The Survivors of the Chancellor HTML version
JANUARY 1 to 5. -- More than three months had elapsed since we left Charleston in the
Chancellor, and for no less than twenty days had we now been borne along on our raft at
the mercy of the wind and waves. Whether we were approaching the American coast, or
whether we were drift- ing farther and farther to sea, it was now impossible to de-
termine, for, in addition to the other disasters caused by the hurricane, the captain's
instruments had been hopelessly smashed, and Curtis had no longer any compass by
which to direct his course, nor a sextant by which he might make an observation.
Desperate, however, as our condition might be judged, hope did not entirely abandon our
hearts, and day after day, hour after hour were our eyes strained toward the far horizon,
and many and many a time did our imagination shape out the distant land. But ever and
again the illusion vanished; a cloud, a mist, perhaps even a wave, was all that had
deceived us; no land, no sail ever broke the gray line that united sea and sky, and our raft
remained the center of the wide and dreary waste.
On the 1st of January, we swallowed our last morsel of biscuit. The first of January! New
Year's Day! What a rush of sorrowful recollections overwhelmed our minds! Had we not
always associated the opening of another year with new hopes, new plans, and coming
joys? And now, where were we? Could we dare to look at one another, and breathe a
New Year's greeting?
The boatswain approached me with a peculiar look on his countenance.
"You are surely not going to wish me a happy New Year?" I said.
"No indeed, sir," he replied, "I was only going to wish you well through the first day of it;
and that is pretty good assurance on my part, for we have not another crumb to eat."
True as it was, we scarcely realized the fact of there being actually nothing until on the
following morning the hour came round for the distribution of the scanty ration, and then,
indeed, the truth was forced upon us in a new and startling light. Toward evening I was
seized with violent pains in the stomach, accompanied by a constant desire to yawn and
gape that was most distressing; but in a couple of hours the extreme agony passed away,
and on the 3d I was surprised to find that I did not suffer more. I felt, it is true, that there
was some great void within myself, but the sensation was quite as much moral as
physical. My head was so heavy that I could not hold it up; it was swim- ming with
giddiness, as though I were looking over a precipice.
My symptoms were not shared by all my companions, some of whom endured the most
frightful tortures. Dow- las and the boatswain especially, who were naturally large eaters,
uttered involuntary cries of agony, and were obliged to gird themselves tightly with ropes
to subdue the excru- ciating pain that was gnawing their very vitals.