon his chart, by the name Andre Letourneur had pro- posed.
Since its discovery we have not permitted a day to pass without spending some time in our Ham Rock grotto. Curtis has taken an opportunity of visiting it, but he is too preoccupied with other matters to have much interest to spare for the wonders of nature. Falsten, too, came once and examined the character of the rocks, knocking and chipping them about with all the mercilessness of a geologist. Mr. Kear would not trouble himself to leave the ship; and although I asked his wife to join us in one of our excursions she declined, upon the plea that the fatigue, as well as the inconvenience of embarking in the boat, would be more than she could bear.
Miss Herbey, only to thankful to escape even for an hour from her capricious mistress, eagerly accepted M. Letour- neur's invitation to pay a visit to the reef, but to her great disappointment Mrs. Kear at first refused point-blank to allow her to leave the ship. I felt intensely annoyed, and re- solved to intercede in Miss Herbey's favor; and as I had already rendered that self-indulgent lady sundry services which she though she might probably be glad again to ac- cept, I gained my point, and Miss Herbey has several times been permitted to accompany us across the rocks, where the young girl's delight at her freedom has been a pleasure to behold.
Sometimes we fish along the shore, and then enjoy a luncheon in the grotto, while the basalt columns vibrate like harps to the breeze. This arid reef, little as it is, compared with the cramped limits of the Chancellor's deck is like some vast domain; soon there will be scarcely a stone with which we are not familiar, scarcely a portion of its surface which we have not trodden, and I am sure that when the hour of departure arrives we shall leave it with regret.
In the course of conversation, Andre Letourneur one day happened to say that he believed the island of Staffa be- longed to the Macdonald family, who let it for the small sum of L.12 a year.
"I suppose then," said Miss Herbey, "that we should hardly get more than half-a-crown a year for our pet little island."
"I don't think you would get a penny for it. Miss Herbey; but are you thinking of taking a lease?" I said laughing.
Andre murmured some expression of assent, and we all felt that there was something touching in the words of the orphaned, friendless girl who had found her long-lost sense of happiness on a lonely rock in the Atlantic.
The Cargo Unloaded
NOVEMBER 6 to November 15. -- For the first five days after the Chancellor had run aground, there was a dense black smoke continually rising from the hold; but it grad- ually diminished until the 6th of November, when we might consider that the fire was extinguished. Curtis, neverthe- less, deemed it prudent to persevere in working the pumps, which he did until the entire hull of the ship, right up to the deck, had been completely inundated.
The rapidity, however, with which the water, at every re- treat of the tide, drained off to the level of the sea, was an indication that the leak must be of considerable magnitude; and such, on investigation, proved to be the case. One of the sailors, named Flaypole, dived one day at low water to ex- amine the extent of the damage, and found that the hole was not much less than four feet square, and was situated thirty feet fore of the helm, and two feet above the rider of the keel; three planks had been stove in by a sharp point of rock and it was only a wonder that the violence with which the heavily-laden vessel had been thrown ashore did not result in the smashing in of many parts beside.
As it would be a couple of days or more before the hold would be in a condition for the bales of cotton to be removed for the carpenter to examine the damage from the interior of the ship, Curtis employed the interval in having the broken mizzen-mast repaired. Dowlas the carpenter, with con- siderable skill, contrived to mortise it into its former stump. and made the junction thoroughly secure by strong iron- belts and bolts. The shrouds, the stays and backstays, were then carefully refitted, some of the sails were changed, and the whole of the running rigging was renewed. Injury, to some extent, had been done to the poop and to the crew's lockers in the front; but time and labor were all that were wanted to make them good; and with such a will did every- body set to work that it was not long before all the cabins were again available for use.
On the 8th the unlading of the ship commenced. Pulleys and tackling were put over the hatches, and passengers and crew together proceeded to haul up the heavy bales which had been deluged so frequently by water that the cotton was all but spoiled. One by one the sodden bales were placed in the boat to be transported to the reef. After the first layer of cotton had been removed it became necessary to drain off part of the water that filled the hold. For this purpose the leak in the side had somehow or other to be stopped, and this was an operation which was cleverly accomplished by Dowlas and Flaypole, who contrived to dive at low tide and nail a sheet of copper over the entire hole. This, how- ever, of itself would have been utterly inadequate to sustain the pressure that would arise from the action of the pumps; so Curtis ordered that a number of the bales should be piled up inside against the broken planks. The scheme succeeded very well, and as the water got lower and lower in the hold the men were enabled to r‚sum‚ their task of unlading.
Curtis thinks it quite probable that the leaks may be mended from the interior. By far the best way of repairing the damage would be to careen the ship, and to shift the planking, but the appliances are wanting for such an un- dertaking; moreover, any bad weather which might occur while the ship was on her flank would only too certainly be fatal to her altogether. But the captain has very little doubt that by some device or other he shall manage to patch up the hole in such a way as will insure our reaching land in safety.
After two days' toil the water was entirely reduced, and without further difficulty the unlading was completed. All of us, including even Andre Letourneur, have been taking our turn at the pumps, for the work is so extremely fatiguing that the crew require some occasional respite; arms and back soon become strained and weary with the incessant swing of the handles, and I can well understand the dislike which sailors always express to the labor.
One thing there is which is much in our favor; the ship lies on a firm and solid bottom, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are not contending with a flood that encroaches faster than it can be resisted. Heaven grant that we may not be called to make like efforts, and to make them hopelessly, for a foundering ship!
Examination Of The Hold
NOVEMBER 15 to 20. -- The examination of the hold has at last been made. Among the first things that were found was the case of picrate, perfectly intact, having neither been injured by the water, nor of course reached by the flames. Why it was not at once pitched into the sea I cannot say; but it was merely conveyed to the extremity of the island, and there it remains.
While they were below, Curtis and Dowlas made them- selves acquainted with the full extent of the mischief that had been done by the conflagration. They found that the deck and the cross-beams that supported it had been much less injured than they expected, and the thick, heavy planks had only been scorched very superficially. But the action of the fire on the flanks of the ship had been of a much more serious character; a long portion of the inside boarding had been burned away, and the very ribs of the vessel were con- siderably damaged; the oakum caulkings had all started away from the butt-ends and seams; so much so that it was little short of a miracle that the whole ship had not long since gaped completely open.The captain and the carpenter returned to the deck with anxious faces. Curtis lost no time in assembling pas- sengers and crew, and announcing to them the facts of the case.
"My friends," he said, "I am here to tell you that the Chancellor has sustained far greater injuries than we sus- pected, and that her hull is very seriously damaged. If we had been stranded anywhere else than on a barren reef, that may at any time be overwhelmed by a tempestuous sea, I should not have hesitated to take the ship to pieces, and con- struct a smaller vessel that might have carried us safely to land; but I dare not run the risk of remaining here. We are now 800 miles from the coast of Paramaribo, the nearest portion of Dutch Guiana, and in ten or twelve days, if the weather should be favorable, I believe we could reach the shore. What I now propose to do is to stop the leak by the best means we can command, and make at once for the nearest port."
As no better plan seemed to suggest itself, Curtis's proposal was unanimously accepted. Dowlas and his assistants im- mediately set to work to repair the charred frame-work of the ribs, and to stop the leak; they took care thoroughly to calk from the outside all the seams that were above low water mark; lower than that they were unable to work, and had to content themselves with such repairs as they could effect in the interior. But after all the pains there is no doubt the Chancellor is not fit for a long voyage, and would be condemned as unseaworthy at any port at which we might put in.To-day the 20th, Curtis having done all that human power could do to repair his ship, determined to put her to sea.
Ever since the Chancellor had been relieved of her cargo, and of the water in her hold, she had been able to float in the little natural basin into which she had been driven. The basin was enclosed on either hand by rocks that remained uncovered even at high water, but was sufficiently wide to allow the vessel to turn quite round at its broadest part, and by means of hawsers fastened on the reef to be brought with her bows towards the south; while, to prevent her being carried back on to the reef, she has been anchored fore and aft.
To all appearance, then, it seemed as though it would be an easy matter to put the Chancellor to sea; if the wind were favorable the sails would be hoisted; if otherwise, she would have to be towed through the narrow passage. All seemed simple. But unlookedfor difficulties had yet to be surmounted.
The mouth of the passage is guarded by a kind of ridge of basalt, which at high tide we knew was barely covered with sufficient water to float the Chancellor, even when en- tirely unfreighted. To be sure she had been carried over the obstacle once before, but then, as I have already said, she had been caught up by an enormous wave, and might have been said to be LIFTED over the barrier into her pres- ent position. Besides, on that ever memorable night, there had not only been the ordinary spring-tide, but an equinoctial tide, such a one as could not be expected to occur again for many months. Waiting was out of the question; so Curtis determined to run the risk, and to take advantage of the spring-tide, which would occur to-day, to make an attempt to get the ship, lightened as she was, over the bar; after which, he might ballast her sufficiently to sail.
The wind was blowing from the northwest, and conse- quently right in the direction of the passage. The captain, however, after a consultation, preferred to tow the ship over the ridge, as he considered it was scarcely safe to allow a vessel of doubtful stability at full sail to charge an obstacle that would probably bring her to a dead lock. Before the operation was commenced, Curtis took the precaution of having an anchor ready in the stern, for, in the event of the attempt being unsuccessful, it would be necessary to bring the ship back to her present moorings. Two more anchors were next carried outside the passage, which was not more than two hundred feet in length. The chains were attached to the windlass, the sailors worked at the hand-spikes, and at four o'clock in the afternoon the Chancellor was in mo- tion.
High tide would be at twenty minutes past four, and at ten minutes before that time the ship had been hauled as far as her sea-range would allow; her keel grazed the ridge, and her progress was arrested. When the lowest part of her stern, however, just cleared the obstruction, Curtis deemed that there was no longer any reason why the mechanical ac- tion of the wind should not be brought to bear and con- tribute its assistance. Without delay, all sails were unfurled and trimmed to the wind. The tide was exactly at its height, passengers and crew together were at the windlass, M. Letourneur, Andre, Falsten, and myself being at the star- board bar. Curtis stood upon the poop, giving his chief attention to the sails; the lieutenant was on the forecastle; the boatswain by the helm. The sea seemed propitiously calm and; as it swelled gently to and fro, lifted the ship several times.
"Now, my boys," said Curtis, in his calm clear voice, "all together! Off!" Round went the windlass; click, click, clanked the chains as link by link they were forced through the hawse-holes.
The breeze freshened, and the masts gave to the pressure of the sails, but round and round we went, keeping time in regular monotony to the sing-song tune hummed by one of the sailors.We had gained about twenty feet, and were redoubling our efforts when the ship grounded again.
And now no effort would avail; all was in vain; the tide began to turn: and the Chancellor would not advance an inch. Was there time to go back? She would inevitably go to pieces if left balanced upon the ridge. In an instant the cap- tain has ordered the sails to be furled, and the anchor dropped from the stern.One moment of terrible anxiety, and all is well. The Chancellor tacks to stern, and glides back into the basin, which is once more her prison. "Well, captain," says the boatswain, "what's to be done now?" "I don't know," said Curtis, "but we shall get across somehow."
The "Chancellor" Released From Her Prison
NOVEMBER 21 TO 24. -- There was assuredly no time to be lost before we ought to leave Ham Rock reef. The barom- eter had been falling ever since the morning, the sea was getting rougher, and there was every symptom that the weather, hitherto so favorable, was on the point of breaking; and in the event of a gale the Chancellor must inevitably be dashed to pieces on the rocks.
In the evening, when the tide was quite low, and the rocks uncovered, Curtis, the boatswain, and Dowlas went to exam- ine the ridge which had proved so serious an obstruction. Falsten and I accompanied them. We came to the conclu- sion that the only way of effecting a passage was by cutting away the rocks with pikes over a surface measuring ten feet by six. An extra depth of nine or ten inches would give a sufficient gauge, and the channel might be accurately marked out by buoys; in this way it was conjectured the ship might be got over the ridge and so reach the deep water beyond."But this basalt is as hard as granite," said the boatswain; "besides, we can only get at it at low water, and conse- quently could only work at it for two hours out of the twenty-four." "All the more reason why we should begin at once, boat- swain," said Curtis. "But if it is to take us a month, captain, perhaps by that time the ship may be knocked to atoms. Couldn't we man- age to blow up the rock? we have got some powder aboard." "Not enough for that," said the boatswain. "You have something better than powder," said Falsten. "What's that?" asked the captain. "Picrate of potash," was the reply.
And so the explosive substance with which poor Ruby had so grievously imperiled the vessel was now to serve her in good stead, and I now saw what a lucky thing it was that the case had been deposited safely on the reef, instead of be- ing thrown into the sea.
The sailors went off at once for their pikes, and Dowlas and his assistants, under the direction of Falsten, who, as an engineer, understood such matters, proceeded to hollow out a mine wherein to deposit the powder. At first we hoped that everything would be ready for the blasting to take place on the following morning, but when daylight appeared we found that the men, although they had labored with a will, had only been able to work for an hour at low water and that four tides must ebb before the mine had been sunk to the required depth.
Not until eight o'clock on the morning of the 23d was the work complete. The hole was bored obliquely in the rock, and was large enough to contain about ten pounds of explosive matter. Just as the picrate was being introduced into the aperture, Falsten interposed:
"Stop," he said, "I think it will be best to mix the picrate with common powder, as that will allow us to fire the mine with a match instead of the gun-priming which would be necessary to produce a shock. Besides, it is an understood thing that the addition of gunpowder renders picrate far more effective in blasting such rocks as this, as then the violence of the picrate prepares the way for the powder which, slower in its action, will complete the disseverment of the basalt."
Falsten is not a great talker, but what he does say is al- ways very much to the point. His good advice was imme- diately followed; the two substances were mixed together, and after a match had been introduced the compound was rammed closely into the hole.
Notwithstanding that the Chancellor was at a distance from the rocks that insured her from any danger of being injured by the explosion, it was thought advisable that the passengers and crew should take refuge in the grotto at the extremity of the reef, and even Mr. Kear, in spite of his many objections, was forced to leave the ship. Falsten, as soon as he had set fire to the match, joined us in our retreat.
The train was to burn for ten minutes, and at the end of that time the explosion took place; the report, on account of the depth of the mine, being muffled, and much less noisy than we had expected. But the operation had been perfectly successful. Before we reached the ridge we could see that the basalt had been literally reduced to powder, and that a little channel, already being filled by the rising tide, had been cut right through the obstacle. A loud hurrah rang through the air; our prison-doors were opened, and we were prison- ers no more.
At high tide the Chancellor weighed anchor and floated out into the sea, but she was not in a condition to sail until she had been ballasted; and for the next twenty-four hours the crew were busily employed in taking up blocks of stone, and such of the bales of cotton as had sustained the least amount of injury.
In the course of the day, M. Letourneur, Andre, Miss Herbey, and I took a farewell walk round the reef, and Andre, with artistic skill, carved on the wall of the grotto the word Chancellor -- the designation of Ham Rock, which we had given to the reef -- and the date of our running aground. Then we bade adieu to the scene of our three weeks' sojourn, where we had passed days that to some at least of our party will be reckoned as far from being the least happy of their lives.
At high tide this morning, the 24th, with low, top, and gallant sails all set, the Chancellor started on her onward way, and two hours later the last peak of Ham Rock had vanished below the horizon.
A New Danger
NOVEMBER 24 to December1. -- Here we were then once more at sea, and although on board a ship of which the stability was very questionable, we had hopes, if the wind continued favorable, of reaching the coast of Guiana in the course of a few days.
Our way was southwest and consequently with the wind, and although Curtis would not crowd on all sail lest the extra speed should have a tendency to spring the leak afresh, the Chancellor made a progress that was quite satisfactory. Life on board began to fall back into its former routine; the feeling of insecurity and the consciousness that we were merely retracing our path doing much, however, to destroy the animated intercourse that would otherwise go on be- tween passenger and passenger.
The first few days passed without any incident worth re- cording, then on the 29th, the wind shifted to the north, and it became necessary to brace the yards, trim the sails, and take a starboard tack. This made the ship lurch very much on one side, and as Curtis felt that she was laboring far too heavily, he clewed up the top-gallants, prudently reckoning that, under the circumstances, caution was far more impor- tant than speed.
The night came on dark and foggy. The breeze fresh- ened considerably, and, unfortunately for us, hailed from the northwest. Although we carried no topsails at all, the ship seemed to heel over more than ever. Most of the passengers had retired to their cabins, but all the crew remained on deck, while Curtis never quitted his post upon the poop.Toward two o'clock in the morning I was myself prepar- ing to go to my cabin, when Burke, one of the sailors who had been down into the hold, came on deck with the cry: "Two feet of water below."
In an instant Curtis and the boatswain had descended the ladder. The startling news was only too true; the sea-water was entering the hold, but whether the leak had sprung afresh, or whether the caulking in some of the seams was insufficient, it was then impossible to determine; all that could be done was to let the ship go with the wind, and wait for day.
At daybreak they sounded again -- "Three feet of water!" was the report. I glanced at Curtis -- his lips were white, but he had not lost his self-possession. He quietly in- formed such of the passengers as were already on deck of the new danger that threatened us; it was better that they should know the worst, and the fact could not be long con- cealed. I told M. Letourneur that I could not help hoping that there might yet be time to reach the land before the last crisis came. Falsten was about to give vent to an expres- sion of despair, but he was soon silenced by Miss Herbey asserting her confidence that all would yet be well.
Curtis at once divided the crew into two sets, and made them work incessantly, turn and turn about, at the pumps. The men applied themselves to their task with resignation rather than with ardor; the labor was hard and scarcely re- paid them; the pumps were constantly getting out of order, the valves being choked up by the ashes and bits of cotton that were floating about in the hold, while every moment that was spent in cleaning or repairing them was so much time lost.
Slowly but surely the water continued to rise, and on the following morning the soundings gave five feet for its depth. I noticed that Curtis's brow contracted each time that the boatswain or the lieutenant brought him their report. There was no doubt it was only a question of time, and not for an instant must the efforts for keeping down the level be re- laxed. Already the ship had sunk a foot lower in the water, and as her weight increased she no longer rose buoyantly with the waves, but pitched and rolled considerably.
All yesterday and last night the pumping continued, but still the sea gained upon us. The crew are weary and dis- couraged, but the second officer and the boatswain set them a fine example of endurance, and the passengers have now begun to take their turn at the pumps.
But all are conscious of toiling almost against hope; we are no longer secured firmly to the solid soil of the Ham Rock reef, but we are floating over an abyss which daily, nay hourly, threatens to swallow us into its depths.
An Attempt At Mutiny
DECEMBER 2 and 3. -- For four hours we have succeeded in keeping the water in the hold to one level; now, however, it is very evident that the time cannot be far distant when the pumps will be quite unequal to their task.
Yesterday Curtis, who does not allow himself a minute's rest, made a personal inspection of the hold. I, with the boatswain and carpenter, accompanied him. After dislodg- ing some of the bales of cotton we could hear a splashing, or rather gurgling sound; but whether the water was enter- ing at the original aperture, or whether it found its way in through a general dislocation of the seams, we were unable to discover. But, whichever might be the case, Curtis de- termined to try a plan which, by cutting off communication between the interior and exterior of the vessel, might, if only for a few hours, render her hull more water-tight. For this purpose he had some strong, well tarred sails drawn upward by ropes from below the keel, as high as the previous leak- ing place, and then fastened closely and securely to the side of the hull. The scheme was dubious, and the operation difficult, but for a time it was effectual, and at the close of the day the level of the water had actually been reduced by several inches. The diminution was small enough, but the consciousness that more water was escaping through the scupper-holes than was finding its way into the hold gave us fresh courage to persevere with our work.
The night was dark, but the captain carried all the sail he could, eager to take every possible advantage of the wind, which was freshening considerably. If he could have sighted a ship he would have made signals of distress, and would not have hesitated to transfer the passengers, and even have allowed the crew to follow, if they were ready to forsake him; for himself his mind was made up -- he should remain on board the Chancellor until she foundered beneath his feet. No sail, however, hove in sight; consequently escape by such means was out of our power.
During the night the canvas covering yielded to the pres- sure of the waves, and this morning, after taking the sound- ing, the boatswain could not suppress an oath when he an- nounced, "Six feet of water in the hold!"
The ship, then, was filling once again, and already had sunk considerably below her previous water-line. With aching arms and bleeding hands we worked harder than ever at the pumps, and Curtis makes those who are not pumping form a line and pass buckets, with all the speed they can, from hand to hand.But all in vain! At half-past eight more water is re- ported in the hold, and some of the sailors, overcome by de- spair, refuse to work one minute longer.
The first to abandon his post was Owen, a man whom I have mentioned before as exhibiting something of a mu- tinous spirit. He is about forty years of age, and altogether unprepossessing in appearance; his face is bare, with the exception of a reddish beard, which terminates in a point; his forehead is furrowed with sinister looking wrinkles, his lips curl inward, and his ears protrude, while his bleared and bloodshot eyes are encircled with thick red rings.Among the five or six other men who had struck work I noticed Jynxstrop, the cook, who evidently shared all Owen's ill-feelings.
Twice did Curtis order the men back to the pumps, and twice did Owen, acting as spokesman for the rest, refuse; and when Curtis made a step forward as though to approach him, he said savagely:"I advise you not to touch me," and walked away to the forecastle. Curtis descended to his cabin, and almost immediately re- turned with a loaded revolver in his hand.
For a moment Owen surveyed the captain with a frown of defiance; but at a sign from Jynxstrop he seemed to recollect himself, and, with the remainder of the men, he returned to his work.
Curtis Resolves To Abandon The Ship
DECEMBER 4. -- The first attempt at mutiny being thus happily suppressed, it is to be hoped that Curtis will succeed as well in future. An insubordinate crew would render us powerless indeed.
Throughout the night the pumps were kept, without respite, steadily at work, but without producing the least sensible benefit. The ship became so water-logged and heavy that she hardly rose at all to the waves, which con- sequently often washed over the deck and contributed their part toward aggravating our case. Our situation was rapidly becoming as terrible as it had been when the fire was raging in the midst of us; and the prospect of being swallowed by the devouring billows was no less formidable than that of perishing in the flames.
Curtis kept the men up to the mark, and, willing or unwill- ing, they had no alternative but to work on as best they might; but in spite of all their efforts, the water perpetually rose, till, at length, the men in the hold who were passing the buckets found themselves immersed up to their waists, and were obliged to come on deck.
This morning, after a somewhat protracted consultation with Walter and the boatswain, Curtis resolved to abandon the ship. The only remaining boat was far too small to hold us all, and it would therefore be necessary to construct a raft that should carry those who could not find room in her. Dowlas, the carpenter, Mr. Falsten, and ten sailors were told off to put the raft in hand, the rest of the crew being ordered to continue their work assiduously at the pumps, until the time came and everything was ready for embarkation.
Hatchet or saw in hand, the carpenter and his assistants made a beginning without delay, by cutting and trimming the spare yards and extra spars to a proper length. These were then lowered into the sea -- which was propitiously calm -- so as to favor the operation (which otherwise would have been very difficult) of lashing them together into a firm framework, about forty feet long and twenty-five feet wide, upon which the platform was to be supported.
I kept my own place steadily at the pumps, and Andre Le- tourneur worked at my side. I often noticed his father glance at him sorrowfully, as though he wondered what would become of him if he had to struggle with waves to which even the strongest man could hardly fail to succumb. But come what may, his father will never forsake him, and I myself shall not be wanting in rendering him whatever assistance I can.
Mrs. Kear, who had been for some time in a state of drowsy unconsciousness, was not informed of the immediate danger; but when Miss Herbey, looking somewhat pale with fatigue, paid one of her flying visits to the deck, I warned her to take every precaution for herself, and to be ready for any emergency.
"Thank you, doctor, I am always ready," she cheerfully replied, and returned to her duties below. I saw Andre follow the young girl with his eyes, and a look of melancholy interest passed over his countenance.
Toward eight o'clock in the evening the framework for the raft was almost complete, and the men were lower- ing empty barrels, which had first been securely bunged, and were lashing them to the woodwork to insure its floating.Two hours later and suddenly there arose the startling cry, "We are sinking! we are sinking!"
Up to the poop rushed Mr. Kear, followed immediately by Falsten and Miss Herbey, who were bearing the inan- imate form of Mrs. Kear. Curtis ran to his cabin, instantly returning with a chart, a sextant, and a compass in his hand.
The scene that followed will ever be engraven in my memory; the cries of distress, the general confusion, the frantic rush of the sailors toward the raft that was not yet ready to support them, can never be forgotten. The whole period of my life seemed to be concentrated into that terrible moment when the planks bent below my feet and the ocean yawned beneath me.
Some of the sailors had taken their delusive refuge in the shrouds, and I was preparing to follow them when a hand was laid upon my shoulder.. Turning round I beheld M. Letourneur, with tears in his eyes, pointing toward his son. "Yes, my friend," I said, pressing his hand, "we will save him, if possible."
But Curtis had already caught hold of the young man, and was hurrying him to the mainmast shrouds, when the Chancellor, which had been scudding along rapidly with the wind, stopped suddenly, with a violent shock, and began to settle. The sea rose over my ankles, and almost instinc- tively I clutched at the nearest rope. All at once, when it seemed all over, the ship ceased to sink, and hung motionless in mid-ocean.
While There's Life There's Hope
NIGHT of December 4. -- Curtis caught young Letourneur again in his arms, and, running with him across the flooded deck, deposited him safely in the starboard shrouds, whither his father and I climbed up beside him.
I now had time to look about me. The night was not very dark, and I could see that Curtis had returned to his post upon the poop; while in the extreme aft near the taff- rail, which was still above water, I could distinguish the forms of Mr. and Mrs. Kear, Miss Herbey, and Mr. Fal- sten. The lieutenant and the boatswain were on the far end of the forecastle; the remainder of the crew in the shrouds and top-masts.
By the assistance of his father, who carefully guided his feet up the rigging, Andre was hoisted into the main-top. Mrs. Kear could not be induced to join him in his elevated position, in spite of being told that if the wind were to freshen she would inevitably be washed overboard by the waves; nothing could induce her to listen to remonstrances, and she insisted upon remaining on the poop -- Miss Herbey, of course, staying by her side.
As soon as the captain saw the Chancellor was no longer sinking, he set to work to take down all the sails -- yards and all -- and the top-gallants, in the hope that by removing everything that could compromise the equilibrium of the ship he might diminish the chance of her capsizing alto- gether."But may she not founder at any moment?" I said to Curtis, when I had joined him for a while upon the poop.
"Everything depends upon the weather," he replied, in his calmest manner; "that, of course, may change at any hour. One thing, however, is certain, the Chancellor preserves her equilibrium for the present.""But do you mean to say," I further asked, "that she can sail with two feet of water over her deck?"
"No, Mr. Kazallon, she can't sail, but she can drift with the wind; and if the wind remains in its present quarter, in the course of a few days we might possibly sight the coast. Besides, we shall have our raft as a last resource; in a few hours it will be ready, and at daybreak we can embark.""You have not, then," I added, "abandoned all hope even yet?" I marveled at his composure.
"While there's life there's hope, you know, Mr. Kazallon; out of a hundred chances, ninety-nine may be against us, but perhaps the odd one may be in our favor. Besides, I believe that our case is not without precedent. In the year 1795, a three-master, the Juno, was precisely in the same half-sunk, water-logged condition as ourselves; and yet, with her passengers and crew clinging to her top-masts, she drifted for twenty days, until she came in sight of land, when those who had survived the deprivation and fatigue were saved. So let us not despair; let us hold on to the hope that the survivors of the Chancellor may be equally fortunate."
I was only too conscious that there was not much to be said in support of Curtis's sanguine view of things, and that the force of reason pointed all the other way; but I said nothing, deriving what comfort I could from the fact that the captain did not yet despond of an ultimate rescue.
As it was necessary to be prepared to abandon the ship almost at a moment's notice, Dowlas was making every exertion to hurry on the construction of the raft. A little before midnight he was on the point of conveying some planks for this purpose, when, to his astonishment and horror, he found that the framework had totally disap- peared. The ropes that had attached it to the vessel had snapped as she became vertically displaced, and probably it had been adrift for more than an hour.
The crew were frantic at this new misfortune, and shout- ing "Overboard with the masts!" they began to cut down the rigging preparatory to taking possession of the masts for a new raft.But here Curtis interposed: "Back to your places, my men; back to your places. The ship will not sink yet, so don't touch a rope until I give you leave." The firmness of the captain's voice brought the men to their senses, and although some of them could ill disguise their reluctance, all returned to their posts.
When daylight had sufficiently advanced Curtis mounted the mast, and looked around for the missing raft; but it was nowhere to be seen. The sea was far too rough for the men to venture to take out the whale-boat in search of it, and there was no choice but to set to work and to construct a new raft immediately.
Since the sea has become so much rougher, Mrs. Kear has been induced to leave the poop, and has managed to join M. Letourneur and his son on the main-top, where she lies in a state of complete prostration. I need hardly add that Miss Herbey continues in her unwearied attendance. The space to which these four people are limited is necessarily very small, nowhere measuring twelve feet across: to prevent them losing their balance some spars have been lashed from shroud to shroud, and for the convenience of the two ladies Curtis has contrived to make a temporary awning of a sail. Mr. Kear has installed himself with Silas Huntly on the foretop.
A few cases of preserved meat and biscuit and some barrels of water, that floated between the masts after the submersion of the deck, have been hoisted to the top-mast and fastened firmly to the stays. These are now our only provisions.
Mr. Kear Makes A Business Deal
DECEMBER 5. -- The day was very hot. December in lati- tude 16 deg. N. is a summer month, and unless a breeze should rise to temper the burning sun, we might expect to suffer from an oppressive heat.
The sea still remained very rough, and as the heavy waves broke over the ship as though she were a reef, the foam flew up to the very top-masts, and our clothes were perpetually drenched by the spray.
The Chancellor's hull is three-fourths immerged; besides the three masts and the bowsprit, to which the whale-boat was suspended, the poop and the forecastle are the only por- tions that now are visible; and as the intervening section of the deck is quite below the water, these appear to be con- nected only by the framework of the netting that runs along the vessel's sides. Communication between the top-masts is extremely difficult, and would be absolutely precluded, were it not that the sailors, with practiced dexterity, manage to hoist themselves about by means of the stays. For the pas- sengers, cowering on their narrow and unstable platform, the spectacle of the raging sea below was truly terrific; every wave that dashed over the ship shook the masts till they trembled again, and one could venture scarcely to look or to think lest he should be tempted to cast himself into the vast abyss.
Meanwhile, the crew worked away with all their remain- ing vigor at the second raft, for which the top-gallants and yards were all obliged to be employed; the planks, too, which were continually being loosened and broken away by the violence of the waves from the partitions of the ship, were rescued before they had drifted out of reach, and were brought into use. The symptoms of the ship foundering did not appear to be immediate; so that Curtis insisted upon the raft being made with proper care to insure its strength; we were still several hundred miles from the coast of Guiana, and for so long a voyage it was indispensable to have a struc- ture of considerable solidity. The reasonableness of this was self-apparent, and as the crew had recovered their as- surance they spared no pains to accomplish their work effec- tually.
Of all the number, there was but one, an Irishman, named O'Ready, who seemed to question the utility of all their toil. He shook his head with an oracular gravity. He is an old- ish man, not less than sixty, with his hair and beard bleached with the storms of many travels. As I was making my way toward the poop, he came up to me and began talking."And why, bedad, I'd like to know, why is it that they'll all be afther lavin' the ship?"
He turned his quid with the most serene composure, and continued: "And isn't it me myself that's been wrecked nine times already? and sure, poor fools are they that ever have put their trust in rafts or boats; sure and they found a wathery grave. Nay, nay; while the ould ship lasts, let's stick to her, says I."Having thus unburdened his mind he relapsed into si- lence, and soon went away.
About three o'clock I noticed that Mr. Kear and Silas Huntly were holding an animated conversation in the fore- top. The petroleum merchant had evidently some difficulty in bringing the ex-captain round to his opinion, for I saw him several times shake his head as he gave long and scrutin- izing looks at the sea and sky. In less than an hour after- ward I saw Huntly let himself down by the forestays and clamber along to the fore-castle, where he joined the group of sailors, and I lost sight of him.
I attached little importance to the incident, and shortly afterward joined the party in the main-top, where we con- tinued talking for some hours. The heat was intense, and if it had not been for the shelter afforded by the sail-tent, would have been unbearable. At five o'clock we took as re- freshment some dried meat and biscuit, each individual be- ing also allowed half a glass of water. Mrs. Kear prostrate with fever, could not touch a mouthful; and nothing could be done by Miss Herbey to relieve her, beyond occasionally moistening her parched lips. The unfortunate lady suffers greatly, and sometimes I am inclined to think that she will succumb to the exposure and privation. Not once had her husband troubled himself about her; but when shortly after- ward I heard him hail some of the sailors on the fore-castle and ask them to help him down from the foretop, I began to think that the selfish fellow was coming to join his wife.
At first the sailors took no notice of his request, but on his repeating it with the promise of paying them handsomely for their services, two of them, Burke and Sandon, swung themselves along the netting into the shrouds, and were soon at his side.
A long discussion ensued. The men evidently were ask- ing more than Mr. Kear was inclined to give, and at one time it seemed as though the negotiation would fall through altogether. But at length the bargain was struck, and I saw Mr. Kear take a bundle of paper dollars from his waistcoat pocket, and hand a number of them over to one of the men. The man counted them carefully, and from the time it took him, I should think that he could not have pocketed anything less than a hundred dollars.
The next business was to get Mr. Kear down from the foretop, and Burke and Sandon proceeded to tie a rope round his waist, which they afterward fastened to the fore- stay; then, in a way which provoked shouts of laughter from their mates, they gave the unfortunate man a shove, and sent him rolling down like a bundle of dirty clothes on to the forecastle.
I was quite mistaken as to his object. Mr. Kear had no intention of looking after his wife, but remained by the side of Silas Huntly until the gathering darkness hid them both from view.
As night drew on, the wind grew calmer, but the sea re- mained very rough. The moon had been up ever since four in the afternoon, though she only appeared at rare intervals between the clouds. Some long lines of vapor on the hori- zon were tinged with a rosy glare that foreboded a strong breeze for the morrow, and all felt anxious to know from which quarter the breeze would come, for any but a north- easter would bear the frail raft on which we were to embark far away from land.
About eight o'clock in the evening, Curtis mounted to the main-top, but he seemed preoccupied and anxious, and did not speak to anyone. He remained for a quarter of an hour, then after silently pressing my hand, he returned to his old post.
I laid myself down in the narrow space at my disposal, and tried to sleep; but my mind was filled with strange fore- bodings, and sleep was impossible. The very calmness of the atmosphere was oppressive; scarcely a breath of air vibrated through the metal rigging, and yet the sea rose with a heavy swell as though it felt the warnings of a coming tempest.
All at once, at about eleven o'clock, the moon burst brightly forth through a rift in the clouds, and the waves sparkled again as if illuminated by a submarine glimmer. I start up and look around me. Is it merely imagination? or do I really see a black speck floating, on the dazzling white- ness of the waters, a speck that cannot be a rock, because it rises and falls with the heaving motion of the billows? But the moon once again becomes overclouded; the sea is darkened, and I return to my uneasy couch close to the lar- board shrouds.
The Whale-Boat Missing
DECEMBER 6. -- I must have fallen asleep for a few hours, when, at four o'clock in the morning, I was rudely aroused by the roaring of the wind, and could distinguish Curtis's voice as he shouted in the brief intervals between the heavy gusts.
I got up, and holding tightly to the purlin -- for the waves made the masts tremble with their violence -- I tried to look around and below me. The sea was literally raging beneath, and great masses of livid-looking foam were dashing be- tween the masts, which were oscillating terrifically. It was still dark, and I could only faintly distinguish two figures in the stern, whom, by the sound of their voices, that I caught occasionally above the tumult, I made out to be Curtis and the boatswain.Just at that moment a sailor, who had mounted to the main-top to do something to the rigging, passed close be- hind me. "What's the matter?" I asked. "The wind has changed," he answered, adding something which I could not hear distinctly, but which sounded like "dead against us." Dead against us! then. thought I, the wind had shifted to the southwest, and my last night's forebodings had been correct.
When daylight at length appeared, I found the wind, al- though not blowing actually from the southwest, had veered round to the northwest, a change which was equally dis- astrous to us, inasmuch as it was carrying us away from land. Moreover, the ship had sunk considerably during the night, and there were now five feet of water above deck; the side netting had completely disappeared, and the fore- castle and the poop were now all but on a level with the sea, which washed over them incessantly. With all possible expedition Curtis and his crew were laboring away at their raft, but the violence of the swell materially impeded their operations, and it became a matter of doubt as to whether the woodwork would not fall asunder before it could be properly fastened together.As I watched the men at their work, M. Letourneur, with one arm supporting his son, came out and stood by my side. "Don't you think this main-top will soon give way?" he said, as the narrow platform on which we stood creaked and groaned with the swaying of the masts. Miss Herbey heard his words and pointing toward Mrs. Kear, who was lying prostrate at her feet, asked what we thought ought to be done. "We can do nothing but stay where we are," I replied. "No," said Andre, "this is our best refuge; I hope you are not afraid." "Not for myself," said the young girl quietly, "only for those to whom life is precious." At a quarter to eight we heard the boatswain calling to the sailors in the bows. "Ay, ay, sir," said one of the men -- O'Ready, I think. "Where's the whale-boat?" shouted the boatswain in a loud voice. "I don't know, sir. Not with us," was the reply. "She's gone adrift, then!"
And sure enough the whale-boat was no longer hanging from the bowsprit; and in a moment the discovery was made that Mr. Kear, Silas Huntly, and three sailors, -- a Scotch- man and two Englishmen, -- were missing. Afraid that the Chancellor would founder before the completion of the raft, Kear and Huntly had plotted together to effect their escape, and had bribed the three sailors to seize the only remaining boat.
This, then, was the black speck that I had seen during the night. The miserable husband had deserted his wife, the faithless captain had abandoned the ship that had once been under his command."There are five saved, then," said the boatswain. "Faith, an it's five lost ye'll be maning," said O'Ready; and the state of the sea fully justified his opinion.
The crew were furious when they heard of the surrepti- tious flight, and loaded the fugitives with all the invectives they could lay their tongues to. So enraged were they at the dastardly trick of which they had been made the dupes, that if chance should bring the deserters again on board I should be sorry to answer for the consequences.
In accordance with my advice, Mrs. Kear has not been in- formed of her husband's disappearance. The unhappy lady is wasting away with a fever for which we are powerless to supply a remedy, for the medicine-chest was lost when the ship began to sink. Nevertheless, I do not think we have anything to regret on that score, feeling, as I do, that in a case like Mrs. Kear's, drugs would be of no avail.
Mrs. Kear Succumbs To Fever
DECEMBER 6 continued. -- The Chancellor no longer main- tained her equilibrium; we felt that she was gradually going down, and her hull was probably breaking up. The main- top was already only ten feet above water, while the bow- sprit, with the exception of the extreme end, that rose obliquely from the waves, was entirely covered.The Chancellor's last day, we felt, had come. Fortunately the raft was all but finished, and unless Curtis preferred to wait till morning, we should be able to embark in the evening.
The raft is a very solid structure. The spars that form the framework are crossed one above another and lashed together with stout ropes, so that the whole pile rises a couple of feet above the water. The upper platform is con- structed from the planks that were broken from the ship's sides by the violence of the waves, and which had not drifted away. The afternoon has been employed in charging the raft with such provisions, sails, tools, and instruments as we have been able to save.
And how can I attempt to give any idea of the feelings with which, one and all, we now contemplated the fate be- fore us? For my own part, I was possessed rather by a benumbed indifference than by any sense of genuine resigna- tion. M. Letourneur was entirely absorbed in his son, who, in his turn, thought only of his father, at the same time exhibiting a Christian fortitude, which was shown by no one else of the party except Miss Herbey, who faced her danger with the same brave composure. Incredible as it may seem, Falsten remained the same as ever, occupying himself with writing down figures and memoranda in his pocketbook. Mrs. Kear, in spite of all that Miss Herbey could do for her, was evidently dying.
With regard to the sailors, two or three of them were calm enough, but the rest had wellnigh lost their wits. Some of the more ill-disposed among them seemed inclined to run into excesses; and their conduct, under the bad in- fluence of Owen and Jynxstrop, made it doubtful whether they would submit to control when once we were limited to the narrow dimensions of the raft. Lieutenant Walter, al- though his courage never failed him, was worn out with bodily fatigue, and obliged to give up all active labor; but Curtis and the boatswain were resolute, energetic and firm as ever. To borrow an expression from the language of metallurgic art, they were men "at the highest degree of hardness."
At five o'clock one of our companions in misfortune was released from her sufferings. Mrs. Kear, after a most dis- tressing illness, through which her young companion tended her with the most devoted care, has breathed her last. A few deep sighs and all was over, and I doubt whether the sufferer was ever conscious of the peril of her situation.
The night passed on without further incident. Toward morning I touched the dead woman's hand, and it was cold and stiff. The corpse could not remain any longer on the main-top, and after Miss Herbey and I had carefully wrapped the garments about it, with a few short prayers the body of the first victim of our miseries was committed to the deep.As the sea closed over the body I heard one of the men in the shrouds say: "There goes a carcass that we shall be sorry we have thrown away!"
I looked round sharply. It was Owen who had spoken. But horrible as were his words, the conviction was forced upon my mind that the day could not be far distant when we must want for food.