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The Survivors of the Chancellor
by Jules Verne
February, 1999 [Etext #1652]
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THE SURVIVORS OF THE CHANCELLOR.
DIARY OF J.R.KAZALLON, PASSENGER.
By JULES VERNE.
CHARLESTON, SEPTEMBER 27th, 1869.--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 northerly 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 harbour-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 south-
west 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 Atlantic.
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 mizen, with all their fittings, being of iron. She is
registered first class A I, and is now on her third voyage
between Charleston and Liverpool. As she wended her way through
the channels of Charleston harbour, it was the British flag that
was lowered from her mast-head; but without colours at all, no
sailor could have hesitated for a moment in telling her
nationality,--for English she was, and nothing but English from
her water-line upwards 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 northwards to New York or southwards to New Orleans. It
is quite true that if I had chosen to start from New York I might
have found plenty of vessels belonging to English, French, or
Hamburg lines, any of which would have conveyed me by a rapid
voyage to my destination; and it is equally true that if I had
selected New Orleans for my embarkation I could readily have
reached Europe by one of the vessels of the National Steam
Navigation 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 upon 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 arrangements
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 favour 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 passage by this route to Europe.
Have I done right or wrong? Whether I shall have reason 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.
SEPTEMBER 28th.--John Silas Huntly, the captain of the
"Chancellor," has the reputation of being an experienced
navigator of the Atlantic. He is a Scotchman, a native of
Dundee, and is about fifty years of age. He is of 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 character. 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 possesses the amount of courage that would render him,
physically or morally, capable of coping with any great
emergency, I confess I cannot believe. I observe a certain
heaviness and dejection about his whole carriage. His wavering
glances, the listless motions 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 fist. There is something 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 such
little opportunity of observing his character, that I must defer
saying more about him at present.
Besides the captain and this mate, whose name is Robert Curtis,
our crew consists of Walter, the lieutenant, the boatswain, 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 experience of their
capabilities is, that under the command of the mate, they brought
us skilfully enough through the narrow channels of Charleston;
and I have no reason to doubt but that they are well up to their
My list of the ship's officials is incomplete unless I mention
Hobart, the steward, and Jynxstrop, the negro cook.
In addition to these, the "Chancellor" carries eight passengers,
including myself. Hitherto, the bustle of embarkation, 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 interchange of ideas. Two days have elapsed
and I have not even seen all the passengers. Probably sea-
sickness has prevented some of them from making their appearance
at the common table. One thing, however, I do know; namely, that
there are two ladies occupying the stern-cabins, the windows of
which are in the aft-board of the vessel.
I have seen the ship's list and subjoin a list of the passengers.
They are as follow:-- 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. Kazallon, of London.
SEPTEMBER 29th.--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 earliest 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, Charleston, and have placed the same
under the gun-deck of the aforesaid ship, seventeen hundred bales
of cotton, of the estimated value of 26,000l., 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 representative, who shall on due delivery of
the said freight pay me the sum of 2000l. inclusive, according
to the charter-party and damages in addition, according to the
usages and customs of the sea.
"And for the fulfilment 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 1700 bales of cotton to Liverpool; 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 passengers'
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.
SEPTEMBER 30th to OCTOBER 6th.--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 freshening 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 something about each other, and
our daily life, in consequence, is becoming somewhat less
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 dejected 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 expression is one of caressing tenderness. It
excites an involuntary commiseration to learn that M. Letourneur
is consuming 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 unceasing; every thought,
every glance is for Andre; he seems to anticipate his most
trifling wish, watches his slightest movement, 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, brightening 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 remarked.
"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
"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 travelling; so for the
last few years we have been constantly on the move. We first
went all over Europe, and are now returning from visiting the
principal places in the United States. I never allowed my son to
go to college, but instructed 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, "although,
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 hastened 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 coincided with my own, and that, like me, he is
impressed with the man's undecided manner and sluggish
appearance. Like me, too, he has formed a very favourable
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.
Whilst 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 betokened 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 always ready to assist and amuse young
Letourneur, who evidently 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
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 uninteresting 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 companion, Miss Herbey, a young English
girl of about twenty.
Miss Herbey is extremely pretty. Her complexion is fair and her
eyes deep blue, whilst 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 position 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
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 generally contrived to do business at
a profit, he has realized a considerable fortune. What he is
going to do with the money, be 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
OCTOBER 7th.--This is the tenth day since we left Charleston, 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 Cape Hatteras in the
Bermudas; the ship's bearings, he said were lat. 32deg. 20min. N.
and long. 64deg. 50min. 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 sailing from
Charleston to Liverpool, would have kept northwards, 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 eastwards, and
eastwards 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 captain 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, Mr. Curtis
giving me your honest opinion of Captain Huntly?"
He hesitated a moment, and then replied shortly, "He is my
This evasive answer of course put an end to any further
interrogation on my part, but it only set me thinking the more.
Curtis was not mistaken. At about three o'clock the lookout man
sung out that there was land to windward, and descried what
seemed as if it might be a line of smoke in the north-east
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 gazing at the
distant land, "there lies the enchanted Archipelago, 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."
"Yes," I replied, "the Bermudas were all the rage in the
seventeenth century, although laterly they have fallen into
"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, smiling, "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 supposed that Shakspeare was
depicting them in the terrible scenes that are found in 'The
The whole vicinity of these islands is beyond a question
extremely perilous to mariners. Situated between the Antilles
and Nova Scotia, the Bermudas have ever since their discovery
belonged to the English, who have mainly used them for a military
station. But this little archipelago, comprising some hundred
and fifty different isles and islets, is destined to increase,
and that, perhaps, on a larger scale than has yet been
anticipated. Beneath the waves there are madrepores, in infinity
of number, silently but ceaselessly pursuing their labours; and
with time, that fundamental element in nature's workings, who
shall tell whether these may not gradually build up island after
island, which shall unite and form another continent?
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.
OCTOBER 8th to OCTOBER 13th.--The wind is blowing hard from the
north-east; and the "Chancellor" under low-reefed top-sail and
fore-sail, and labouring 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 my 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.
Although 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 atmosphere
entirely precludes us from taking the sun's altitude.
All along throughout this period, my fellow-passengers are
totally ignorant of the extraordinary course that we are taking
England lies to the NORTH-EAST, yet we are sailing directly
SOUTH-EAST, and Robert Curtis owns that he is quite bewildered;
he cannot comprehend why the captain, ever since this north-
easterly gale has been blowing, should persist in allowing the
ship to drive to the south, instead of tacking to the north-west
until she gets into better quarters.
I was alone with 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?"
"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 portion of the
Atlantic which is known as the Sargassos Sea. An extensive tract
of water is this, enclosed 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 vessels on his first voyage across the
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 plough. Long strips of seaweed caught up by the
wind become entangled in the rigging, and hang between the masts
in festoons of verdure; whilst others, varying from two to three
hundred feet in length, twine themselves up to the very mast-
heads, from whence they float like streaming pendants. 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 untrammelled tendrils 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.
OCTOBER 14th.--At last we are free from the sea of vegetation,
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
Under conditions so favourable, we have been able to take the
ship's bearings: our latitude, we find, is 21deg. 33min. N., our
longitude 50deg. 17min. 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 persistently
following a south-easterly 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 unaccountable.
I can get nothing out of Curtis; he listens coldly whenever 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 starboard convinced me that this was not the origin of the
commotion, 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 manoeuvre, I cannot tell; it did not seem
to have resulted 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 running 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 afterwards M. Letourneur and Andre came an 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
"I am glad, my boy," said his 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 extra 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 am. On consulting my almanac, 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
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 Lieutenant Walter of the
watch. I advanced to meet him, but before 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
The boatswain immediately appeared, and another conversation 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 to 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 myself 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
I said no more; but I cannot resist the impression that Robert
Curtis has not acted with me in his usual straightforward manner.
OCTOBER 15th to OCTOBER 18th.--The wind is still in the north-
east. 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 something is not quite right.
Why should the hatchways be so hermetically closed as though a
mutinous crew was imprisoned between decks? I cannot 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 overheard
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. Every one 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 conversation,
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 require to be ruled
with a rod of iron.
Yesterday and to-day I have observed Curtis remonstrating
somewhat vehemently with Captain Huntly, but there is no obvious
result arising from their interviews; the Captain apparently
being bent upon some purpose, of which it is only too manifest
that the mate decidedly disapproves.
Captain Huntly is undoubtedly labouring under strong nervous
excitement; and M. Letourneur has more than once remarked how
silent he has become at meal-times; for although Curtis
continually endeavours 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 passengers 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 although 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 continually 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
necessity, 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
This morning at daybreak I went on deck. The sun had scarcely
risen, and the air was fresh and cool, in strange contrast to the
heat which below the poop had been quite oppressive. 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 watching 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
Great was my amazement to find the deck perfectly hot to my feet!
Curtis heard my exclamation of surprise, and before I could put
my thoughts into words, said,--
"Yes! there is fire on board!"
OCTOBER 19th.--Eveything, then, is clear. The uneasiness of the
crew, their frequent conferences, Owen's mysterious words, the
constant scourings of the deck and the oppressive heat of the
cabins which had been noticed even by my fellow-passengers, all
After his grave communication, Curtis remained silent. I
shivered with a thrill of horror; a calamity the most terrible
that can befall a voyager stared me in the face, and it was some
seconds before I could recover sufficient composure 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 noticed 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
"Do you know what has caused the fire?" I presently inquired.
"It probably arose," he answered, "from the spontaneous
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 before, we have
adopted the only possible measure within our power to check the
fire. At one time I thought of knocking a hole in the ship's
timbers just on her waterline, and letting in just as much water
as the pumps could afterwards 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 all 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 beep able to discover, by which,
somehow or other, air gets into the hold."
"Have you ever heard of a vessel surviving such circumstances?"
"Yes, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis; "it is not at all an unusual
thing for ships laden with cotton to arrive at Liverpool 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 unload with the utmost expedition.
But, in such cases, of course the fire has been more or less
under control throughout 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 south-west; we are now straight before the wind, and
consequently we are sailing towards 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
"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
OCTOBER 20th AND 21st.--The "Chancellor" is now crowded with all
the canvas she can carry, and at times her top-masts 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
reflect 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, lieutenant, 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 remained; 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 north-east
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 remarked
the change of tack; Curtis however, has set all speculation on
his part to rest by telling him that he wanted to get ahead of
the wind, and that he was tacking to the west to catch a
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 before 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 conversation almost close
to me. What they said was evidently not intended for my hearing,
but my attention was directed towards 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
"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
"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 captain?"
"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 interval I
could not catch what passed; but I could see that Falsten
continued to remonstrate, whilst 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
I started. To what could the engineer be alluding? Evidently 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 shieked.
"Yes," said Falsten, "a case containing thirty pounds."
"Where is it?" I cried.
"Down in the hold, with the cargo."
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 acquainted with all the particulars said,--
"Not a word of this must be mentioned to any one 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 prevent 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 containing 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
permission to bring the package on board.
"Any way," 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
I was beside myself with fury, and not being endowed with
Curtis's reticence and self-control, before he could interfere 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 franticly up and down the deck, gesticulating
like a madman, 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 endeavoured 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 admirable 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
preparing to launch it, when Curtis's voice was heard
peremptorily 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 arrive he would allow them
all to leave the ship; but that moment, he said, had not yet
At the sound of a voice which they had learned to honour 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 certain that if the true state of the case had
been known, nothing 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
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 problem. 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 responsibility of informing Captain Huntly of our critical
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 orders 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.
OCTOBER 22nd.--Curtis has told the captain everything; for he
persists in ostensibly recognizing him as his superior officer,
and refuses to conceal from him our true situation. Captain
Huntly received the communication in perfect silence, and merely
passing his hand across his forehead as though to, banish some
distressing thought, re-entered his cabin without a word.
Curtis, Lieutenant Walter, Falsten, and myself have been
discussing the chances of our safety, and I am surprised to find
with how much composure we can all survey our anxious
"There is no doubt" said Curtis, "that we must abandon all hope
of arresting the fire; the heat towards 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 better
with the fire as a declared enemy than as a hidden one."
Falsten and I agreed with what he said, but I pointed out to him
that he had quite overlooked the fact of there being thirty
pounds of combustible 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 cannot 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 a considerable pause, Falsten, as calmly as though he were
delivering some philosophic dogma, 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 inflammable
than common powder, yet possesses the same degree of
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 intimating 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 fulfils her offices of duty, commands my
OCTOBER 23rd.--This morning, Captain Huntly sent for Curtis into
his cabin, and the mate has since made me acquainted 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 cannot recollect anything. Are we not bound for
Liverpool? Ah! yes! of course. And have we kept a north-
easterly direction since we left?"
"No, sir, according to your orders we have been sailing south-
east, 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
interrupted 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 circumstances, I can do nothing. My
brain is all on a whirl, you cannot 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 acquiesced in all that
he required and withdrew, promising him that all his orders
should be obeyed."
After hearing these particulars, I could not help remarking how
fortunate it was that the captain had resigned of his own accord,
for although he might not be actually insane, it was very evident
that his brain was in a very morbid condition.
"I succeed him at a very critical moment;" said Curtis
thoughtfully; "but I shall endeavour to do my duty."
A short time afterwards he sent for the boatswain, and ordered
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
"My men," he said, "I have to tell you that Captain Huntly, on
account of the dangerous situation in which circumstances 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 the change was 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 immediately offered him our best
wishes, in which Lieutenant Walter and the boatswain most
The ship still holds her course south-west and Curtis crowds on
all sail and makes as speedily as possible for the nearest of the
OCTOBER 24th to 29th.--For the last five days the sea has been
very heavy, and although the "Chancellor" sails with wind and
wave in her favour, yet her progress is considerably impeded.
Here on board this veritable fireship I cannot help contemplating
with a longing eye this vast ocean that surrounds 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 courage and patience; we
must wait. There is nothing whatever to be done, except to close
The fire continued to progress even more rapidly than we had
hitherto suspected. The heat gradually drove the passengers
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 upon any subject except
his own profession; but in connexion with that he prated away the
merest nonsense. He suffered greatly, but steadily declined all
my offers of attention, and pertinaciously refused to leave his
To-day, an acrid, nauseating smoke made its way through the
panellings that partition off the quarters of the crew. At once
Curtis ordered the partition to be enveloped in wet tarpaulin,
but the fumes penetrated even this, and filled the whole
neighbourhood of the ship's bows with a reeking vapour 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 mizen are of iron; otherwise the heat at
their base would long ago have brought them down and our chances
of safety would have been much imperilled; but by crowding on
sail the "Chancellor" in the full north-east 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 impracticable, and the
poop, simply because its door is elevated somewhat above the
level of the hold, is now the only available standing-place.
Water began to lose its effect upon the scorched and shrivelling
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
Then to complete our perplexity, the wind shifted suddenly round
to the north-west, whence it blew a perfect hurricane. To no
purpose did Curtis do everything in his power to bring the ship
ahull; every effort was 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 for 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 forgotten its existence;
indeed it might almost seem as though its explosion would come as
a relief, for no catastrophe, however 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, distinct
even above the raging of the hurricane. The panels of the deck
are upheaved, and volumes of black smoke issue upwards as if from
a safety-valve. An 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 orders. He hesitates; looks
first at the huge and threatening waves; looks then at the boats.
The long-boat is there, suspended right along the centre of the
deck; but it is impossible to approach it now; the yawl, however,
hoisted on the starboard side, and the whale-boat 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
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
"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, whilst others mount to the very top of the
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 mizen-mast. The fire now reaches to
the cabin occupied by 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 mizen.
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 already eluded
his confinement, and with singed hair and his clothes already
alight, rushes upon deck. Like a salamander 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 fragments;
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 hurled
himself, through the open hatchway, down into the fiery furnace
OCTOBER 29th:--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 towards the yawl. Curtis
again made a vigorous endeavour 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 suspended 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
enormous wave which, recoiling with resistless violence, dashed
it to atoms against the "Chancellor's" side.
The men stood aghast; they were dumbfoundered. 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 centre of the ship, which was hollowed out like
a furnace, there issued a column of sooty vapour 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
senseless on one of the hen-coops, with Miss Herbey sitting
passively 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 finding that 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 fearful
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
"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 mizen-mast snaps short off
level with the deck, falls into the sea, and the "Chancellor" is
THE NIGHT OF THE 29th CONTINUED.--It was not yet midnight; 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 standstill 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
"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 by-and-by. We can now
only think 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 conflagration, were quite unavailable.
For three long hours, in anxious suspense, we watched and
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.
Towards 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
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, endeavour 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 altitude, but there was no doubt the north-west 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 seem to realize the new danger to which
the "Chancellor" may be exposed by being 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 fulfilled.
Already the raging flames that poured forth from the hatches have
given place to dense black smoke, and although 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 1700 bales of cotton.
OCTOBER 30th.--At the first gleam of daylight we eagerly scanned
the southern and western horizons, but the morning mists limited
our view. Land was nowhere to be seen. The tide was now almost
at its lowest ebb, and the colour 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 larboard that at one time Curtis
feared she would altogether capsize; that fear, however, since
the tide has reached its lowest mark, has happily proved
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 direction of the cries
we saw that the broken mizen-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 mizen 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
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 south-west to north-east, and two hundred
fathoms to the north of the ship an irregular 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;
whilst 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 sombre hue,
betokening deep water. In all probability, then, this was a
solitary shoal, unattached to a shore, and the gloom of a bitter
disappointment 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 of
At this point Mr. Kear interposed, and in a gruff, ill-tempered
tone, asked Curtis where we were. Curtis replied that he did not
"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 for ever 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. Letourneur 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 amongst 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 appeared, 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 afterwards 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 accordingly resolved that both passengers and crew were
safest on board.
Acting upon this decision we proceeded to make a kind of
encampment on the poop, and the 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
Fortunately, although the store-room has been considerably
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 stack of spare sails, which had
been packed away in front, is also free from injury. 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
M. Letourneur, his son, and I, have just had a long conversation
about the ship's officers. We consider their conduct, 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 boatswain, 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 except the
cluster of those which formed the rim of a small and almost
circular basin from 250 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 for 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; 18deg. 5min. N. and
long. 45deg. 53min. W., but that the reef on which we are aground
is not marked upon 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 nearest 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 north-west gale.
Yet, after all, the captain's communication does not dishearten
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 forbids 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 advantage of the
first high tide to quit the reef as speedily as possible.
OCTOBER 30th.--Once again I talked to M. Letourneur about our
situation, and endeavoured to animate him with the hope that we
should not be detained for long in our present predicament; but
he could not be brought to take a very sanguine view of our
"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 smouldering, and that it will still be several
days before any one will be able to venture into the hold. Then
the leak, too, that has to be caulked; and, unless it is stopped
up very effectually, we shall be only doomed most certainly to
perish at sea. Don't, then, be deceiving yourself; it must be
three weeks at least before you can expect 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, completely 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
"Perfect confidence," he answered; "and I acknowledge it most
gratefully, as a providential circumstance, that Captain Huntly
had given him the command in time. Whatever man can do I know
that Curtis will not leave undone to extricate us from our
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 remain upon the reef; but he
merely replied, that it must depend upon circumstances, and that
he hoped the weather would continue favourable. Fortunately the
barometer is rising steadily, and there is every sign of a
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 moisture
descending from above and that ascending from below. This scheme
has brought the pumps once more into requisition. At present the
crew are adequate to the task of working 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 labour, we are thrown upon our
own resources for passing our time. Letourneur, Andre and
myself, have frequent conversations; I also devote an hour or two
to my diary. Falsten holds little communication with any of us,
but remains absorbed 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;
unfortunately, 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 nonentity; 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 continually
falling out with Jynxtrop, the cook, an impudent, ill-favoured
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 accumulation of rock, 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 afterwards
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.
OCTOBER 31st to NOVEMBER 5th.--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, upheaved 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 marvellous
"This is indeed a singular island," said M. Letourneur;
"evidently it is of quite a recent origin."
"Yes, father," said Andre, "and I should think it has been caused
by a phenomenon similar to those which produced 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 'Chancellor' to stand 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 better to give
warning of a danger that does not exist than overlook one that
does. I daresay the sailors will not grumble much, if they don't
find a reef where we have marked one."
"No, I daresay 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
"Why, what a fellow you are Andre!" I said, laughing, "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 mollusc, 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 amidst 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 proposed 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
"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 with 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
towards the west. We had not gone very far when a beautiful
grotto, perfect as an architectural structure, 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
interstices filled up with its yellow lutings; the same precision
of outline in the prismatic angles, sharp as though chiselled 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, whilst the prismatic shafts themselves 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 that Andre Letourneur had proposed.
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
Miss Herbey, only too thankful to escape even for an hour from
her capricious mistress, eagerly accepted M. Letourneur'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 resolved to
intercede in Miss Herbey's favour; and as I had already rendered
that self-indulgent lady sundry services which she thought she
might probably be glad again to accept, 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, whilst 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
merrily 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 belonged to the
Macdonald family, who let it for the small sum of 12 pounds a
"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.
"Not at present," she said; then added, with a half-suppressed
sigh, "and yet it is a place where I have seemed to know what it
is to be really happy."
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.
NOVEMBER 6th to NOVEMBER 15th.--For the first five days after the
"Chancellor" had run aground, there was a dense black smoke
continually rising from the hold; but it gradually diminished
until the 6th of November, when we might consider that the fire
was extinguished. Curtis, nevertheless, 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
The rapidity, however, with which the water, at every retreat 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 examine 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 stoved 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 besides.
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 mizen-mast
repaired. Dowlas the carpenter, with considerable skill,
contrived to mortice 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
labour were all that were wanted to make them good; and with such
a will, did every one 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, however, 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 resume 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 undertaking; 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
One thing there is which is much in our favour; 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
NOVEMBER 15th to 20th.--The examination of the hold has at last
been made. Amongst 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 themselves
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 burnt away, and the very
ribs of the vessel were considerably 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 passengers 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
suspected, 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 construct 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 favourable, 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 immediately set to
work to repair the charred frame-work of the ribs, and to stop
the leak; they took care thoroughly to caulk 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
favourable the sails would be hoisted, if otherwise, she would
have to be towed through the narrow passage. All seemed simple.
But unlooked-for 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 entirely 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 present 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 north-west, and consequently 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 away at
the handspikes, and at four o'clock in the afternoon the
"Chancellor" was in motion.
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 action of the wind
should not be brought to bear and contribute 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 starboard 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
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 captain 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."
NOVEMBER 21st to 24th.--There was assuredly no time to be lost
before we ought to leave Ham Rock reef. The barometer had been
falling ever since the morning, the sea was getting rougher, and
there was every symptom that the weather, hitherto so favourable,
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 examine the
ridge which had proved so serious an obstruction, Falsten and I
accompanied them. We came to the conclusion 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
"But this basalt is as hard as granite," said the boatswain;
"besides, we can only get at it at low water, and consequently
could only work at it for two hours out of the twenty-four."
"All the more reason why we should begin at once, boatswain,"
"But if it is to take us a month, captain, perhaps by that time
the ship may be knocked to atoms. Couldn't we manage to blow up
the rock? we have got some powder on board."
"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 imperilled 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 being thrown into
Picric acid is a crystalline bitter product extracted from coal-
tar, and forming, in combination with potash, a yellow salt known
as picrate of potash. The explosive power of this substance is
inferior to that of gun-cotton or of dynamite, but far greater
than that of ordinary gunpowder; one grain of picric powder
producing an effect equal to that of thirteen grains of common
powder. Picrate is easily ignited by any sharp or violent shock,
and some gun-priming which we had in our possession would answer
the purpose of setting it alight.
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 laboured 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 23rd 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,
"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 always
very much to the point. His good advice was immediately 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 prisoners no more!
At high tide the "Chancellor" weighed anchor and floated out into
the open 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 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 week's 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
NOVEMBER 24th to DECEMBER 1st.--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 favourable, of
reaching the coast of Guiana in the course of a few days.
Our way was south-west 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 between passenger and passenger.
The first few days passed without any incident worth recording,
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 labouring far too heavily, he
clued up the top-gallants, prudently reckoning that, under the
circumstances, caution was far more important than speed.
The night came on dark and foggy. The breeze freshened
considerably, and, unfortunately for us, hailed from the north-
west. Although we carried no top-sails 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, whilst Curtis
never quitted his post upon the poop.
Towards two o'clock in the morning I was myself preparing to go
to my cabin, when Burke, one of the sailors who had been down
into the hold, came on deck with the ominous 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 informed 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 concealed. 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 expression 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
ardour; the labour was hard and scarcely repaid 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 relaxed. 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 discouraged, 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.
DECEMBER 2nd and 3rd.--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 dislodging some of the
bales of cotton we could hear a splashing, or rather gurgling
sound; but whether the water was entering 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 determined 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 watertight. For this purpose he had some strong,
well-tarred sails drawn upwards by ropes from below the keel, as
high as the previous leaking-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 pressure of
the waves, and this morning, after taking the sounding, the
boatswain could not suppress an oath when be announced "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 reported in
the hold, and some of the sailors, overcome by despair, 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 mutinous 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 inwards, and his ears
protrude, whilst his bleared and bloodshot eyes are encircled
with thick red rings.
Amongst the five or six other men who had struck work, I noticed
Jynxtrop 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
Curtis descended to his cabin, and almost immediately returned
with a loaded revolver in his hand.
For a moment Owen surveyed the captain with a frown of defiance;
but at a sign from Jynxtrop he seemed to recollect himself; and,
with the remainder of the men, he returned to his work.
DECEMBER 4th.--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 consequently often washed
over the deck and contributed their part towards 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 unwilling,
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
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 favour 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
I kept my own place steadily at the pumps, and Andre Letourneur
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. Keat, 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
Towards eight o'clock in the evening the framework for the raft.
was almost complete, and the men were lowering empty barrels,
which had first been securely bunged, and were lashing them to
the wood-work 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 inanimate form of Mrs.
Keat. 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 towards 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 towards 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 main-mast 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 ancles and almost instinctively 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.
NIGHT OF DECEMBER 4th.--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; whilst in the extreme aft near the taffrail, which was
still above water, I could distinguish the forms of Mr. and Mrs.
Kear, Miss Herbey, and Mr. Falsten 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 remonstrance, 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 altogether.
"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
marvelled 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 favour. 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
disappeared. 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 shouting
"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 whaleboat 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-masts and fastened firmly to
the stays. These are now our only provisions.
DECEMBER 5th.--The day was very hot. December in latitude 16deg.
N. is a summer month, and unless a breeze should rise to temper
the burning sun, we might expect to suffer from an oppressive
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
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 portions that
now are visible; and as the intervening section of the deck is
quite below the water, these appear to be connected 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
practised dexterity, manage to hoist themselves about by means of
the stays. For the passengers, 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 remaining vigour
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
structure of considerable solidity. The reasonableness of this
was self-apparent, and as the crew had recovered their assurance
they spared no pains to accomplish their work effectually.
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 oldish man, not less
than sixty, with his hair and beard bleached with the storms of
many travels. As I was making my way towards 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' of the ship?"
He turned his quid with the most serene composure, and
"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 silence, 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 scrutinizing looks at the sea and sky. In
less than an hour afterwards I saw Huntly let himself down by the
forestays and clamber along to the forecastle where he joined the
group of sailors, and I lost sight of him.
I attached little importance to the incident, and shortly
afterwards joined the party in the main-top, where we continued
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 refreshment some dried
meat and biscuit, each individual being 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
afterwards I heard him hail some of the sailors on the forecastle
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 asking more
than Mr. Kear was inclined to give, and at one time if 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 afterwards fastened to the forestay; 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 remained 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 vapour on the horizon 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 any
one. 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 forebodings, 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 illumined 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 whiteness 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 larboard shrouds.
DECEMBER 6th.--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 between the masts, which were
oscillating terrifically. It was still dark, and I could only
faintly distinguish two figures on 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 behind 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
Dead against us! then, thought I, the wind had shifted to the
south-west, and my last night's forebodings had been correct.
When daylight at length appeared, I found the wind although not
blowing actually from the south-west, had veered round to the
north-west, a change which was equally disastrous 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 forecastle 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 labouring 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
As I watched the men at their work M. Letourneur, with one arm
supporting his son, came 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 towards Mrs. Kear, who
was lying prostrate at her feet, asked what we thought ought to
"We can do nothing but stay where we are," I replied.
"No;" said Andre "this is our best refuge; I hope you are not
"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.
"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 Scotchman 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
"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 surreptitious
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 informed 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.
DECEMBER 6th CONTINUED.--The "Chancellor" no longer maintained
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 the water, whilst the bowsprit, with the exception
of the extreme end, that rose obliquely from the waves, was
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
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 constructed 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 before us? For
my own part I was possessed rather by a benumbed indifference
than by any sense of genuine resignation. M. Letourneur was
entirely absorbed in his son, who, in his turn, thought only of
his father; at the same time exhibiting a calm 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
pocket-book. 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 well-nigh lost their wits. Some of the
more ill-disposed amongst them seemed inclined to run into
excesses; and their conduct, under the bad influence of Owen and
Jynxtrop, made it doubtful whether they would submit to control
when once we were limited to the narrow dimensions of the raft.
Lieutenant Walter, although his courage never failed him, was
worn out with bodily fatigue, and obliged to give up all active
labour; 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
At five o'clock one of our companions in misfortune was released
from her sufferings. Mrs. Kear, after a most distressing
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. Towards 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
"There goes a carcase that we shall be sorry we have thrown
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.
DECEMBER 7th.--The ship was sinking rapidly; the water had risen
to the fore-top; the poop and forecastle were completely
submerged; the top of the bowsprit had disappeared, and only the
three mast-tops projected from the waves.
But all was ready on the raft; an erection had been made on the
fore to hold a mast, which was supported by shrouds fastened to
the sides of the platform; this mast carried a large royal.
Perhaps, after all, these few frail planks will carry us to the
shore which the "Chancellor" has failed to reach; at any rate, we
cannot yet resign all hope.
We were just on the point of embarking at 7 a.m. when the
"Chancellor" all at once began to sink so rapidly that the
carpenter and men who were on the raft were obliged with all
speed to cut the ropes that secured it to the vessel to prevent
it from being swallowed up in the eddying waters. Anxiety, the
most intense, took possession of us all. At the very moment when
the ship was descending into the fathomless abyss, the raft, our
only hope of safety, was drifting off before our eyes. Two of
the sailors and an apprentice, beside themselves with terror,
threw themselves headlong into the sea; but it was evident from
the very first that they were quite powerless to combat the winds
and waves. Escape was impossible; they could neither reach the
raft, nor return to the ship. Curtis tied a rope round his waist
and tried to swim to their assistance; but long before he could
reach them the unfortunate men, after a vain struggle for life,
sank below the waves and were seen no more. Curtis, bruised and
beaten with the surf that raged about the mast-heads, was hauled
back to the ship.
Meantime, Dowlas and his men, by means of some spars which they
used as oars, were exerting themselves to bring back the raft,
which had drifted about two cables-lengths away; but, in spite of
all their efforts, it was fully an hour,--an hour which seemed to
us, waiting as we were with the water up to the level of the top-
masts, like an eternity--before they succeeded in bringing the
raft alongside, and lashing it once again to the "Chancellor's"
Not a moment was then to be lost. The waves were eddying like a
whirlpool around the submerged vessel, and numbers of enormous
air-bubbles were rising to the surface of the water.
The time was come. At Curtis's word "Embark!" we all hurried to
the raft. Andre who insisted upon seeing Miss Herbey go first,
was helped safely on to the platform, where his father
immediately joined him. In a very few minutes all except Curtis
and old O'Ready had left the "Chancellor."
Curtis remained standing on the main-top, deeming it not only his
duty, but his right, to be the last to leave the vessel he had
loved so well, and the loss of which he so much deplored.
"Now then, old fellow off of this!" cried the captain to the old
Irishman, who did not move.
"And is it quite sure ye are that she's sinkin?" he said.
"Ay, ay! sure enough, my man; and you'd better look sharp."
"Faith, then, and I think I will;" and not a moment too soon (for
the water was up to his waist) he jumped on to the raft.
Having cast one last, lingering look around him, Curtis then left
the ship; the rope was cut and we went slowly adrift.
All eyes were fixed upon the spot where the "Chancellor" lay
foundering. The top of the mizen was the first to disappear,
then followed the main-top; and soon, of what had been a noble
vessel, not a vestige was to be seen.
Will this frail float, forty feet by twenty, bear us in safety?
Sink it cannot; the material of which it is composed is of a kind
that must surmount the waves. But it is questionable whether it
will hold together. The cords that bind it will have a
tremendous strain to bear in resisting the violence of the sea.
The most sanguine amongst us trembles to face the future; the
most confident dares to think only of the present. After the
manifold perils of the last seventy-two days' voyage all are too
agitated to look forward without dismay to what in all human
probability must be a time of the direst distress.
Vain as the task may seem, I will not pause in my work of
registering the events of our drama, as scene after scene they
are unfolded before our eyes.
Of the twenty-eight persons who left Charleston in the
"Chancellor," only eighteen are left to huddle together upon this
narrow raft; this number includes the five passengers, namely M.
Letourneur, Andre, Miss Herbey, Falsten, and myself; the ship's
officers, Captain Curtis, Lieutenant Walter, the boatswain,
Hobart the steward, Jynxtrop the cook, and Dowlas the carpenter;
and seven sailors, Austin, Owen, Wilson, O'Ready, Burke, Sandon,
Such are the passengers on the raft; it is but a brief task to
enumerate their resources.
The greater part of the provisions in the store-room were
destroyed at the time when the ship's deck was submerged, and the
small quantity that Curtis has been able to save will be very
inadequate to supply the wants of eighteen people, who too
probably have many days to wait ere they sight either land or a
passing vessel. One cask of biscuit, another of preserved meat,
a small keg of brandy, and two barrels of water complete our
store, so that the utmost frugality in the distribution of our
daily rations becomes absolutely necessary.
Of spare clothes we have positively none; a few sails will serve
for shelter by day, and covering by night. Dowlas has his
carpenter's tools, we have each a pocket-knife, and O'Ready an
old tin pot; of which he takes the most tender care; in addition
to these, we are in possession of a sextant, a compass, a chart,
and a metal tea-kettle, everything else that was placed on deck
in readiness for the first raft having been lost in the partial
submersion of the vessel.
Such then is our situation; critical indeed, but after all
perhaps not desperate. We have one great fear; some there are
amongst us whose courage, moral as well as physical, may give
way, and over failing spirits such as these we may have no
DECEMBER 7th CONTINUED.--Our first day on the raft has passed
without any special incident. At eight o'clock this morning
Curtis asked our attention for a moment.
"My friends," he said, "listen to me. Here on this raft, just as
when we were on board the 'Chancellor,' I consider myself your
captain; and as your captain, I expect that all of you will
strictly obey my orders. Let me beg of you, one and all, to
think solely of our common welfare; let us work with one heart
and with one soul, and may Heaven protect us!"
After delivering these few words with an emotion that evidenced
their earnestness, the captain consulted his compass, and found
that the freshening breeze was blowing from the north. This was
fortunate for us, and no time was to be lost in taking advantage
of it to speed us on our dubious way. Dowlas was occupied in
fixing the mast into the socket that had already been prepared
for its reception, and in order to support it more firmly he
placed spurs of wood, forming arched buttresses, on either side.
While he was thus employed the boatswain and the other seamen
were stretching the large royal sail on the yard that had been
reserved for that purpose.
By half-past nine the mast was hoisted, and held firmly in its
place by some shrouds attached securely to the sides of the raft;
then the sail was run up and trimmed to the wind, and the raft
began to make a perceptible progress under the brisk breeze.
As soon as we had once started, the carpenter set to work to
contrive some sort of a rudder, that would enable us to maintain
our desired direction. Curtis and Falsten assisted him with some
serviceable suggestions, and in a couple of hours' time he had
made and fixed to the back of the raft a kind of paddle, very
similar to those used by the Malays.
At noon, after the necessary preliminary observations, Curtis
took the altitude of the sun. The result gave lat. 15deg. 7min.
N. by long. 49deg. 35min. W. as our position, which, on
consulting the chart, proved to be about 650 miles north-east of
the coast of Paramaribo in Dutch Guiana.
Now even under the most favourable circumstances, with trade-
winds and weather always in our favour, we cannot by any chance
hope to make more than ten or twelve miles a day, so that the
voyage cannot possibly be performed under a period of two months.
To be sure there is the hope to be indulged that we may fall in
with a passing vessel, but as the part of the Atlantic into which
we have been driven is intermediate between the tracks of the
French and English Transatlantic steamers either from the
Antilles or the Brazils, we cannot reckon at all upon such a
contingency happening in our favour; whilst if a calm should set
in, or worse still, if the wind were to blow from the east, not
only two months, but twice, nay, three times that length of time
will be required to accomplish the passage.
At best, however, our provisions, even though used with the
greatest care, will barely last three months. Curtis has called
us into consultation, and as the working of the raft does not
require such labour as to exhaust our physical strength, all have
agreed to submit to a regimen which, although it will suffice to
keep us alive, will certainly not fully satisfy the cravings of
hunger and thirst.
As far as we can estimate, we have somewhere about 500 lbs. of
meat and about the same quantity of biscuit. To make this last
for three months we ought not to consume very much more than 5
lbs. a day of each, which, when divided among eighteen people,
will make the daily ration 5 oz. of meat and 5 oz. of biscuit for
each person. Of water we have certainly not more than 200
gallons, but by reducing each person's allowance to a pint a day,
we hope to eke out that, too, over the space of three months.
It is arranged that the food shall be distributed under the
boatswain's superintendence every morning at ten o'clock. Each
person will then receive his allowance of meat and biscuit, which
may be eaten when and how he pleases. The water will be given
out twice a day--at ten in the morning and six in the evening;
but as the only drinking-vessels in our possession are the tea-
kettle and the old Irishman's tin pot, the water has to be
consumed immediately on distribution. As for the brandy, of
which there are only five gallons, it will be doled out with the
strictest limitation, and no one will be allowed to touch it
except with the captain's express permission.
I should not forget that there are two sources from which we may
hope to increase our store. First, any rain that may fall will
add to our supply of water, and two empty barrels have been
placed ready to receive it; secondly, we hope to do something in
the way of fishing, and the sailors have already begun to prepare
All have mutually agreed to abide by the rules that have been
laid down, for all are fully aware that by nothing but the most
precise regimen can we hope to avert the horrors of famine, and
forewarned by the fate, of many who in similar circumstances have
miserably perished, we are determined to do all that prudence can
suggest for husbanding our stores.
DECEMBER 8th to 17th.--When night came we wrapped ourselves in
our sails. For my own part, worn out with the fatigue of the
long watch in the top-mast, I slept for several hours; M.
Letourneur and Andre did the same, and Miss Herbey obtained
sufficient rest to relieve the tired expression that her
countenance had lately been wearing. The night passed quietly.
As the raft was not very heavily laden the waves did not break
over it at all, and we were consequently able to keep ourselves
perfectly dry. To say the truth, it was far better for us that
the sea should remain somewhat boisterous, for any diminution in
the swell of the waves would indicate that; the wind had dropped,
and it was with a feeling of regret that when the morning came I
had to note down "weather calm" in my journal.
In these low latitudes the heat in the day-time is so intense,
and the sun burns with such an incessant glare, that the entire
atmosphere becomes pervaded with a glowing vapour. The wind,
too, blows only in fitful gusts and through long intervals of
perfect calm the sails flap idly and uselessly against the mast.
Curtis and the boatswain, however, are of opinion that we are not
entirely dependent on the wind. Certain indications, which a
sailor's eye alone could detect, make them almost sure that we
are being carried along by a westerly current, that flows at the
rate of three or four miles an hour. If they are not mistaken,
this is a circumstance that may materially assist our progress,
and at which we can hardly fail to rejoice, for the high
temperature often makes our scanty allowance of water quite
inadequate to allay our thirst.
But with all our hardships I must confess that our condition is
far preferable to what it was when we were still clinging to the
"Chancellor." Here at least we have a comparatively solid
platform beneath our feet, and we are relieved from the incessant
dread of being carried down with a foundering vessel. In the
day-time we can move about with a certain amount of freedom,
discuss the weather, watch the sea, and examine our fishing-
lines; whilst at night we can rest securely under the shelter of
"I really think, Mr. Kazallon," said Andre Letourneur to me a few
days after we had embarked, "that our time on board the raft
passes as pleasantly as it did upon Ham Rock; and the raft has
one advantage even over the reef, for it is capable of motion."
"Yes, Andre," replied, "as long as the wind continues favourable
the raft has decidedly the advantage; but supposing the wind
shifts, what then?"
"Oh, we mustn't think about that," he said; "let us keep up our
courage while we can."
I felt that he was right, and that the dangers we had escaped
should make us more hopeful for the future; and I think that
nearly all of us are inclined to share his opinion.
Whether the captain is equally sanguine I am unable to say. He
holds himself very much aloof, and as he evidently feels that he
has the great responsibility of saving other lives than his own,
we are reluctant to disturb his silent meditations.
Such of the crew as are not on watch spend the greater portion of
their time in dozing on the fore part of the raft. The aft, by
the captain's orders, has been reserved for the use of us
passengers, and by erecting some uprights we have contrived to
make a sort of tent, which affords some shelter from the burning
sun. On the whole our bill of health is tolerably satisfactory.
Lieutenant Walter is the only invalid, and he, in spite of all
our careful nursing, seems to get weaker every day.
Andre Letourneur is the life of our party, and I have never
appreciated the young man so well. His originality of perception
makes his conversation both lively and entertaining and as he
talks, his wan and suffering countenance lights up with an
intelligent animation. His father seems to become more devoted
to him than ever, and I have seen him sit for an hour at a time,
with his hand resting on his son's, listening eagerly to his
Miss Herbey occasionally joins in our conversation, but although
we all do our best to make her forget that she has lost those who
should have been her natural protectors, M. Letourneur is the
only one amongst us to whom she speaks without a certain reserve.
To him, whose age gives him something of the authority of a
father, she has told the history of her life--a life of patience
and self-denial such as not unfrequently falls to the lot of
orphans. She had been, she said, two years with Mrs. Kear, and
although now left alone in the world, homeless and without
resources, hope for the future does not fail her. The young
lady's modest deportment and energy of character command the
respect of all on board, and I do not think that even the
coarsest of the sailors has either by word or gesture acted
towards her in a way that she could deem offensive.
The 12th, 13th, and 14th of December passed away without any
change in our condition. The wind continued to blow in irregular
gusts, but always in the same direction, and the helm, or rather
the paddle at the back of the raft has never once required
shifting; and the watch, who are posted on the fore, under orders
to examine the sea with the most scrupulous attention, have had
no change of any kind to report.
At the end of a week we found ourselves growing accustomed to our
limited diet, and as we had no manual exertion, and no wear and
tear of our physical constitution, we managed very well. Our
greatest deprivation was the short supply of water, for, as I
said before, the unmitigated heat made our thirst at times very
On the 15th we held high festival. A shoal of fish, of the
sparus tribe, swarmed round the raft, and although our tackle
consisted merely of long cords baited with morsels of dried meat
stuck upon bent nails, the fish were so voracious that in the
course of a couple of days we had caught as many as weighed
almost 200lbs., some of which were grilled, and others boiled in
sea-water over a fire made on the fore part of the raft. This
marvellous haul was doubly welcome, inasmuch as it not only
afforded us a change of diet, but enabled us to economize our
stores; if only some rain had fallen at the same time we should
have been more than satisfied.
Unfortunately the shoal of fish did not remain long in our
vicinity. On the 17th they all disappeared, and some sharks, not
less than twelve or fifteen feet long, belonging to the species
of spotted dog-fish, took their place. These horrible creatures
have black backs and fins, covered with white spots and stripes.
Here, on our low raft, we seem almost on a level with them, and
more than once their tails have struck the spars with terrible
violence. The sailors manage to keep them at a distance by means
of handspikes, but I shall not be surprised if they persist in
following us, instinctively intelligent that we are destined to
become their prey. For myself, I confess that they give me a
feeling of uneasiness; they seem to me like monsters of ill-omen.
DECEMBER 18th to 20th.--On the 18th the wind freshened a little,
but as it blew from the same favourable quarter we did not
complain, and only took the precaution of putting an extra
support to the mast, so that it should not snap with the tension
of the sail. This done, the raft was carried along with
something more than its ordinary speed, and left a long line of
foam in its wake.
In the afternoon the sky became slightly overclouded, and the
heat consequently somewhat less oppressive. The swell made it
more difficult for the raft to keep its balance, and we shipped
two or three heavy seas; but the carpenter managed to make with
some planks a kind of wall about a couple of feet high, which
protected us from the direct action of the waves. Our casks of
food and water were secured to the raft with double ropes, for we
dared not run the risk of their being carried overboard, an
accident that would at once have reduced us to the direst
In the course of the day the sailors gathered some of the marine
plants known by the name of sargassos, very similar to those we
saw in such profusion between the Bermudas and Ham Rock. I
advised my companions to chew the laminary tangles, which they
would find contained a saccharine juice, affording considerable
relief to their parched lips and throats.
The remainder of the day passed without incident. I should not,
however, omit to mention that the frequent conferences held
amongst the sailors, especially between Owen, Burke, Flaypole,
Wilson, and Jynxtrop, the negro, aroused some uneasy suspicions
in my mind. What was the subject of their conversation I could
not discover, for they became silent immediately that a passenger
or one of the officers approached them. When I mentioned the
matter to Curtis I found he had already noticed these secret
interviews, and that they had given him enough concern to make
him determined to keep a strict eye upon Jynxtrop and Owen, who,
rascals as they were themselves, were evidently trying to
disaffect their mates.
On the 19th the heat was again excessive. The sky was cloudless,
and as there was not enough wind to fill the sail the raft lay
motionless upon the surface of the water. Some of the sailors
found a transient alleviation for their thirst by plunging into
the sea, but as we were fully aware that the water all round was
infested with sharks, none of us was rash enough to follow their
example, though if, as seems likely, we remain long becalmed, we
shall probably in time overcome our fears, and feel constrained
to indulge ourselves with a bath.
The health of Lieutenant Walter continues to cause us grave
anxiety, the young man being weakened by attacks of intermittent
fever. Except for the loss of the medicine-chest we might have
temporarily reduced this by quinine; but it is only too evident
that the poor fellow is consumptive, and that that hopeless
malady is making ravages upon him that no medicine could
permanently arrest. His sharp dry cough, his short breathing,
his profuse perspirations, more especially in the morning; the
pinched-in nose, the hollow cheeks, of which the general pallour
is only relieved by a hectic flush, the contracted lips, the too
brilliant eye and wasted form--all bear witness to a slow but
To-day, the 20th, the temperature is as high as ever, and the
raft still motionless. The rays of the sun penetrate even
through the shelter of our tent, where we sit literally gasping
with the heat. The impatience with which we awaited the moment
when the boatswain should dole out our meagre allowance of water,
and the eagerness with which those lukewarm drops were swallowed,
can only be realized by those who for themselves have endured the
agonies of thirst.
Lieutenant Walter suffers more than any of us from the scarcity
of water, and I noticed that Miss Herbey reserved almost the
whole of her own share for his use. Kind and compassionate as
ever, the young girl does all that lies in her power to relieve
the poor fellow's sufferings.
"Mr. Kazallon," she said to me this morning, "that young man gets
manifestly weaker every day."
"Yes, Miss Herbey," I replied, "and how sorrowful it is that we
can do nothing for him, absolutely nothing."
"Hush!" she said, with her wonted consideration, "perhaps he
will hear what we are saying."
And then she sat down near the edge of the raft, where, with her
head resting on her hands, she remained lost in thought.
An incident sufficiently unpleasant occurred to-day. For nearly
an hour Owen, Flaypole, Burke, and Jynxtrop had been engaged in
close conversation and, although their voices were low, their
gestures had betrayed that they were animated by some strong
excitement. At the conclusion of the colloquy Owen got up and
walked deliberately to the quarter of the raft that has been
reserved for the use of the passengers.
"Where are you off to now, Owen?" said the boatswain.
"That's my business," said the man insolently, and pursued his
The boatswain was about to stop him, but before he could
interfere Curtis was standing and looking Owen steadily in the
"Ah, captain, I've got a word from my mates to say to you," he
said, with all the effrontery imaginable.
"Say on, then," said the captain coolly.
"We should like to know about that little keg of brandy. Is it
being kept for the porpoises or the officers?"
Finding that he obtained no reply, he went on,--
"Look here, captain, what we want is to have our grog served out
every morning as usual."
"Then you certainly will not," said the captain.
"What! what!" exclaimed Owen, "don't you mean to let us have
"Once and for all, no."
For a moment, with a malicious grin upon his lips, Owen stood
confronting the captain; then, as though thinking better of
himself, he turned round and rejoined his companions, who were
still talking together in an undertone.
When I was afterwards discussing the matter with Curtis I asked
him whether he was sure he had done right in refusing the brandy.
"Right!" he cried, "to be sure I have. Allow those men to have
brandy! I would throw it all overboard first."
DECEMBER 21st.--No further disturbance has taken place amongst
the men. For a few hours the fish appeared again, and we caught
a great many of them, and stored them away in an empty barrel.
This addition to our stock of provisions makes us hope that food,
at least, will not fail us.
Usually the nights in the tropics are cool, but to-day, as
evening drew on, the wonted freshness did not return, but the,
air remained stifling and oppressive, whilst heavy masses of
vapour hung over the water.
There was no moonlight; there would be a new moon at half-past
one in the morning, but the night was singularly dark, except for
dazzling flashes of summer lightning that from time to time
illumined the horizon far and wide. There was, however, no
answering roll of thunder, and the silence of the atmosphere
seemed almost awful, For a couple of hours, in the vain hope of
catching a breath of air, Miss Herbey, Andre Letourneur, and I,
sat watching the imposing struggle of the electric vapours. The
clouds appeared like embattled turrets crested with flame, and
the very sailors, coarse-minded men as they were, seemed struck
with the grandeur of the spectacle, and regarded attentively,
though with an anxious eye, the preliminary tokens of a coming
storm. Until midnight we kept our seats upon the stern of the
raft, whilst the lightning ever and again shed around us a livid
glare similar to that produced by adding salt to lighted alcohol.
"Are you afraid of a storm, Miss Herbey?" said Andre to the
"No, Mr. Andre, my feelings are always rather those of awe than
of fear," she replied. "I consider a storm one of the sublimest
phenomena that we can behold--don't you think so too?"
"Yes, and especially when the thunder is pealing," he said; "that
majestic rolling, far different to the sharp crash of artillery,
rises and falls like the long-drawn notes of the grandest music,
and I can safely say that the tones of the most accomplished
ARTISTE have never moved me like that incomparable voice of
"Rather a deep bass, though," I said, laughing.
"That may be," he answered; "but I wish we might hear it now, for
this silent lightning is somewhat unexpressive"
"Never mind that, Andre" I said; "enjoy a storm when it comes, if
you like, but pray don't wish for it."
"And why not?" said he; "a storm will bring us wind, you know."
"And water, too," added Miss Herbey, "the water of which we are
so seriously in need."
The young people evidently wished to regard the storm from their
own point of view, and although I could have opposed plenty of
common sense to their poetical sentiments, I said no more, but
let them talk on as they pleased for fully an hour.
Meantime the sky was becoming quite overclouded, and after the
zodiacal constellations had disappeared in the mists that hung
round the horizon, one by one the stars above our heads were
veiled in dark rolling masses of vapour, from which every instant
there issued forth sheets of electricity that formed a vivid
background to the dark grey fragments of cloud that floated
As the reservoir of electricity was confined to the higher strata
of the atmosphere, the lightning was still unaccompanied by
thunder; but the dryness of the air made it a weak conductor.
Evidently the fluid could only escape by terrible shocks, and the
storm must ere long burst forth with fearful violence.
This was the opinion of Curtis and the boatswain. The boatswain
is only weather-wise from his experience as a sailor; but Curtis,
in addition to his experience, has some scientific knowledge, and
he pointed out to me an appearance in the sky known to
meteorologists as a "cloud-ring," and scarcely ever seen beyond
the regions of the torrid zone, which are impregnated by damp
vapours brought from all quarters of the ocean by the action of
"Yes, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis, "our raft has been driven into
the region of storms, of which it has been justly remarked that
any one endowed with very sensitive organs can at any moment
distinguish the growlings of thunder."
"Hark!" I said, as I strained my ears to listen, "I think I can
hear it now."
"You can," he answered; "yet what you hear is but the first
warning of the storm which, in a couple of hours, will burst upon
us with all its fury. But never mind, we must be ready for it."
Sleep, even if we wished it, would have been impossible in that
stifling temperature. The lightning increased in brilliancy, and
appeared from all quarters of the horizon, each flash covering
large arcs, varying from 100deg. to 150deg., leaving the
atmosphere pervaded by one incessant phosphorescent glow.
The thunder became at length more and more distinct, the reports,
if I may use the expression, being "round," rather than rolling.
It seemed almost as though the sky were padded with heavy clouds
of which the elasticity muffled the sound of the electric bursts.
Hitherto, the sea had been calm, almost stagnant as a pond. Now,
however, long undulations took place, which the sailors
recognized, all too well, as being the rebound produced by a
distant tempest. A ship, in such a case, would have been
instantly brought ahull, but no manoeuvring could be applied to
our raft, which could only drift before the blast.
At one o'clock in the morning one vivid flash, followed, after
the interval of a few seconds, by a loud report of thunder,
announced that the storm was rapidly approaching. Suddenly the
horizon was enveloped in a vapourous fog, and seemed to contract
until it was close around us. At the same instant the voice of
one of the sailors was heard shouting,--
"A squall! a squall!"
DECEMBER 21st, NIGHT.--The boatswain rushed to the halliards that
supported the sail, and instantly lowered the yard; and not a
moment too soon, for with the speed of an arrow the squall was
upon us, and if it had not been for the sailor's timely warning
we must all have been knocked down and probably precipitated into
the sea; as it was, our tent on the back of the raft was carried
The raft itself, however, being so nearly level with the water,
had little peril to encounter from the actual wind; but from the
mighty waves now raised by the hurricane we had everything to
dread. At first the waves had been crushed and flattened as it
were by the pressure of the air, but now, as though strengthened
by the reaction, they rose with the utmost fury. The raft
followed the motions of the increasing swell, and was tossed up
and down, to and fro, and from side to side with the most violent
oscillations "Lash yourselves tight," cried the boatswain, as he
threw us some ropes; and in a few moments, with Curtis's
assistance, M. Letourneur, Andre, Falsten, and myself were
fastened so firmly to the raft, that nothing but its total
disruption could carry us away. Miss Herbey was bound by a rope
passed round her waist to one of the uprights that had supported
our tent, and by the glare of the lightning I could see that her
countenance was as serene and composed as ever.
Then the storm began to rage indeed. Flash followed flash, peal
followed peal in quick succession. Our eyes were blinded, our
ears deafened, with the roar and glare. The clouds above, the
ocean beneath, seemed verily to have taken fire, and several
times I saw forked lightnings dart upwards from the crest of the
waves, and mingle with those that radiated from the fiery vault
above. A strong odour of sulphur pervaded the air, but though
thunderbolts fell thick around us, not one had touched our raft.
By two o'clock the storm had reached its height. The hurricane
had increased, and the heavy waves, heated to a strange heat by
the general temperature, dashed over us until we were drenched to
the skin. Curtis, Dowlas, the boatswain, and the sailors did
what they could to strengthen the raft with additional ropes. M.
Letourneur placed himself in front of Andre to shelter him from
the waves. Miss Herbey stood upright and motionless as a statue.
Soon dense masses of lurid clouds came rolling up, and a
crackling, like the rattle of musketry, resounded through the
air. This was produced by a series of electrical concussions, in
which volleys of hailstones were discharged from the cloud-
batteries above. In fact, as the storm-sheet came in contact
with a current of cold air, hail was formed with great rapidity,
and hailstones, large as nuts, came pelting down, making the
platform of the raft re-echo with a metallic ring.
For about half an hour the meteoric shower continued to descend,
and during that time the wind slightly abated in violence; but
after having shifted from quarter to quarter, it once more blew
with all its former fury. The shrouds were broken, but happily
the mast, already bending almost double, was removed by the men
from its socket before it should be snapped short off. One gust
caught away the tiller, which went adrift beyond all power of
recovery, and the same blast blew down several of the planks that
formed the low parapet on the larboard side, so that the waves
dashed in without hindrance through the breach.
The carpenter and his mates tried to repair the damage, but,
tossed from wave to wave, the raft was inclined to an angle of
more than forty-five degrees, making it impossible for them to
keep their footing, and rolling one over another, they were
thrown down by the violent shocks. Why they were not altogether
carried away, why we were not all hurled into the sea, was to me
a mystery. Even if the cords that bound us should retain their
hold, it seemed perfectly incredible that the raft itself should
not be overturned, so that we should be carried down and stifled
in the seething waters.
At last, towards three in the morning, when the hurricane seemed
to be raging more fiercely than ever, the raft, caught up on the
crest of an enormous wave, stood literally perpendicularly on its
edge. For an instant, by the illumination of the lightning, we
beheld ourselves raised to an incomprehensible height above the
foaming breakers. Cries of terror escaped our lips. All must be
over now! But no; another moment, and the raft had resumed its
horizontal position. Safe, indeed, we were, but the tremendous
upheaval was not without its melancholy consequences. The cords
that secured the cases of provisions had burst asunder. One case
rolled overboard, and the side of one of the water-barrels was
staved in, so that the water which it contained was rapidly
escaping. Two of the sailors rushed forward to rescue the case
of preserved meat; but one of them caught his foot between the
planks of the platform, and, unable to disengage it, the poor
fellow stood uttering-cries of distress.
I tried to go to his assistance, and had already untied the cord
that was round me; but I was too late. Another heavy sea dashed
over us, and by the light of a dazzling flash I saw the unhappy
man, although he had managed without assistance to disengage his
foot, washed overboard before it was in my power to get near him.
His companion had also disappeared.
The same ponderous wave laid me prostrate on the platform, and as
my head came in collision with the corner of a spar, for a time I
lost all consciousness.
DECEMBER 22nd.--Daylight came at length, and the sun broke
through and dispersed the clouds that the storm had left behind.
The struggle of the elements, while it lasted, had been terrific,
but the swoon into which I was thrown by my fall, prevented me
from observing the final incidents of the visitation. All that I
know is, that shortly after we had shipped the heavy sea that I
have mentioned, a shower of rain had the effect of calming the
severity of the hurricane, and tended to diminish the electric
tension of the atmosphere.
Thanks to the kind care of M. Letourneur and Miss Herbey, I
recovered consciousness, but I believe that it is to Robert
Curtis that I owe my real deliverance, for he it was that
prevented me from being carried away by a second heavy wave.
The tempest, fierce as it was, did not last more than a few
hours; but even in that short space of time what an irreparable
loss we have sustained, and what a load of misery seems stored up
for us in the future!
Of the two sailors who perished in the storm, one was Austin, a
fine active young man of about eight-and-twenty; the other was
old O'Ready, the survivor of so many ship wrecks. Our party is
thus reduced to sixteen souls, leaving a total barely exceeding
half the number of those who embarked on board the "Chancellor"
Curtis's first care had been to take a strict account of the
remnant of our provisions. Of all the torrents of rain that fell
in the night we were unhappily unable to catch a single drop; but
water will not fail us yet, for about fourteen gallons still
remain in the bottom of the broken barrel, whilst the second
barrel has not yet been touched. But of food we have next to
nothing. The cases containing the dried meat, and the fish that
we had preserved, have both been washed away, and all that now
remains to us is about sixty pounds of biscuit. Sixty pounds of
biscuit between sixteen persons! Eight days, with half a pound a
day apiece, will consume it all.
The day has passed away in silence. A general depression has
fallen upon all: the spectre of famine has appeared amongst us,
and each has remained wrapped in his own gloomy meditations,
though each has doubtless but one idea dominant in his mind.
Once, as I passed near the group of sailors lying on the fore
part of the raft, I heard Flaypole say with a sneer,--
"Those who are going to die had better make haste about it."
"Yes," said Owen, "leave their share of food to others."
At the regular hour each person received his half-pound of
biscuit. Some, I noticed, swallowed it ravenously, others
reserved it for another time. Falsten divided his ration into
several portions, corresponding, I believe, to the number of
meals to which he was ordinarily accustomed. What prudence he
shows! If any one survives this misery, I think it will be he.
DECEMBER 23rd to 30th--After the storm the wind settled back into
its old quarter, blowing pretty briskly from the north-east. As
the breeze was all in our favour it was important to make the
most of it, and after Dowlas had carefully readjusted the mast,
the sail was once more hoisted, and we were carried along at the
rate of two or two and a half knots an hour. A new rudder,
formed of a spar and a good-sized plank, has been fitted in the
place of the one we lost, but with the wind in its present
quarter it is in little requisition. The platform of the raft
has been repaired, the disjointed planks have been closed by
means of ropes and wedges, and that portion of the parapet that
was washed away has been replaced, so that we are no longer
wetted by the waves. In fact, nothing has been left undone to
insure the solidity of our raft, and to render it capable of
resisting the wear and tear of the wind and waves. But the
dangers of wind and waves are not those which we have most to
Together with the unclouded sky came a return of the tropical
heat, which during the preceding days had caused us such serious
inconvenience; fortunately on the 23rd the excessive warmth was
somewhat tempered by the breeze, and as the tent was once again
put up, we were able to find shelter under it by turns.
But the want of food was beginning to tell upon us sadly, and our
sunken cheeks and wasted forms were visible tokens of what we
were enduring. With most of us hunger seemed to attack the
entire nervous system, and the constriction of the stomach
produced an acute sensation of pain. A narcotic, such as opium
or tobacco, might have availed to soothe, if not to cure, the
gnawing agony; but of sedatives we had none, so the pain must be
One alone there was amongst us who did not feel the pangs of
hunger. Lieutenant Walter seemed as it were to feed upon the
fever that raged within him; but then he was the victim of the
most torturing thirst, Miss Herbey, besides reserving for him a
portion of her own insufficient allowance, obtained from the
captain a small extra supply of water, with which every quarter
of an hour she moistened the parched lips of the young man, who
almost too weak to speak, could only express his thanks by a
grateful smile. Poor fellow! all our care cannot avail to save
him now; he is doomed, most surely doomed to die.
On the 23rd he seemed to be conscious of his condition, for he
made a sign to me to sit down by his side, and then summoning up
all his strength to speak, he asked me in a few broken words how
long I thought he had to live? Slight as my hesitation was,
Walter noticed it immediately.
"The truth," he said; "tell me the plain truth."
"My dear fellow, I am not a doctor, you know," I began, "and I
can scarcely judge--"
"Never mind," he interrupted, "tell me just what you think."
I looked at him attentively for some moments, then laid my ear
against his chest. In the last few days his malady had made
fearfully rapid strides, and it was only too evident that one
lung had already ceased to act, whilst the other was scarcely
capable of performing the work of respiration. The young man was
now suffering from the fever which is the sure symptom of the
approaching end in all tuberculous complaints.
The lieutenant kept his eye fixed upon me with a look of eager
inquiry. I knew not what to say, and sought to evade his
"My dear,boy," I said, "in our present circumstances not one of
us can tell how long he has to live. Not one of us knows what
may happen in the course of the next eight days."
"The next eight days," he murmured, as he looked eagerly into my
And then, turning away his head, he seemed to fall into a sort of
The 24th, 25th, and 26th passed without any alteration in our
circumstances, and strange, nay, incredible as it may sound, we
began to get accustomed to our condition of starvation. Often,
when reading the histories of shipwrecks, I have suspected the
accounts to be greatly exaggerated; but now I fully realize their
truth, and marvel when I find on how little nutriment it is
possible to exist for so long a time. To our daily half-pound of
biscuit the captain has thought to add a few drops of brandy, and
the stimulant helps considerably to sustain our strength. If we
had the same provisions for two months, or even for one, there
might be room for hope; but our supplies diminish rapidly, and
the time is fast approaching when of food and drink there will be
The sea had furnished us with food once, and, difficult as the
task of fishing had now become, at all hazards the attempt must
be made again. Accordingly the carpenter and the boatswain set
to work and made lines out of some untwisted hemp, to which they
fixed some nails that they pulled out of the flooring of the
raft, and bent into proper shape. The boatswain regarded his
device with evident satisfaction.
"I don't mean to say," said he to me, "that these nails are
first-rate fish-hooks; but one thing I do know, and that is, with
proper bait they will act as well as the best. But this biscuit
is no good at all. Let me but just get hold of one fish, and I
shall know fast enough how to use it to catch some more."
And the true difficulty was how to catch the first fish. It was
evident that fish were not abundant in these waters, nevertheless
the lines were cast. But the biscuit with which they were baited
dissolved at once in the water, and we did not get a single bite.
For two days the attempt was made in vain, and as it only
involved what seemed a lavish waste of our only means of
subsistence, it was given up in despair.
To-day, the 30th, as a last resource, the boatswain tried what a
piece of coloured rag might do by way of attracting some
voracious fish, and having obtained from Miss Herbey a little
piece of the red shawl she wears, he fastened it to his hook.
But still no success; for when, after several hours, he examined
his lines, the crimson shred was still hanging intact as he had
fixed it. The man was quite discouraged at his failure.
"But there will be plenty of bait before long," he said to me in
a solemn undertone.
"What do you mean?" said I, struck by his significant manner.
"You'll know soon enough," he answered.
What did he insinuate? The words, coming from a man usually so
reserved, have haunted me all night.
JANUARY 1st to 5th.--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 drifting farther and farther to sea, it was
now impossible to determine, 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
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 towards the 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 grey line that united sea and sky, and our raft
remained the centre of the wide and dreary waste.
On the 1st of January we swallowed our last morsel of biscuit.
The 1st 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
"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. Towards 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 3rd 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 swimming with giddiness, as though I were looking over a
My symptoms were not shared by all my companions, some of whom
endured the most frightful tortures. Dowlas 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 excruciating pain that was gnawing their
And this was only the second day of our misery! what would we
not have given for half, nay, for a quarter of the meagre ration
which a few days back we had deemed so inadequate to supply our
wants, and which now, eked out crumb by crumb, might, perhaps,
serve for several days? In the streets of a besieged city, dire
as the distress may be, some gutter, some rubbish-heap, some
corner may yet be found that will furnish a dry bone or a scrap
of refuse that may for a moment allay the pangs of hunger; but
these bare planks, so many times washed clean by the relentless
waves, offer nothing to our eager search, and after every
fragment of food that the wind carried into their interstices has
been scraped out devoured, our resources are literary at an end.
The nights seem even longer than the days. Sleep, when it comes,
brings no relief; it is rather a feverish stupour, broken and
disturbed by frightful nightmares. Last night, however, overcome
by fatigue, I managed to rest for several hours.
At six o'clock this morning I was roused by the sound of angry
voices, and, starting up, I saw Owen and Jynxtrop, with Flaypole,
Wilson, Burke, and Sandon, standing in a threatening attitude.
They had taken possession of the carpenter's tools, and now,
armed with hatchets, chisels, and hammers, they were preparing to
attack the captain, the boatswain, and Dowlas. I attached myself
in a moment to Curtis's party. Falsten followed my example, and
although our knives were the only weapons at our disposal, we
were ready to defend ourselves to the very last extremity.
Owen and his men advanced towards us. The miserable wretches
were all drunk, for during the night they had knocked a hole in
the brandy-barrel, and had recklessly swallowed its contents.
What they wanted they scarcely seemed to know, but Owen and
Jynxtrop, not quite so much intoxicated as the rest; seemed to be
urging them on to massacre the captain and the officers.
"Down with the captain! Overboard with Curtis! Owen shall take
the command!" they shouted from time to time in their drunken
fury; and, armed as they were, they appeared completely masters
of the situation.
"Now, then, down with your arms!" said Curtis sternly, as he
advanced to meet them.
"Overboard with the captain!" howled Owen, as by word and
gesture he urged on his accomplices.
Curtis' pushed aside the excited rascals, and, walking straight
up to Owen, asked him what he wanted.
"What do we want? Why, we want no more captains; we are all
Poor stupid fool! as though misery and privation had not already
reduced us all to the same level.
"Owen," said the captain once, again, "down with your arms!"
"Come on, all,of you," shouted Owen to his companions, without
giving the slightest heed to Curtis's words.
A regular struggle ensued. Owen and Wilson attacked Curtis, who
defended himself with a piece of a spar; Burke and Flaypole
rushed upon Falsten and the boatswain, whilst I was left to
confront the negro Jynxtrop, who attempted to strike me with the
hammer which he brandished in his hand. I endeavoured to
paralyze his movements by pinioning his arms, but the rascal was
my superior in muscular strength. After wrestling for a few
moments, I felt that he was getting the mastery over me when all
of a sudden he rolled over on to the platform, dragging me with
him. Andre Letourneur had caught hold of one of his legs, and
thus saved my life. Jynxtrop dropped his weapon in his fall; I
seized it instantly, and was about to cleave the fellow's skull,
when I was myself arrested by Andre's hand upon my arm.
By this time the mutineers had been driven back to the forepart
of the raft, and Curtis, who had managed to parry the blows which
had been aimed at him, had caught hold of a hatchet, with which
he was preparing to strike at Owen. But Owen made a sidelong
movement to avoid the blow, and the weapon caught Wilson full in
the chest. The unfortunate man rolled over the side of the raft
and instantly disappeared.
"Save him! save him!" shouted the boatswain.
"It's too late; he's dead!" said Dowlas.
"Ah, well! he'll do for--" began the boatswain; but he did not
finish his sentence.
Wilson's death, however, put an end to the fray. Flaypole and
Burke were lying prostrate in a drunken stupour, and Jynxtrop was
soon overpowered, and lashed tightly to the foot of the mast.
The carpenter and the boatswain seized hold of Owen.
"Now then," said Curtis, as he raised his blood-stained hatchet,
"make your peace with God, for you have not a moment to live."
"Oh, you want to eat me, do you?" sneered Owen, with the most
But the audacious reply saved his life; Curtis turned as pale as
death, the hatchet dropped from his hand, and he went and seated
himself moodily on the farthest corner of the raft.
JANUARY 5th and 6th.--The whole scene made a deep impression on
our minds, and Owen's speech coming as a sort of climax, brought
before us our misery with a force that was well-nigh
As soon as I recovered my composure, I did not forget to thank
Andre Letourneur for the act of intervention that had saved my
"Do you thank me for that; Mr. Kazallon?" he said; "it has only
served to prolong your misery."
"Never mind, M. Letourneur," said Miss Herbey; "you did your
Enfeebled and emaciated as the young girl is, her sense of duty
never deserts her, and although her torn and bedraggled garments
float dejectedly about her body, she never utters a word of
complaint, and never loses courage.
"Mr. Kazallon," she said to me, "do you think we are fated to die
"Yes; Miss Herbey, I do," I replied in a hard, cold tone.
"How long do you suppose we have to live?" she asked again.
"I cannot say; perhaps we shall linger on longer than we
"The strongest constitutions suffer the most, do they not?" she
"Yes; but they have one consolation; they die the soonest;" I
Had every spark of humanity died out of my breast that I thus
brought the girl face to face with the terrible truth without a
word of hope or comfort? The eyes of Andre and his father,
dilated with hunger, were fixed upon me, and I saw reproach and
astonishment written in their faces.
Afterwards, when we were quite alone, Miss Herbey asked me if I
would grant her a favour.
"Certainly, Miss Herbey; anything you like to ask," I replied;
and this time my manner was kinder and more genial.
"Mr. Kazallon," she said, "I am weaker than you, and shall
probably die first. Promise me that, if I do, you will throw my
body into the sea."
"Oh, Miss Herbey," I began, "it was very wrong of me to speak to
you as I did!"
"No, no," she replied, half smiling; "you were quite right. But
it is a weakness of mine; I don't mind what they do with me as
long as I am alive, but when I am dead--" she stopped and
shuddered. "Oh, promise me that you will throw me into, the
I gave her the melancholy promise, which she acknowledged by
pressing my hand feebly with her emaciated fingers.
Another night passed away. At times my sufferings were so
intense that cries of agony involuntarily escaped my lips; then I
became calmer, and sank into a kind of lethargy. When I awoke, I
was surprised to find my; companions still alive.
The one of our party who seems to bear his privations the best is
Hobart the steward, a man with whom hitherto I have had very
little to do. He is small, with a fawning expression remarkable
for its indecision, and has a smile which is incessantly playing
round his lips; he goes about with his eyes half-closed, as
though he wished to conceal his thoughts, and there is something
altogether false and hypocritical about his whole demeanour. I
cannot say that he bears his privations without a murmur, for he
sighs and moans incessantly; but, with it all, I cannot but think
that there is a want of genuineness in his manner, and that the
privation has not really told upon him as much as it has upon the
rest of us. I have my suspicions about the man, and intend to
watch him carefully. To-day, the 6th, M. Letourneur drew me
aside to the stern of the raft, saying that he had a secret to
communicate, but that he wished neither to be seen nor heard
speaking to me. I withdrew with him to the larboard corner of
the raft; and, as it was growing dusk, nobody observed what we
"Mr. Kazallon," M. Letourneur began in a low voice, "Andre is
dying of hunger: he is growing weaker and weaker, and oh! I
cannot, will not see him die!"
He spoke passionately, almost fiercely, and I fully understood
his feelings. Taking his hand, I tried to reassure him.
"We will not despair yet," I said, "perhaps some passing ship--"
"Ship!" he cried impatiently, "don't try to console me with
empty commonplaces; you know as well as I do that there is no
chance of falling in with a passing ship." Then, breaking off
suddenly, he asked,--"How long is it since my son and all of you
have had anything to eat?"
Astonished at his question, I replied that it was now four days
since the biscuit had failed.
"Four days," he repeated; "well, then, it is eight since I have
tasted anything. I have been saving my share for my son."
Tears rushed to my eyes; for a few moments I was unable to speak,
and could only once more grasp his hand in silence.
"What do you want me to do?" I asked at length.
"Hush! not so loud; some one will hear us," he said, Towering
his voice, "I want you to offer it to Andre as though it came
from yourself. He would not accept it from me; he would think I
had been depriving myself for him. Let me implore you to do me
this service and for your trouble," and here he gently stroked my
hand, "for your trouble you shall have a morsel for yourself."
I trembled like a child as I listened to the poor father's words,
and my heart was ready to burst when I felt a tiny piece of
biscuit slipped into my hand.
"Give it him," M. Letourneur went on under his breath, "give it
him; but do not let any one see you; the monsters would murder
you if they knew it. This is only for to-day; I will give you
some more to-morrow."
The poor fellow did not trust me, and well he might not, for I
had the greatest difficulty to withstand the temptation to carry
the biscuit to my mouth, But I resisted the impulse, and those
alone who have suffered like me can know what the effort was.
Night came on with the rapidity peculiar to these low latitudes,
and I glided gently up to Andre and slipped the piece of biscuit
into his hand as "a present from myself." The young man clutched
at it eagerly.
"But my father?" he said inquiringly.
I assured him that his father and I had each had our share, and
that he must eat this now, and, perhaps, I should be able to
bring him some more another time. Andre asked no more questions,
and eagerly devoured the morsel of food.
So this evening at least, notwithstanding M. Letourneur's offer,
I have tasted nothing.
JANUARY 7th.--During the last few days since the wind has
freshened, the salt water constantly dashing over the raft has
terribly punished the feet and legs of some of the sailors.
Owen, whom the boatswain ever since the revolt kept bound to the
mast, is in a deplorable state, and at our request has been
released from his restraint. Sandon and Burke are also suffering
from the severe smarting caused in this way, and it is only owing
to our more sheltered position on the aft-part of the raft, that
we have not; all shared the same inconvenience.
Today the boatswain, maddened by starvation, laid hands upon
everything that met his voracious eyes, and I could hear the
grating of his teeth as he gnawed at fragments of sails and bits
of wood, instinctively endeavouring to fill his stomach by
putting the mucus' into circulation at length, by dint of an
eager search, he came upon a piece of leather hanging to one of
the spars that supported the platform. He snatched it off and
devoured it greedily, and as it was animal matter, it really
seemed as though the absorption of the substance afforded him
some temporary relief. Instantly we all followed his example; a
leather hat, the rims of caps, in short, anything that contained
any animal matter at all, were gnawed and sucked with the utmost
avidity. Never shall I forget the scene. We were no longer
human, the impulses and instincts of brute beasts seemed to
actuate our every movement.
For a moment the pangs of hunger were somewhat allayed; but some
of us revolted against the loathsome food, and were seized either
with violent nausea or absolute sickness. I must be pardoned for
giving these distressing details, but how otherwise can I depict
the misery, moral and physical, which we are enduring? And with
it all, I dare not venture to hope that we have reached the
climax of our sufferings.
The conduct of Hobart during the scene that I have just described
has only served to confirm my previous suspicions of him. He
took no part in the almost fiendish energy with which we gnawed
at our scraps of leather, and although by his conduct and
perpetual groanings, he might be considered to be dying of
inanition, yet to me he has the appearance of being singularly
exempt from the tortures which we are all enduring. But whether
the hypocrite is being sustained, by some secret store of food, I
have been unable to discover.
Whenever the breeze drops the heat is overpowering; but although
our allowance of water is very meagre, at present the pangs of
hunger far exceed the pain of thirst. It has often been remarked
that extreme thirst is far less endurable than extreme hunger.
Is it possible that still greater agonies are in store for us? I
cannot, dare not, believe it. Fortunately, the broken barrel
still contains a few pints of water, and the other one has not
yet been opened. But I am glad to say that notwithstanding our
diminished numbers, and in spite of some opposition, the captain
has thought right to reduce the daily allowance to half a pint
for each person. As for the brandy, of which there is only a
quart now left, it has been stowed away safely in the stern of
This evening has ended the sufferings of another of our
companions, making our number now only fourteen. My attentions
and Miss Herbey's nursing could do nothing for Lieutenant Walter,
and about half-past seven he expired in my arms.
Before he died, in a few broken words he thanked Miss Herbey and
myself for the kindness we had shown him. A crumpled letter fell
from his hand, and in a voice that was scarcely audible from
weakness, he said,--
"It is my mother's letter: the last I had from her--she was
expecting me home; but she will never see me more. Oh, put it to
my lips--let me kiss it before I die. Mother! mother! Oh my
I placed the letter in his cold hand, and raised it to his lips;
his eye lighted for a moment; we heard the faint sound of a kiss,
and all was over!
JANUARY 8th.--All night I remained by the side of the poor
fellow's corpse, and several times Miss Herbey joined me in my
Before daylight dawned the body was quite cold, and as I knew
there must be no delay in throwing it overboard, I asked Curtis
to assist me in the sad office. The body was frightfully
emaciated, and I had every hope that it would not float.
As soon as it was quite light, taking every precaution that no
one should see what we were about, Curtis and I proceeded to our
melancholy task. We took a few articles from the lieutenant's
pockets, which we purposed, if either of us should survive, to
remit to his mother. But as we wrapped him in his tattered
garments that would have to suffice for his winding-sheet, I
started back with a thrill of horror. The right foot had gone,
leaving the leg a bleeding stump!
No doubt that, overcome by fatigue, I must have fallen asleep for
an interval during the night, and some one had taken advantage of
my slumber to mutilate the corpse. But who could have been
guilty of so fowl a deed! Curtis looked around with anger
flashing In his eye; but all seemed as usual, and the silence was
only broken by a few groans of agony.
But there was no time to be lost; perhaps we were already
observed, and more horrible scenes might be likely to occur.
Curtis said a few short prayers, and we cast the body into the
sea. It sank immediately.
"They are feeding the sharks well, and no mistake," said a voice
I turned round quickly, and found that it was Jynxtrop who had
As the boatswain now approached, I asked him whether he thought
it possible that any of the wretched men could have taken the
dead man's foot.
"Oh yes, I dare say," he replied, in a significant tone "and
perhaps they thought they were right."
"Right! what do you mean?" I exclaimed.
"Well, sir," he said coldly, "isn't it better to eat a dead man
than a living one?"
I was at a loss to comprehend him, and, turning away, laid myself
down at the end of the raft.
Towards eleven o'clock, a most suspicious incident occurred. The
boatswain, who had cast his lines early in the morning, caught
three large cod, each more than thirty inches long, of the
species which, when dried, is known by the name of stock-fish.
Scarcely had he hauled them on board, when the sailors made a
dash at them, and it was with the utmost difficulty that Curtis,
Falsten, and myself could restore order, so that we might divide
the fish into equal portions. Three cod were not much amongst
fourteen starving persons, but, small as the quantity was, it was
allotted in strictly equal shares. Most of us devoured the food
raw, almost I might say, alive; only Curtis, Andre and Miss
Herbey having the patience to wait until their allowance had been
boiled at a fire which they made with a few scraps of wood. For
myself, I confess that I swallowed my portion of fish just as it
was,--raw and bleeding. M. Letourneur followed my example; the
poor man devoured his food like a famished wolf, and it is only a
wonder to me how, after his lengthened fast, he came to be alive
The boatswain's delight at his success was, excessive, and
amounted almost to delirium. I went up to him, and encouraged
him to repeat his attempt.
"Oh, yes," he said; "I'll try again. I'll try again."
"And why not try at once," I asked.
"Not now," he said evasively; "the night is the best time for
catching large fish. Besides, I must manage to get some bait,
for we have been improvident enough not to save a single scrap."
"But you have succeeded once without bait; why may you not
"Oh! I had some very good bait last night," he said. I stared
at him in amazement. He steadily returned my gaze, but said
"Have you none left?" at last I asked.
"Yes!" he almost whispered and left me without another word.
Our meal, meagre as it had been, served to rally our shattered
energies; our hopes were slightly raised; there was no reason why
the boatswain should not have the same good luck again.
One evidence of the degree to which our spirits were revived was
that our minds were no longer fixed upon the miserable present
and hopeless future, but we began to recall and discuss the past;
and M. Letourneur, Andre Mr. Falsten, and I held a long
conversation with the captain about the various incidents of our
eventful voyage, speaking of our lost companions, of the fire, of
the stranding of the ship, of our sojourn on Ham Rock, of the
springing of the leak, of our terrible voyage in the top-masts,
of the construction of the raft, and of the storm. All these
things seemed to have happened so long ago, and yet we were
living still. Living, did I say? Ay, if such an existence as
ours could be called a life, fourteen of us were living still.
Who would be the next to go? We should then be thirteen.
"An unlucky number!" said Andre with a mournful smile.
During the night the boatswain cast his lines from the stern of
the raft, and, unwilling to trust them to any one else, remained
watching them himself. In the morning I went to ascertain what
success had attended his patience. It was scarcely light, and
with eager eyes he was peering down into the water. He had
neither seen nor heard me coming.
"Well, boatswain!" I said, touching him on the shoulder.
He turned round quickly.
"Those villainous sharks have eaten every morsel of my bait," he
said, in a desponding voice.
"And you have no more left?" I asked.
"No more," he said. Then grasping my arm he added, "and that
only shows me that it is no good doing things by halves."
The truth flashed upon me at once, and I laid my hand upon his
mouth. Poor Walter!
JANUARY 9th and 10th.--On the 9th the wind dropped, and there was
a dead calm; not a ripple disturbed the surface of the long
undulations as they rose and fell beneath us; and if it were not
for the slight current which is carrying us we know not whither,
the raft would be absolutely stationary.
The heat was intolerable; our thirst more intolerable still; and
now it was that for the first time I fully realized how the
insufficiency of drink could cause torture more unendurable than
the pangs of hunger. Mouth, throat, pharynx, all alike were
parched and dry, every gland becoming hard as horn under the
action of the hot air we breathed. At my urgent solicitation the
captain was for once induced to double our allowance of water;
and this relaxation of the ordinary rule enabled us to attempt to
slake our thirst four times in the day, instead of only twice. I
use the word "attempt" advisedly; for the water at the bottom of
the barrel, though kept covered by a sail, became so warm that it
was perfectly flat and unrefreshing.
It was a most trying day, and the sailors relapsed into a
condition of deep despondency. The moon was nearly full, but
when she rose the breeze did not return. Continuance of high
temperature in daytime is a sure proof that we have been carried
far to the south, and here, on this illimitable ocean, we have
long ceased even to look for land; it might almost seem as though
this globe of ours had veritably become a liquid sphere!
To-day we are still becalmed, and the temperature is as high as
ever. The air is heated like a furnace, and the sun scorches
like fire. The torments of famine are all forgotten: our
thoughts are concentrated with fevered expectation upon the
longed-for moment when Curtis shall dole out the scanty measure
of lukewarm water that makes up our ration. O for one good
draught, even if it should exhaust the whole supply! At least,
it seems as if we then could die in peace!
About noon we were startled by sharp cries of agony, and looking
round I saw Owen writhing in the most horrible convulsions. I
went towards him, for, detestable as his conduct had been, common
humanity prompted me to see whether I could afford him any
relief. But before I reached him, a shout from Flaypole arrested
The man was up in the mast, and with great excitement pointing to
"A ship! A ship!" he cried.
In an instant all were on their feet. Even Owen stopped his
cries and stood erect. It was quite true that in the direction
indicated by Flaypole there was a white speck visible upon the
horizon. But did it move? Would the sailors with their keen
vision pronounce it to be a sail? A silence the most profound
fell upon us all. I glanced at Curtis as he stood with folded
arms intently gazing at the distant point. His brow was
furrowed, and he contracted every feature, as with half-closed
eyes, he concentrated his power of vision upon that one faint
spot in the far-off horizon.
But at length he dropped his arms and shook his head. I looked
again, but the spot was no longer there. If it were a ship, that
ship had disappeared; but probably it had been a mere reflection,
or, more likely still, only the crest of some curling wave.
A deep dejection followed this phantom ray of hope. All returned
to their accustomed places. Curtis alone remained motionless,
but his eye no longer scanned the distant view.
Owen now began to shriek more wildly than ever. He presented
truly a most melancholy sight; he writhed with the most hideous
contortions, and had all the appearance of suffering from
tetanus. His throat was contracted by repeated spasms, his
tongue was parched, his body swollen, and his pulse, though
feeble, was rapid and irregular. The poor wretch's symptoms were
precisely such as to lead us to suspect that he had taken some
corrosive poison. Of course it was quite out of our power to
administer any antidote; all that we could devise was to make him
swallow something that might act as an emetic. I asked Curtis
for a little of the lukewarm water. As the contents of the
broken barrel were now exhausted, the captain, in order to comply
with my request, was about to tap the other barrel, when Owen
started suddenly to his knees, and with a wild, unearthly shriek,
"No! no! no! of that water I will not touch a drop."
I supposed he did not understand what we were going to do, and
endeavoured to explain; but all in vain; he persisted in refusing
to taste the water in the second barrel. I then tried to induce
vomiting by tickling his uvula, and he brought off some bluish
secretion from his stomach, the character of which confirmed our
previous suspicions--that he had been poisoned by oxide of
copper. We now felt convinced that any efforts on our part to
save him would be of no avail. The vomiting, however, had for
the time relieved him, and he was able to speak.
Curtis and I both implored him to let us know what he had taken
to bring about consequences so serious. His reply fell upon us
as a startling blow.
The ill fated wretch had stolen several pints of water from the
barrel that had been untouched, and that water had poisoned him!
JANUARY 11th to 14th.--Owen's convulsions returned with increased
violence, and in the course of the night he expired in terrible
agony. His body was thrown overboard almost directly; it had
decomposed so rapidly that the flesh had not even consistency
enough for any fragments of it to be reserved for the boatswain
to use to bait his lines. A plague the man had been to us in his
life; in his death he was now of no service!
And now, perhaps, still more than ever, did the horror of our
situation stare us in the face. There was no doubt that the
poisoned barrel had at some time or other contained copperas; but
what strange fatality had converted it into a water-cask, or what
fatality, stranger still, had caused it to be brought on board
the raft, was a problem that none could solve. Little, however,
did it matter now: the fact was evident; the barrel was
poisoned, and of water we had not a drop.
One and all, we fell into the gloomiest silence. We were too
irritable to bear the sound of each other's voices; and it did
not require a word, a mere look or gesture was enough, to provoke
us to anger that was little short of madness. How it was that we
did not all become raving maniacs, I cannot tell.
Throughout the 12th no drain of moisture crossed our lips, and
not a cloud arose to warrant the expectation of a passing shower;
in the shade, if shade it might be called, the thermometer would
have registered at least 100deg., and, perhaps, considerably
No change next day. The salt water began to chafe my legs, but
although the smarting was at times severe, it was an
inconvenience to which I gave little heed; others who had
suffered from the same trouble had become no worse. Oh! if this
water that surrounds us could be reduced to vapour or to ice!
its particles of salt extracted, it would be available for drink.
But no! we have no appliances, and we must suffer on.
At the risk of being devoured by the sharks, the boatswain and
two sailors took a morning bath, and as their plunge seemed to
refresh them, I and three of my companions resolved to follow
their example. We had never learnt to swim, and had to be
fastened to the end of a rope and lowered into the water; while
Curtis during the half-hour of our bath, kept a sharp look-out to
give warning of any danger from approaching sharks. No
recommendation, however, on our part, nor any representation of
the benefit we felt we had derived, could induce Miss Herbey to
allay her sufferings in the same way.
At about eleven o'clock, the captain came up to me, and whispered
in my ear,--
"Don't say a word, Mr. Kazallon; I do not want to raise false
hopes, but I think I see a ship."
It was as well that the captain had warned me; otherwise, I
should have raised an involuntary shout of joy; as it was, I had
the greatest difficulty in restraining my expressions of delight.
"Look behind to larboard," he continued in an undertone.
Affecting an indifference which I was far from feeling, I cast an
anxious glance to that quarter of the horizon of which he spoke,
and there, although mine is not a nautical eye, I could plainly
distinguish the outline of a ship under sail.
Almost at the same moment the boatswain who happened to be
looking in the same direction, raised the cry, "Ship ahoy!"
Whether it was that no one believed it, or whether all energies
were exhausted, certain it is that the announcement produced none
of the effects that might have been expected. Not a soul
exhibited the slightest emotion, and it was only when the
boatswain had several times sung out his tidings that all eyes
turned to the horizon. There, most undeniably, was the ship, and
the question rose at once to the minds of all, and to the lips of
many, "Would she see us?"
The sailors immediately began discussing the build of the vessel,
and made all sorts of conjectures as to the direction she was
taking. Curtis was far more deliberate in his judgment. After
examining her attentively for some time, he said, "She is a brig
running close upon the wind, on the starboard tack, If she keeps
her course for a couple of hours, she will come right athwart our
A couple of hours! The words sounded to our ears like a couple
of centuries. The ship might change her course at any moment;
closely trimmed as she was, it was very probable that she was
only tacking about to catch the wind, in which case, as soon as
she felt a breeze, she would resume her larboard tack and make
away again. On the other hand, if she were really sailing with
the wind, she would come nearer to us, and there would be good
ground for hope.
Meantime, no exertion must be spared, and no means left untried,
to make our position known. The brig was about twelve miles to
the east of us, so that it was out of the question to think of
any cries of ours being overheard; but Curtis gave directions
that every possible signal should be made. We had no fire-arms
by which we could attract attention, and nothing else occurred to
us beyond hoisting a flag of distress. Miss Herbey's red shawl,
as being of a colour most distinguishable against the background
of sea and sky, was run up to the mast-head, and was caught by
the light breeze that just then was ruffling the surface of the
water. As a drowning man clutches at a straw, so our hearts
bounded with hope every time that our poor flag fluttered in the
For an hour our feelings alternated between hope and despair.
The ship was evidently making her way in the direction of the
raft, but every now and then she seemed to stop, and then our
hearts would almost stand still with agony lest she was going to
put about. She carried all her canvas, even to her royals and
stay-sails, but her hull was only partially visible above the
How slowly she advanced! The breeze was very, very feeble, and
perhaps soon it would drop altogether! We felt that we would
give years of our life to know the result of the coming hour!
At half-past twelve the captain and the boatswain considered that
the brig was about nine miles away; she had, therefore, gained
only three miles in an hour and a half, and it was doubtful
whether the light breeze that had been passing over our heads had
reached her at all. I fancied, too, that her sails were no
longer filled, but were hanging loose against her masts. Turning
to the direction of the wind I tried to make out some chance of a
rising breeze; but no, the waves were calm and torpid, and the
little puff of air that had aroused our hopes had died away
across the sea.
I stood aft with M. Letourneur, Andre and Miss Herbey, and our
glances perpetually wandered from the distant ship to our
captain's face. Curtis stood leaning against the mast, with the
boatswain by his side; their eyes seemed never for a moment to
cease to watch the brig, but their countenances clearly expressed
the varying emotions that passed through their minds. Not a word
was uttered, nor was the silence broken, until the carpenter
exclaimed, in accents of despair,--
"She's putting about!"
All started up: some to their knees, others to their feet, The
boatswain dropped a frightful oath. The ship was still nine
miles away, and at such a distance it was impossible for our
signal to be seen; our tiny raft, a mere speck upon the waters,
would be lost in the intense irradiation of the sunbeams. If
only we could be seen, no doubt all would be well; no captain
would have the barbarous inhumanity to leave us to our fate; but
there had been no chance; only too well we knew that we had not
been within the range of sight.
"My friends," said Curtis, "we must make a fire; it is our last
and only chance."
Some planks were quickly loosened and thrown into a heap upon the
fore part of the raft. They were damp and troublesome to light;
but the very dampness made the smoke more dense, and ere long a
tall column of dusky fumes was rising straight upwards in the
air. If darkness should come on before the brig was completely
out of view, the flames we hoped might still be visible. But the
hours passed on; the fire died out; and yet no signs of help.
The temper of resignation now deserted me entirely; faith, hope,
confidence--all vanished from my mind, and like the boatswain, I
swore long and loudly. A gentle hand was laid upon my arm, and
turning round I saw Miss Herbey with her finger pointing to the
sky. I could stand it no longer, but gliding underneath the tent
I hid my face in my hands and wept aloud.
Meanwhile the brig had altered her tack, and was moving slowly to
the east. Three hours later and the keenest eye could not have
discerned her top-sails above the horizon.
JANUARY 15th.--After this further shattering of our excited hopes
death alone now stares us in the face; slow and lingering as that
death may be, sooner or later it must inevitably come.
To-day some clouds that rose in the west have brought us a few
puffs of wind; and in spite of our prostration, we appreciate the
moderation, slight as it is, in the temperature. To my parched
throat the air seemed a little less trying but it is now seven
days since the boatswain took his haul of fish, and during that
period we have eaten nothing even Andre Letourneur finished
yesterday the last morsel of the biscuit which his sorrowful and
self-denying father had entrusted to my charge.
Jynxtrop the negro has broken loose from his confinement, but
Curtis has taken no measures for putting him again under
restraint. It is not to be apprehended that the miserable fellow
and his accomplices, weakened as they are by their protracted
fast, will attempt to do us any mischief now.
Some huge sharks made their appearance to-day, cleaving the water
rapidly with their great black fins. The monsters came close up
to the edge of the raft, and Flaypole, who was leaning over,
narrowly escaped having his arm snapped off by one of them. I
could not help regarding them as living sepulchres, which ere
long might swallow up our miserable carcases; yet, withal, I
profess that my feelings were rather those of fascination than of
The boatswain, who stood with clenched teeth and dilated eye,
regarded these sharks from quite another point of view. He
thought about devouring the sharks, not about the sharks
devouring him; and if he could succeed in catching one, I doubt
if one of us would reject the tough and untempting flesh. He
determined to make the attempt, and as he had no whirl which he
could fasten to his rope he set to work to find something that
might serve as a substitute. Curtis and Dowlas were consulted,
and after a short conversation, during which they kept throwing
bits of rope and spars into the water in order to entice the
sharks to remain by the raft, Dowlas went and fetched his
carpenter's tool, which is at once a hatchet and a hammer. Of
this he proposed to make the whirl of which they were in need,
under the hope that either the sharp edge of the adze or the
pointed extremity opposite would stick firmly into the jaws of
any shark that might swallow it. The wooden handle of the hammer
was secured to the rope, which, in its turn, was tightly fastened
to the raft.
With eager, almost breathless, excitement we stood watching the
preparations, at the same time using every means in our power to
attract the attention of the sharks. As soon as the whirl was
ready the boatswain began to think about bait; and, talking
rapidly to himself, ransacked every corner of the raft, as though
he expected to find some dead body coming opportunely to sight.
But his search ended in nothing; and the only plan that suggested
itself was again to have recourse to Miss Herbey's red shawl, of
which a fragment was wrapped round the head of the hammer. After
testing the strength of his line, and reassuring-himself that it
was fastened firmly both to the hammer and to the raft, the
boatswain lowered it into the water.
The sea was quite transparent, and any object was clearly visible
to a depth of two hundred feet below the surface. Leaning over
the low parapet of the raft we looked on in breathless silence,
as the scarlet rag, distinct as it was against the blue mass of
water, made its slow descent. But one by one the sharks seemed
to disappear, They could not, however, have gone far away, and it
was not likely that anything in the shape of bait dropped near
them would long escape their keen voracity.
Suddenly, without speaking, the boatswain raised his hand and
pointed to a dark mass skimming along the surface of the water,
and making straight in our direction. It was a shark, certainly
not less than twelve feet long. As soon as the creature was
about four fathoms from the raft, the boatswain gently drew in
his line until the whirl was in such a position that the shark
must cross right over it; at the same time he shook the line a
little, that he might give the whirl the appearance, if he could,
of being something alive and moving. As the creature came near,
my heart beat violently; I could see its eyes flashing above
the waves; and its gaping jaws, as it turned half over on its
back, exhibited long rows of pointed teeth.
I know not who it was, but some one at that moment uttered an
involuntary cry of horror. The shark came to a standstill,
turned about, and escaped quite out of sight. The boatswain was
pale with anger.
"The first man who speaks," he said, "I will kill him on the
Again he applied himself to his task. The whirl again was
lowered, this time to the depth of twenty fathoms, but for half
an hour or more not a shark could be distinguished; but as the
waters far below seemed somehow to be troubled I could not help
believing that some of the brutes at least were still there.
All at once, with a violent jerk, the cord was wrested from the
boatswain's hands; firmly attached, however, as it was to the
raft, it was not lost. The bait had been seized by a shark, and
the iron had made good its hold upon the creature's flesh.
"Now, then, my lads," cried the boatswain, "haul away!"
Passengers and sailors, one and all, put forth what strength they
had to drag the rope, but so violent were the creature's
struggles that it required all our efforts (and it is needless to
say that they were willing enough) to bring it to the surface, At
length, after exertions that almost exhausted us, the water
became agitated by the violent flappings of the tail and fins;
and looking down I saw the huge carcase of the shark writhing
convulsively amidst waves that were stained with blood.
"Steady! steady!" said the boatswain, as the head appeared
The whirl had passed right through the jaw into the middle of the
throat; so that no struggle on the part of the animal could
possibly release it. Dowlas seized his hatchet, ready to
despatch the brute the moment if should be landed on the raft. A
short sharp snap was heard. The shark had closed its jaws, and
bitten through the wooden handle of the hammer. Another moment
and it had turned round and was completely gone.
A howl of despair burst from all our lips. All the labour and
the patience, all had been in vain. Dowlas made a few more
unsuccessful attempts, but as the whirl was lost, and they had no
means of replacing it, there was no further room for hope. They
did, indeed, lower some cords twisted into running knots, but (as
might have been expected) these only slipped over, without
holding, the slimy bodies of the sharks. As a last resource the
boatswain allowed his naked leg to hang over the side of the
raft; the monsters, however, were proof even against this
Reduced once again to a gloomy despondency, all turned to their
places, to await the end that cannot now be long deferred.
Just as I moved away I heard the boatswain say to Curtis,--
"Captain, when shall we draw lots?"
The captain made no reply.
JANUARY 16th.--If the crew of any passing vessel had caught sight
of us as we lay still and inanimate upon our sail-cloth, they
would scarcely, at first sight, have hesitated to pronounce us
My sufferings were terrible; tongue, lips, and throat were so
parched and swollen that if food had been at hand I question
whether I could have swallowed it. So exasperated were the
feelings of us all, however, that we glanced at each other with
looks as savage as though we were about to slaughter and without
delay eat up one another.
The heat was aggravated by the atmosphere being somewhat stormy.
Heavy vapours gathered on the horizon, and there was a look as if
it were raining all around. Longing eyes and gasping mouths
turned involuntarily towards the clouds, and M. Letourneur, on
bended knee, was raising his hands, as it might be in
supplication to the relentless skies.
It was eleven o'clock in the morning. I listened for distant
rumblings which might announce an approaching storm, but although
the vapours had obstructed the sun's rays, they no longer
presented the appearance of being charged with electricity. Thus
our prognostications ended in disappointment; the clouds, which
in the early morning had been marked by the distinctness of their
outline, had melted one into another and assumed an uniform dull
grey tint; in fact, we were enveloped in an ordinary fog. But
was it not still possible that this fog might turn to rain?
Happily this hope was destined to be realized; for in a very
short time, Dowlas, with a shout of delight, declared that rain
was actually coming; and sure enough, not half a mile from the
raft, the dark parallel streaks against the sky testified that
there at least the rain was falling. I fancied I could see the
drops rebounding from the surface of the water. The wind was
fresh and bringing the cloud right on towards us, yet we could
not suppress our trepidation lest it; should exhaust itself
before it reached us.
But no: very soon large heavy drops began to fall, and the
storm-cloud, passing over our heads, was outpouring its contents
upon us. The shower, however, was very transient; already a
bright streak of light along the horizon marked the limit of the
cloud and warned us that we must be quick to make the most of
what it had to give us. Curtis had placed the broken barrel in
the position that was most exposed, and every sail was spread out
to the fullest extent our dimensions would allow.
We all laid ourselves down flat upon our backs and kept our
mouths wide open. The rain splashed into my face, wetted my
lips, and trickled down my throat. Never can I describe the
ecstasy with which I imbibed that renovating moisture. The
parched and swollen glands relaxed, I breathed afresh, and my
whole being seemed revived with a strange and requickened life.
The rain lasted about twenty minutes, when the cloud, still only
half exhausted, passed quite away from over us.
We grasped each other's hands as we rose from the platform on
which we had been lying, and mutual congratulations, mingled with
gratitude, poured forth from our long silent lips. Hope, however
evanescent it might be, for the moment had returned, and we
yielded to the expectation that, ere long, other and more
abundant clouds might come and replenish our store.
The next consideration was how to preserve and economize what
little had been collected by the barrel, or imbibed by the
outspread sails. It was found that only a few pints of rain-
water had fallen into the barrel to this small quantity the
sailors were about to add what they could by wringing out the
saturated sails, when Curtis made them desist from their
"Stop, stop!" he said, "we must wait a moment; we must see
whether this water from the sails is drinkable."
I looked at him in amazement. Why should not this be as
drinkable as the other? He squeezed a few drops out of one of
the folds of a sail into the tin pot, and put it to his lips. To
my surprise, he rejected it immediately, and upon tasting it for
myself I found it not merely brackish, but briny as the sea
itself. The fact was that the canvas had been so long exposed to
the action of the waves, that it had become thoroughly
impregnated by salt, which of course was taken up again by the
water that fell upon it. Disappointed we were; but with several
pints of water in our possession, we were not only contented for
the present, but sanguine in our prospect for the future.
JANUARY 17th.--As a natural consequence of the alleviation of our
thirst, the pangs of hunger returned more violently than ever.
Although we had no bait, and even if we had we could not use it
for want of a whirl, we could not help asking whether no possible
means could be devised for securing one out of the many sharks
that were still perpetually swarming about the raft. Armed with
knives, like the Indians in the pearl fisheries, was it not
practicable to attack the monsters in their own element? Curtis
expressed his willingness personally to make the attempt, but so
numerous were the sharks that we would not for one moment hear of
his risking his life in a venture of which the danger was as
great as the success was doubtful.
By plunging into the sea, or by gnawing at a piece of metal, we
could always, or at least often, do something that cheated us
into believing that we were mitigating the pains of thirst; but
with hunger it was different. The prospect, too, of rain seemed
hopeful, whilst for getting food there appeared no chance; and,
as we knew that nothing could compensate for the lack of
nutritive matter, we were soon all cast down again. Shocking to
confess, it would be untrue to deny that we surveyed each other
with the eye of an eager longing; and I need hardly explain to
what a degree of savageness the one idea that haunted us had
reduced our feelings.
Ever since the storm-cloud brought us the too transient shower
the sky has been tolerably clear, and although at that time the
wind had slightly freshened, it has since dropped, and the sail
hangs idly against our mast. Except for the trifling relief it
brings by modifying the temperature we care little now for any
breeze. Ignorant as we are as to what quarter of the Atlantic we
have been carried by the currents, it matters very little to us
from what direction the wind may blow if only it would bring, in
rain or dew, the moisture of which we are so dreadfully in need.
The moon was entering her last quarter, so that it was dark till
nearly midnight, and the stars were misty, not glowing with that
lustre which is so often characteristic of cool nights. Half
frantic with that sense of hunger which invariably returns with
redoubled vigour at the close of every day, I threw myself, in a
kind of frenzy, upon a bundle of sails that was lying on the
starboard of the raft, and leaning over, I tried to get some
measure of relief by inhaling the moist coolness that rarely
fails to circulate just above the water. My brain was haunted by
the most horrible nightmares; not that I suppose I was in any way
more distressed than my companions, who were lying in their usual
places, vainly endeavouring to forget their sufferings in sleep.
After a time I fell into a restless, dreamy doze. I was neither
asleep nor awake. How long I remained in that state of stupor I
could hardly say, but at length a strange sensation half brought
me to myself. Was I dreaming, or was there not really some
unaccustomed odour floating in the air? My nostrils became
distended, and I could scarcely suppress a cry of astonishment;
but some instinct kept me quiet, and I laid myself down again
with the puzzled sensation sometimes experienced when we have
forgotten a word or name. Only a few minutes, however, had
elapsed before another still more savoury puff induced me to take
several long inhalations. Suddenly, the truth seemed to dash
across my mind. "Surely," I muttered to myself "this must be
cooked meat that I can smell."
Again and again I sniffed and became more convinced than ever
that my senses were not deceiving me. But from what part of the
raft could the smell proceed? I rose to my knees, and having
satisfied myself that the odour came from the front, I crept
stealthily as a cat under the sails and between the spars in that
direction. Following the promptings of my scent, rather than my
vision, like a bloodhound in the track of his prey, I searched
everywhere I could, now finding, now losing, the smell according
to my change of position, or the dropping of the wind. At length
I got the true scent; once for all, so that I could go straight
to the object for which I was in search.
Approaching the starboard angle of the raft, I came to the
conclusion that the smell that had thus keenly excited my
cravings was the smell of smoked bacon; the membranes of my
tongue almost bristled with the intenseness of my longing.
Crawling along a little farther, under a thick roll of sail-
cloth, I was not long in securing my prize. Forcing my arm below
the roll, I felt my hand in contact with something wrapped up in
paper. I clutched it up, and carried it off to a place where I
could examine it by the help of the light of the moon that had
now made its appearance above the horizon. I almost shrieked for
joy. It was a piece of bacon. True, it did not weigh many
ounces, but small as it was it would suffice to alleviate the
pangs of hunger for one day at least. I was just on the point of
raising it to my mouth, when a hand was laid upon my arm. It was
only by a most determined effort that I kept myself from
screaming out one instant more, and I found myself face to face
In a moment I understood all. Plainly this rascal Hobart had
saved some provision from the wreck, upon which he had been
subsisting ever since. The steward had provided for himself,
whilst all around him were dying of starvation. Detestable
wretch! This accounts for the inconsistency of his well-to-do
looks and his pitiable groans. Vile hypocrite!
Yet why, it struck me, should I complain? Was not I reaping the
benefit of that secret store that he, for himself, had saved?
But Hobart had no idea of allowing me the peaceable possession of
what he held to be his own. He made a dash at the fragment of
bacon, and seemed determined to wrest it from my grasp. We
struggled with each other, but although our wrestling was very
violent, it was very noiseless. We were both of us aware that it
was absolutely necessary that not one of those on board should
know anything at all about the prize for which we were
contending. Nor was my own determination lessened by hearing him
groan out that it was his last, his only morsel. "His!" I
thought; "it shall be mine now!"
And still careful that no noise of commotion should arise, I
threw him on his back, and grasping his throat so that it gurgled
again, I held him down until, in rapid mouthfuls, I had swallowed
up the last scrap of the food for which we had fought so hard.
I released my prisoner, and quietly crept back to my own
And not a soul is aware that I have broken my fast!
JANUARY 18th.--After this excitement I awaited the approach of
day with a strange anxiety. My conscience told me that Hobart
had the right to denounce me in the presence of all my fellow-
passengers; yet my alarm was vain. The idea of my proceedings
being exposed by him was quite absurd; in a moment he would
himself be murdered without pity by the crew, if it should be
revealed that, unknown to them, he had been living on some
private store which, by clandestine cunning, he had reserved.
But, in spite of my anxiety, I had a longing for day to come.
The bit of food that I had thus stolen was very small; but small
as it was it had alleviated my hunger, and I was now tortured
with remorse, because I had not shared the meagre morsel with my
fellow-sufferers. Miss Herbey, Andre, his father, all had been
forgotten, and from the bottom of my heart I repented of my cruel
Meantime the moon rose high in the heavens, and the first streaks
of dawn appeared. There is no twilight in these low latitudes,
and the full daylight came well nigh at once. I had not closed
my eyes since my encounter with the steward, and ever since the
first blush of day I had laboured under the impression that I
could see some unusual dark mass half way up the mast. But
although it again and again caught my eye, it hardly roused my
curiosity, and I did not rise from the bundle of sails on which I
was lying to ascertain what it really was. But no sooner did the
rays of the sun fall full upon it than I saw at once that it was
the body of a man, attached to a rope, and swinging to and fro
with the motion of the raft.
A horrible presentiment carried me to the foot of the mast, and,
just as I had guessed, Hobart had hanged himself. I could not for
a moment; doubt that it was I myself that had impelled him to the
suicide. A cry of horror had scarcely escaped my lips, when my
fellow-passengers were at my side, and the rope was cut. Then
came the sailors. And what was it that made the group gather so
eagerly around the body? Was it a humane desire to see whether
any spark of life remained? No, indeed; the corpse was cold, and
the limbs were rigid; there was no chance that animation should
be restored. What then was it that kept them lingering so close
around? It was only too apparent what they were about to do.
But I did not, could not, look. I refused to take part in the
horrible repast that was proposed. Neither would Miss Herbey,
Andre nor his father, consent to alleviate their pangs of hunger
by such revolting means. I know nothing for certain as to what
Curtis did, and I did not venture to inquire; but of the others,
--Falsten, Dowlas, the boatswain, and all the rest,--I know that,
to assuage their cravings, they consented to reduce themselves to
the level of beasts of prey; they were transformed from human
beings into ravenous brutes.
The four of us who sickened at the idea of partaking of the
horrid meal withdrew to the seclusion of our tent; it was bad
enough to hear; without witnessing the appalling operation. But,
in truth, I had the greatest difficulty in the world in
preventing Andre from rushing out upon the cannibals, and
snatching the odious food from their clutches. I represented to
him the hopelessness of his attempt, and tried to reconcile him
by telling him that if they liked the food they had a right to
it. Hobart had not been murdered; he had died by his own hand;
and, after all, as the boatswain had once remarked to me, "it was
better to eat a dead man than a live one."
Do what I would, however, I could not quiet Andre's feeling of
abhorrence; in his disgust and loathing he seemed for the time to
have quite forgotten his own sufferings.
Meanwhile, there was no concealing the truth that we were
ourselves dying of starvation, whilst our eight companions would
probably, by their loathsome diet, escape that frightful destiny.
Owing to his secret hoard of provisions Hobart had been by far
the strongest amongst us; he had been supported, so that no
organic disease had affected his tissues, and really might be
said to be in good health when his chagrin drove him to his
desperate suicide. But what was I thinking of! whither were my
meditations carrying me away? was it not coming to pass that the
cannibals were rousing my envy instead of exciting my horror?
Very shortly after this I heard Dowlas talking about the
possibility of obtaining salt by evaporating sea-water in the
sun; "and then," he added, "we can salt down the rest."
The boatswain assented to what the carpenter had said, and
probably the suggestion was adopted.
Silence, the most profound, now reigns upon the raft. I presume
that nearly all have gone to sleep. One thing I do know, that
they are no longer hungry!
JANUARY 19th.--All through the day the sky remained unclouded and
the heat intense; and night came on without bringing much
sensible moderation in the temperature. I was unable to get any
sleep, and, towards morning, was disturbed by hearing an angry
clamour going on outside the tent; it aroused M. Letourneur,
Andre and Miss Herbey, as much as myself, and we were anxious to
ascertain the cause of the tumult.
The boatswain, Dowlas, and all the sailors were storming at each
other in frightful rage; and Curtis, who had come forward from
the stern, was vainly endeavouring to pacify them.
"But who has done it? we must know who has done it," said
Dowlas, scowling with vindictive passion on the group around him.
"There's a thief," howled out the boatswain, "and he shall be
found! Let's know who has taken it."
"I haven't taken it!" "Nor I!" "Nor I!" cried the sailors one
And then they set to work again to ransack every quarter of the
raft; they rolled every spar aside, they overturned everything on
board, and only grew more and more incensed with anger as their
search proved fruitless.
"Can YOU tell us," said the boatswain, coming up to me, "who is
"Thief!" I replied. "I don't know what you mean."
And while we were speaking the others all came up together, and
told me that they had looked everywhere else, and that they were
going now to search the tent.
"Shame!" I said. "You ought to allow those whom you know to he
dying of hunger at least to die in peace. There is not one of us
who has left the tent all night. Why suspect us?"
"Now just look here, Mr. Kazallon," said the boatswain, in a
voice which he was endeavouring to calm down into moderation, "we
are not accusing you of anything; we know well enough you, and
all the rest of you, had a right to your shares as much as
anybody; but that isn't it. It's all gone somewhere, every bit."
"Yes," said Sandon gruffly; "it's all gone somewheres, and we are
a going to search the tent."
Resistance was useless, and Miss Herbey, M. Letourneur, and Andre
were all turned out.
I confess I was very fearful. I had a strong suspicion that for
the sake of his son, for whom he was ready to venture anything,
M. Letourneur had committed the theft; in that case I knew that
nothing would have prevented the infuriated men from tearing the
devoted father to pieces. I beckoned to Curtis for protection,
and he came and stood beside me. He said nothing, but waited
with his hands in his pockets, and I think I am not mistaken in
my belief that there was some sort of a weapon in each.
To my great relief the search was ineffectual. There was no
doubt that the carcase of the suicide had been thrown overboard,
and the rage of the disappointed cannibals knew no bounds.
Yet who had ventured to do the deed! I looked at M. Letourneur
and Miss Herbey; but their countenances at once betrayed their
ignorance. Andre turned his face away, and his eyes did not meet
my own. Probably it is he; but, if it be, I wonder whether he
has reckoned up the consequences of so rash an act.
JANUARY 20th to 22nd.--For the day or two after the horrible
repast of the 18th those who had partaken of it appeared to
suffer comparatively little either from hunger or thirst; but for
the four of us who had tasted nothing, the agony of suffering
grew more and more intense. It was enough to make us repine over
the loss of the provision that had so mysteriously gone; and if
any one of us should die, I doubt whether the survivors would a
second time resist the temptation to assuage their pangs by
tasting human flesh.
Before long, all the cravings of hunger began to return to the
sailors, and I could see their eyes greedily glancing upon us,
starved as they knew us to be, as though they were reckoning our
hours, and already were preparing to consume us as their prey.
As is always the case with shipwrecked men, we were tormented by
thirst far more than by hunger; and if, in the height of our
sufferings, we had been offered our choice between a few drops of
water and a few crumbs of biscuit, I do not doubt that we should,
without exception, have preferred to take the water.
And what a mockery to our condition did it seem that all this
while there was water, water, nothing but water, everywhere
around us! Again and again, incapable of comprehending how
powerless it was to relieve me, I put a few drops within my lips,
but only with the invariable result of bringing on a most trying
nausea, and rendering my thirst more unendurable than before.
Forty-two days had passed since we quitted the sinking
"Chancellor." There could be no hope now; all of us must die, and
by the most deplorable of deaths. I was quite conscious that a
mist was gathering over my brain; I felt my senses sinking into a
condition of torpor; I made an effort, but all in vain, to master
the delirium that I was aware was taking possession of my reason.
It is out of my power to decide for how long I lost my
consciousness; but when I came to myself I found that Miss Herbey
had folded some wet bandages around my forehead. I am somewhat
better; but I am weakened, mind and body, and I am conscious that
I have not long to live.
A frightful fatality occurred to-day. The scene was terrible.
Jynxtrop the negro went raving mad. Curtis and several of the
men tried their utmost to control him, but in spite of everything
he broke loose, and tore up and down the raft, uttering fearful
yells. He had gained possession of a handspike, and rushed upon
us all with the ferocity of an infuriated tiger; how we contrived
to escape mischief from his attacks, I know not. All at once, by
one of those unaccountable impulses of madness, his rage turned
against himself. With his teeth and nails he gnawed and tore
away at his own flesh; dashing the blood into our faces, he
shrieked out with a demoniacal grin, "Drink, drink!" and
flinging us gory morsels, kept saying "Eat, eat!" In the midst
of his insane shrieks he made a sudden pause, then dashing back
again from the stern to the front, he made a bound and
disappeared beneath the waves.
Falsten, Dowlas, and the boatswain, made a rush that at least
they might secure the body; but it was too late; all that they
could see was a crimson circle in the water, and some huge sharks
disporting themselves around the spot.
JANUARY 23rd.--Only eleven of us now remain; and the probability
is very great that every day must now carry off at least its one
victim, and perhaps more. The end of the tragedy is rapidly
approaching, and save for the chance, which is next to an
impossibility, of our sighting land, or being picked up by a
passing vessel, ere another week has elapsed not a single
survivor of the "Chancellor" will remain.
The wind freshened considerably in the night, and it is now
blowing pretty briskly from the north-east. It has filled our
sail, and the white foam in our wake is an indication that we are
making some progress. The captain reckons that we must be
advancing at the rate of about three miles an hour.
Curtis and Falsten are certainly in the best condition amongst
us, and in spite of their extreme emaciation they bear up
wonderfully under the protracted hardships we have all endured.
Words cannot describe the melancholy state to which poor Miss
Herbey bodily is reduced; her whole being seems absorbed into her
soul, but that soul is brave and resolute as ever, living in
heaven rather than on earth. The boatswain, strong, energetic
man that he was, has shrunk into a mere shadow of his former
self, and I doubt whether any one would recognize him to be the
same man. He keeps perpetually to one corner of the raft, his
head dropped upon his chest, and his long, bony hands lying upon
knees that project sharply from his worn-out trowsers. Unlike
Miss Herbey, his spirit seems to have sunk into apathy, and it is
at times difficult to believe that he is living at all, so
motionless and statue-like does he sit.
Silence continues to reign upon the raft. Not a sound, not even
a groan, escapes our lips. We do not exchange ten words in the
course of the day, and the few syllables that our parched tongue
and swollen lips can pronounce are almost unintelligible. Wasted
and bloodless, we are no longer human beings; we are spectres.
JANUARY 24th.--I have inquired more than once of Curtis if he has
the faintest idea to what quarter of the Atlantic we have
drifted, and each time he has been unable to give me a decided
answer, though from his general observation of the direction of
the wind and currents he imagines that we have been carried
westwards, that is to say, towards the land.
To-day the breeze has dropped entirely, but the heavy swell is
still upon the sea, and is an unquestionable sign that a tempest
has been raging at no great distance. The raft labours hard
against the waves, and Curtis, Falsten, and the boatswain, employ
the little energy that remains to them in strengthening the
joints. Why do they give themselves such trouble? Why not let
the few frail planks part asunder, and allow the ocean to
terminate our miserable existence? Certain it seems that our
sufferings must have reached their utmost limit, and nothing
could exceed the torture that we are enduring. The sky pours
down upon us a heat like that of molten lead, and the sweat that
saturates the tattered clothes that hang about our bodies goes
far to aggravate the agonies of our thirst. No words of mine can
describe this dire distress; these sufferings are beyond human
Even bathing, the only means of refreshment that we possessed,
has now become impossible, for ever since Jynxtrop's death the
sharks have hung about the raft in shoals.
To-day I tried to gain a few drops of fresh water by evaporation,
but even with the exercise of the greatest patience, it was with
the utmost difficulty that I obtained enough to moisten a little
scrap of linen; and the only kettle that we had was so old and
battered, that it would not bear the fire, so that I was obliged
to give up the attempt in despair.
Falsten is now almost exhausted, and if he survives us at all, it
can only be for a few days. Whenever I raised my head I always
failed to see him, but he was probably lying sheltered somewhere
beneath the sails. Curtis was the only man who remained on his
feet, but with indomitable pluck he continued to stand on the
front of the raft, waiting, watching, hoping. To look at him,
with his unflagging energy, almost tempted me to imagine that he
did well to hope, but I dared nor entertain one sanguine thought;
and there I lay, waiting, nay, longing for death.
How many hours passed away thus I cannot tell, but after a time a
loud peal of laughter burst upon my ear Some one else, then, was
going mad, I thought; but the idea did not rouse me in the least.
The laughter was repeated with greater vehemence, but I never
raised my head. Presently I caught a few incoherent words.
"Fields, fields, gardens and trees! Look, there's an inn under
the trees! Quick, quick! brandy, gin, water! a guinea a drop!
I'll pay for it! I've lots of money! lots! lots!"
Poor deluded wretch! I thought again; the wealth of a nation
could not buy a drop of water here. There was silence for a
minute, when all of a sudden I heard the shout of "Land! land!"
The words acted upon me like an electric shock, and, with a
frantic effort, I started to my feet. No land, indeed, was
visible, but Flaypole, laughing, singing, and gesticulating, was
raging up and down the raft. Sight, taste and hearing--all were
gone; but the cerebral derangement supplied their place, and in
imagination the maniac was conversing with absent friends,
inviting them into the George Inn at Cardiff, offering them gin,
whisky, and, above all water! Stumbling at every step, and
singing in a cracked, discordant voice, he staggered about
amongst us like an intoxicated man. With the loss of his senses
all his sufferings had vanished, and his thirst was appeased. It
was hard not to wish to be a partaker of his hallucination.
Dowlas, Falsten, and the boatswain, seemed to think that the
unfortunate wretch would, like Jynxtrop, put an end to himself by
leaping into the sea; but, determined this time to preserve the
body, that it might serve a better purpose than merely feeding
the sharks, they rose and followed the madman everywhere he went,
keeping a strict eye upon his every movement.
But the matter did not end as they expected. As though he were
really intoxicated by the stimulants of which he had been raving,
Flaypole at last sank down in a heap in a corner of the raft,
where he lay lost in a heavy slumber.
JANUARY 25th.--Last night was very misty, and for some
unaccountable reason, one of the hottest that can be imagined.
The atmosphere was really so stifling, that it seemed as if it
only required a spark to set it alight. The raft was not only
quite stationary, but did not even rise and fall with any motion
of the waves.
During the night I tried to count how many there were now on
board, but I was utterly unable to collect my ideas sufficiently
to make the enumeration. Sometimes I counted ten, sometimes
twelve, and although I knew that eleven, since Jynxtrop was dead,
was the correct number, I could never bring my reckoning right.
Of one thing I felt quite sure, and that was that the number
would very soon be ten. I was convinced that I could myself last
but very little longer. All the events and associations of my
life passed rapidly through my brain, My country, my friends, and
my family all appeared as it were in a vision, and seemed as
though they had come to bid me a last farewell.
Towards morning I woke from my sleep, if the languid stupour into
which I had fallen was worthy of that name. One fixed idea had
taken possession of my brain; I would put an end to myself, and I
felt a sort of pleasure as I gloated over the power that I had to
terminate my sufferings. I told Curtis, with the utmost
composure, of my intention, and he received the intelligence as
calmly as it was delivered.
"Of course you will do as you please," he said; "for, my own
part, I shall not abandon my post. It is my duty to remain here,
and unless death comes to carry me away, I shall stay where I am
to the very last."
The dull grey fog still hung heavily over the ocean, but the sun
was evidently shining above the mist, and would, in course of
time, dispel the vapour. Towards seven o'clock I fancied I heard
the cries of birds above my head. The sound was repeated three
times, and as I went up to the captain to ask him about it, I
heard him mutter to himself,--
"Birds! why, that looks as if land were not far off."
But although Curtis might still cling to the hope of reaching
land, I knew not what it was to have one sanguine thought. For
me there was neither continent nor island; the world was one
fluid sphere, uniform, monotonous, as in the most primitive
period of its formation. Nevertheless it must be owned that it
was with a certain amount of impatience that I awaited the rising
of the mist, for I was anxious to shake off the phantom fallacies
that Curtis's words had suggested to my mind.
Not till eleven o'clock did the fog begin to break, and as it
rolled in heavy folds along the surface of the water, I could
every now and then catch glimpses of a clear blue sky beyond.
Fierce sunbeams pierced the cloud-rifts, scorching and burning
our bodies like red-hot iron; but it was only above our heads
that there was any sunlight to condense the vapour; the horizon
was still quite invisible. There was no wind, and for half an
hour longer the fog hung heavily round the raft; whilst Curtis,
leaning against the side, strove to penetrate the obscurity. At
length the sun burst forth in full power, and, sweeping the
surface of the ocean, dispelled the fog, and left the horizon
opened to our eyes.
There, exactly as we had seen it for the last six weeks, was the
circle that bounded sea and sky, unbroken, definite, distinct as
ever! Curtis gazed with intensest scrutiny, but did not speak a
word. I pitied him sincerely, for he alone of us all felt that
he had not the right to put an end to his misery. For myself I
had fully determined that if I lived till the following day, I
would die by my own hand. Whether my companions were still
alive, I hardly cared to know; it seemed as though days had
passed since I had seen them.
Night drew on, but I could not sleep for a moment. Towards two
o'clock in the morning my thirst was so intense that I was unable
to suppress loud cries of agony. Was there nothing that would
serve to quench the fire that was burning within me? What if
instead of drinking the blood of others I were to drink my own?
It would be all unavailing, I was well aware, but scarcely had
the thought crossed my mind, than I proceeded to put it into
execution. I unclasped my knife, and, stripping my arm, with a
steady thrust I opened a small vein. The blood oozed out slowly,
drop by drop, and as I eagerly swallowed the source of my very
life, I felt that for a moment my torments were relieved, But
only for a moment; all energy had failed my pulses, and almost
immediately the blood had ceased to flow.
How long it seemed before the morning dawned! and when that
morning came it brought another fog, heavy as before that again
shut out the horizon. The fog was hot as the burning steam that
issues from a boiler. It was to be my last day upon earth, and I
felt that I would like to press the hand of a friend before I
died. Curtis was standing near, and crawling up to him, I took
his hand in my own. He seemed to know that I was taking my
farewell, and with one last lingering hope he endeavoured to
restrain me. But all in vain, my mind was finally made up.
I should have like to speak once again to M. Letourneur, Andre
and Miss Herbey, but my courage failed me. I knew that the young
girl would read my resolution in my eyes, and that she would
speak to me of duty and of God, and of eternity, and I dared not
meet her gaze; and I would not run the risk of being persuaded to
wait until a lingering death should overtake me. I returned to
the back of the raft, and after making several efforts, I managed
to get on to my feet. I cast one long look at the pitiless ocean
and the unbroken horizon; if a sail or the outline of a coast bad
broken on my view, I believe that I should only have deemed
myself the victim of an illusion; but nothing of the kind
appeared, and the sea was dreary as a desert.
It was ten o'clock in the morning. The pangs of hunger and the
torments of thirst were racking me with redoubled vigour. All
instinct of self-preservation had left me, and I felt that the
hour had come when I must cease to suffer. Just as I was on the
point of casting myself headlong into the sea, a voice, which I
recognized as Dowlas's; broke upon my ear.
"Captain," he said, "we are going to draw lots."
Involuntarily I paused; I did not take my plunge, but returned to
my place upon the raft.
JANUARY 26th.--All heard and understood the proposition; in fact,
it had been in contemplation for several days, but no one had
ventured to put the idea into words. However, it was done now;
lots were to be drawn, and to each would be assigned his share of
the body of the one ordained by fate to be the victim. For my
own part, I profess that I was quite resigned for the lot to fall
upon myself. I thought I heard Andre Letourneur beg for an
exception to be made in favour of Miss Herbey, but the sailors
raised a murmur of dissent. As there were eleven of us on board,
there were ten chances to one in each one's favour, a proportion
which would be diminished if Miss Herbey were excluded, so that
the young lady was forced to take her chance among the rest.
It was then half-past ten, and the boatswain, who had been roused
from his lethargy by what the carpenter had said, insisted that
the drawing should take place immediately. There was no reason
for postponing the fatal lottery. There was not one of us that
clung in the least to life, and we knew that at the worst,
whoever should be doomed to die, would only precede the rest by a
few days, or even hours. All that we desired was just once to
slake our raging thirst and moderate our gnawing hunger.
How all the names found their way to the bottom of a hat I cannot
tell. Very likely Falsten wrote them upon a leaf torn from his
memorandum-book. But be that as it may, the eleven names were
there, and it was unanimously agreed that the last name drawn
should be the victim.
But who would draw the names? There was hesitation for a moment;
then, "I will," said a voice behind me. Turning round, I beheld
M. Letourneur standing with outstretched hand, and with his long
white hair falling over his thin livid face that was almost
sublime in its calmness. I divined at once the reason of this
voluntary offer; I knew that it was the father's devotion in
self-sacrifice that led him to undertake the office.
"As soon as you please," said the boatswain, and handed him the
M. Letourneur proceeded to draw out the folded strips of paper
one by one, and after reading out aloud the name upon it, handed
it to its owner.
The first name called was that of Burke, who uttered a cry of
delight; then followed Flaypole and the boatswain. What his name
really was I never could exactly learn. Then came Falsten,
Curtis, Sandon. More than half had now been called, and my name
had not yet been drawn. I calculated my remaining chance; it was
still four to one in my favour.
M. Letourneur continued his painful task. Since Burke's first
exclamation of joy not a sound had escaped our lips, but all were
listening in breathless silence. The seventh name was Miss
Herbey's, but the young girl heard it without a start. Then came
mine, yes, mine! and the ninth was that of Letourneur.
"Which one?" asked the boatswain.
"Andre," said M. Letourneur.
With one cry Andre fell back senseless. Only two names now
remained in the hat; those of Dowlas and of M. Letourneur
"Go on," almost roared the carpenter, surveying his partner in
peril as though he could devour him. M. Letourneur almost had a
smile upon his lips, as he drew forth the last paper but one, and
with a firm, unfaltering voice, marvellous for his age, unfolded
it slowly, and read the name of Dowlas. The carpenter gave a
yell of relief as he heard the word.
M. Letourneur took the last bit of paper from the hat, and
without looking at it, tore it to pieces. But, unperceived by
all but myself, one little fragment flew into a corner of the
raft. I crawled towards it and picked it up. On one side of it
was written Andr--; the rest of the word was torn away. M.
Letourneur saw what I had done, and rushing towards me, snatched
the paper from my hands, and flung it into the sea.
JANUARY 26th.--I understood it all; the devoted father having
nothing more to give, had given his life for his son.
M. Letourneur was no longer a human being in the eyes of the
famished creatures who were now yearning to see him sacrificed to
their cravings. At the very sight of the victim thus provided,
all the tortures of hunger returned with redoubled violence.
With lips distended, and teeth displayed, they waited like a herd
of carnivora until they could attack their prey with brutal
voracity; it seemed almost doubtful whether they would not fall
upon him while he was still alive. It seemed impossible that any
appeal to their humanity could, at such a moment, have any
weight; nevertheless, the appeal was made, and, incredible as it
may seem, prevailed.
Just as the boatswain was about to act the part of butcher, and
Dowlas stood, hatchet in hand, ready to complete the barbarous
work, Miss Herbey advanced, or rather crawled, towards them.
"My friends," she pleaded, "will you not wait just one more day?
If no land or ship is in sight to-morrow, then I suppose our poor
companion must become your victim. But allow him one more day;
in the name of mercy I entreat, I implore you."
My heart bounded as she made her pitiful appeal. It seemed to me
as though the noble girl had spoken with an inspiration on her
lips, and I fancied that, perhaps, in super-natural vision she
had viewed the coast or the ship of which she spoke; and one more
day was not much to us who had already suffered so long, and
endured so much.
Curtis and Falsten agreed with me, and we all united to support
Miss Herbey's merciful petition. The sailors did not utter a
murmur, and the boatswain in a smothered voice said,--
"Very well, we will wait till daybreak tomorrow," and threw down
To-morrow, then, unless land or a sail appear, the horrible
sacrifice will be accomplished. Stifling their sufferings by a
strenuous effort, all returned to their places. The sailors
crouched beneath the sails, caring nothing about scanning the
ocean. Food was in store for them to-morrow, and that was enough
As soon as Andre Letourneur came to his senses, his first thought
was for his father, and I saw him count the passengers on the
raft. He looked puzzled; when he lost consciousness there had
been only two names left in the hat, those of his father and the
carpenter; and yet M. Letourneur and Dowlas were both there
still. Miss Herbey went up to him and told him quietly that the
drawing of the lots had not yet been finished. Andre asked no
further question, but took his father's hand. M. Letourneur's
countenance was calm and serene; he seemed to be conscious of
nothing except that the life of his son was spared, and as the
two sat conversing in an undertone at the back of the raft, their
whole existence seemed bound up in each other.
Meantime, I could not disabuse my mind of the impression caused
by Miss Herbey's intervention. Something told me that help was
near at hand, and that we were approaching the termination of our
suspense and misery; the chimeras that were floating through my
brain resolved themselves into realities, so that nothing
appeared to me more certain than that either land or sail, be
they miles away, would be discovered somewhere to leeward.
I imparted my convictions to M. Letourneur and his son. Andre
was as sanguine as myself; poor boy! he little thinks what a
loss there is in store for him tomorrow. His father listened
gravely to all we said, and whatever he might think in his own
mind, he did not give us any discouragement; Heaven, he said, he
was sure would still spare the survivors of the "Chancellor," and
then he lavished on his son caresses which he deemed to be his
Some time afterwards, when I was alone with him, M. Letourneur
whispered in my ear,--
"Mr. Kazallon, I commend my boy to your care, and mark you, he
must never know--"
His voice was choked with tears, and he could not finish his
But I was full of hope, and, without a moment's intermission, I
kept my eyes fixed upon the unbroken horizon, Curtis, Miss
Herbey, Falsten, and even the boatswain, were also eagerly
scanning the broad expanse of sea.
Night has come on; but I have still a profound conviction that
through the darkness some ship will approach, and that at
daybreak our raft will be observed.
JANUARY 27th.--I did not close my eyes all night, and was keenly
alive to the faintest sounds, and every ripple of the water, and
every murmur of the waves, broke distinctly on my ear. One thing
I noticed and accepted as a happy omen; not a single shark now
lingered-round the raft. The waning moon rose at a quarter to
one, and through the feeble glimmer which she cast across the
ocean, many and many a time I fancied I caught sight of the
longed-for sail, lying only a few cables' lengths away.
But when morning came, the sun rose once again upon a desert
ocean, and my hopes began to fade. Neither ship nor shore had
appeared, and as the shocking hour of execution drew near, my
dreams of deliverance melted away; I shuddered in my very soul as
I was brought face to face with the stern reality. I dared not
look upon the victim, and whenever his eyes, so full of calmness
and resignation, met my own, I turned away my head. I felt
choked with horror, and my brain reeled as though I were
It was now six o'clock, and all hope had vanished from my breast;
my heart beat rapidly, and a cold sweat of agony broke out all
over me. Curtis and the boatswain stood by the mast attentively
scanning the horizon. The boatswain's countenance was terrible
to look upon; one could see that although he would not forestall
the hour, he was determined not to wait a moment after it
arrived. As for the captain, it was impossible to tell what
really passed within his mind; his face was livid, and his whole
existence seemed concentrated in the exercise of his power of
vision. The sailors were crawling about the platform, with their
eyes gleaming, like wild beasts ready to pounce upon their
I could no longer keep my place, and glided along to the front of
the raft. The boatswain was still standing intent on his watch,
but all of a sudden, in a voice that made me start he shouted,--
"Now then, time's up!" and followed by Dowlas, Burke, Flaypole,
and Sandon, ran to the back of the raft. As Dowlas'seized the
hatchet convulsively, Miss Herbey could not suppress a cry of
terror. Andre started to his feet.
"What are you going to do to my father?" he asked in accents
choked with emotion.
"My boy," said M. Letourneur, "the lot has fallen upon me, and I
"Never!" shrieked Andre, throwing his arms about his father,
"They shall kill me first. It was I who threw Hobart's body into
the sea, and it is I who ought to die!"
But the words of the unhappy youth had no other effect than to
increase the fury of the men who were so staunchly bent upon
their bloody purpose.
"Come, come, no more fuss," said Dowlas, as he tore the young man
away from his father's embrace.
Andre fell upon his back, in which position two of the sailors
held him down so tightly that he could not move, whilst Burke and
Sandon carried off their victim to the front.
All this had taken place much more rapidly than I have been able
to describe it. I was transfixed with horror, and much as I
wished to throw myself between M. Letourneur and his
executioners, I seemed to be rooted to the spot where I was
Meantime the sailors had been taking off some of M. Letourneur's
clothes, and his neck and shoulders were already bare.
"Stop a moment!" he said in a tone in which was the ring of
indomitable courage. "Stop! I don't want to deprive you of your
ration; but I suppose you will not require to eat the whole of me
The sailors, taken aback by his suggestion, stared at him with
"There are ten of you," he went on. "My two arms will give you
each a meal; cut them off for to-day, and to-morrow you shall
have the rest of me."
"Agreed!" cried Dowlas; and as M. Letourneur held out his bare
arms, quick as lightning the carpenter raised his hatchet.
Curtis and I could bear this scene no longer; whilst we were
alive to prevent it, this butchery should not be permitted, and
we rushed forwards simultaneously to snatch the victim from his
murderers. A furious struggle ensued, and in the midst of the
MELEE I was seized by one of the sailors, and hurled violently
into the sea.
Closing my lips, I tried to die of suffocation in the water; but
in spite of myself, my mouth opened, and a few drops trickled
down my throat.
Merciful Heaven! the water was fresh!
JANUARY 27th CONTINUED.--A change came over me as if by miracle.
No longer had I any wish to die, and already Curtis, who had
heard my cries, was throwing me a rope. I seized it eagerly, and
was hauled up on to the raft, "Fresh water!" were the first
words I uttered.
"Fresh water?" cried Curtis, "why then, my friends, we are not
far from land!"
It was not too late; the blow had not been struck, and so the
victim had not yet fallen. Curtis and Andre (who had regained
his liberty) had fought with the cannibals, and it was just as
they were yielding to overpowering numbers that my voice had made
The struggle came to an end. As soon as the words "Fresh water"
had escaped my lips, I leaned over the side of the raft and
swallowed the life-giving liquid in greedy draughts. Miss Herbey
was the first to follow my example, but soon Curtis, Falsten, and
all the rest were on their knees and drinking eagerly, The rough
sailors seemed as if by a magic touch transformed back from
ravenous beasts to human beings, and I saw several of them raise
their hands to heaven in silent gratitude, Andre and his father
were the last to drink.
"But where are we?" I asked at length.
"The land is there," said Curtis pointing towards the west.
We all stared at the captain as though he were mocking us; no
land was in sight, and the raft, just as ever, was the centre of
a watery waste. Yet our senses had not deceived us the water we
had been drinking was perfectly fresh.
"Yes," repeated the captain, "land is certainly there, not more
than twenty miles to leeward."
"What land?" inquired the boatswain.
"South America," answered Curtis, "and near the Amazon; no other
river has a current strong enough to freshen the ocean twenty
miles from shore!"
JANUARY 27th CONTINUED.--Curtis, no doubt was right The discharge
from the mouth of the Amazon is enormously large, but we had
probably drifted into the only spot in the Atlantic where we
could find fresh water so far from land. Yet land, undoubtedly
was there, and the breeze was carrying us onwards slowly but
surely to our deliverance.
Miss Herbey's voice was heard pouring out fervent praise to
Heaven, and we were all glad to unite our thanksgivings with
hers. Then the whole of us (with the exception of Andre and his
father, who remained by themselves together at the stern)
clustered in a group, and kept our expectant gaze upon the
We had not long to wait. Before an hour had passed Curtis,
leaped in ecstasy and raised the joyous shout of "Land ahoy!"
* * * *
My journal has come to a close.
I have only to relate, as briefly as possible, the circumstances
that finally brought us to our destination.
A few hours after we first sighted land the raft was off Cape
Magoari, on the Island of Marajo, and was observed by some
fishermen who, with kind-hearted alacrity picked us up, and
tended us most carefully. They conveyed us to Para, where we
became the objects of unbounded sympathy.
The raft was brought to land in lat. 0deg. 12min. N., so that
since we abandoned the "Chancellor" we had drifted at least
fifteen degrees to the south-west. Except for the influence of
the Gulf Stream we must have been carried far, far to the south,
and in that case we should never have reached the mouth of the
Amazon, and must inevitably have been lost.
Of the thirty-two souls--nine passengers, and twenty-three
seamen--who left Charleston on board the ship, only five
passengers and six seamen remain. Eleven of us alone survive.
An official account of our rescue was drawn up by the Brazilian
authorities. Those who signed were Miss Herbey, J. R. Kazallon,
M. Letourneur, Andre Letourneur, Mr. Falsten, the boatswain,
Dowlas, Burke, Flaypole, Sandon, and last, though not least,
"Robert Curtis, captain."
At Para we soon found facilities for continuing our homeward
route. A vessel took us to Cayenne, where we secured a passage
on board one of the steamers of the French Transatlantic
Aspinwall line, the "Ville de St. Nazaire," which conveyed us to
After all the dangers and privations which we have undergone
together, it is scarcely necessary to say that there has arisen
between the surviving passengers of the "Chancellor" a bond of
friendship too indissoluble, I believe, for either time or
circumstance to destroy; Curtis must ever remain the honoured and
valued friend of those whose welfare he consulted so faithfully
in their misfortunes; his conduct was beyond all praise
When we were fairly on our homeward way, Miss Herbey by chance
intimated to us her intention of retiring from the world and
devoting the remainder of her life to the care of the sick and
"Then why not come and look after my son?" said M. Letourneur,
adding, "he is an invalid, and be requires, as he deserves, the
best of nursing."
Miss Herbey, after some deliberation, consented to become a
member of their family, and finds in M. Letourneur a father, and
in Andre a brother. A brother, I say; but may we not hope that
she may be united by a dearer and a closer tie, and that the
noble-hearted girl may experience the happiness that so richly
End of Project Gutenberg Etext of Survivors of the Chancellor, by Verne