In the Sargasso Sea
Thomas A. Janvier

Part 2 out of 4

of oppression came over me, and I seemed to be falling endlessly while
myriads of black specks arranged themselves in curious geometrical
figures before my eyes--and then the black specks and everything else
vanished suddenly, and my consciousness left me with what seemed to me
a great crash and bang.

Had I begun matters by being roundly sick I might have pulled through
my attack without being much the worse for it. But as that did not
happen--my weakness, I suppose, not giving nature a chance to set
things right in her own way--I had a good deal more to suffer before I
began to mend. After a while I got enough of my senses back to know
that my head was aching as though it would split open, and to realize
how utterly miserable I was lying there on the bridge with the hot
sunshine simmering down on me through the haze; and then to think how
delightful it would be if only I were back in the cabin again--where
the sun could not stew me, and where my berth would be easy and soft.

How I managed to get to the cabin I scarcely know. I faintly remember
working my way along the bridge on my hands and knees, and going
backward down the steps in the same fashion for fear of falling; and
of trying to walk upright when I got to the deck, so that I should not
get wet above my knees in the water there, and of falling souse into
it and getting soaked all over; and then of crawling aft very
slowly--stopping now and then because of my pain and dizziness--and
down the companion-way and through the passage, and so into the cabin
at last; and then, all in my wet clothes, of tumbling anyhow into my
berth--and after that there is only a long dead blank.

When I caught up with myself again, night had come and I was in pitch
darkness. My head still ached horridly, and I was burning hot all
over, and yet from time to time shivering with creeping chills. What I
wanted most in the world was a drink of water; but when I tried to get
up, in the hope of finding some in the jug that no doubt was in the
state-room, I went so dizzy that I had to plump back into my berth
again. As the night went on, and I lay there thinking how deliciously
the water would taste going cool and sweet down my throat, I got quite
crazy with longing for it; and, in a way, really crazy--for through
most of the night I was light-headed and saw visions that sometimes
comforted me and sometimes made me afraid. The comforting ones were of
fresh green meadows with streams running through them, and of shady
glens in the woods where springs welled up into little basins
surrounded by ferns--just such as I remembered in the woods which
bordered the creek where I used to go swimming when I was a boy. The
horrible ones were not clear at all, and for that were the more
dreadful--being of a fire that was getting nearer and nearer to me,
and of a blazing sun that fairly withered me, and of huge hot globes
or ponderously vague masses of I knew not what which were coming
straight on to crush me and from which I could not get away.

At last I got so worn out with it all that I fell off into an uneasy
sleep, which yet was better than no sleep and a little rested me. When
I woke again there was enough light in the room for me to see the
water-jug, and that gave me strength to get to it--and most blessedly
it was nearly full. And so I had a long drink, that for a time checked
the heat of my fever; and then I lay down in my berth again, with the
jug on the floor at my side.

For a while I was almost comfortable. Then the fever came back, and
the visions with it--but no longer so painful as those which had been
begotten of my thirst. I seemed to be in a region dreamy and unreal.
Sometimes I would see far stretches of mountain peaks, and sometimes
the crowded streets of cities; but for the most part my visions were
of the sea--tall ships sailing, and little boats drifting over calm
water in moonlight, and black steamers gliding quickly past me; and
still more frequently, but always in a calm sea, the broken hulks of
wrecked ships with shattered masts and tangled rigging and with dead
men lying about their decks, and sometimes with a dead man hanging
across the wheel and moving a little with the hulk's motion so that in
a horrible sort of way he seemed to be half alive.

Night came again, bringing me more pain and the burning of a stronger
fever; and then another day, in which the fever rose still higher and
the visions became almost intolerable--because of their intense
reality, and of my conviction all the while that they were unreal and
that I must be well on the way toward a raving madness in which I
would die.

It was at the end of this day--or it may have been at the end of still
another day, for I have no clear reckoning of how the time
passed--that my worst vision came to me; hurting me not because it was
terrifying in itself, but because it made me feel that even hope had
parted company with me at last. And it was more like a dream than a
vision, seemingly being brought to my sight by my own bodily
movement--not something which floated before my eyes as I lay still.

As the afternoon went on my fever increased a good deal; but in a way
that was rather pleasant to me, for the pain in my head lessened and I
seemed to be getting back my strength. After a while I began to long
to get out of the cabin and up on deck, and so have a look around me
over the open sea; and with my longing came the feeling that I was
strong enough to realize it.

My getting up seemed entirely real and natural, as did my firm
walking--without a touch of dizziness--after I fairly was on my feet;
and all the rest of it seemed real too. Even when I came to the
companion-way I seemed to go up the stairs easily, and to step out on
the deck as steadily as though I had been entirely well.

The sun was near setting, but as I came on the deck my back was toward
the sunset and I saw only its red light touching the soft swell of the
weed-covered sea extending far before me, and the same red light
shimmering in the mist and caught up more strongly on a bank of
low-lying clouds. The outlook was much the same as that which I had
had from the bridge, only the weed seemed to be packed more closely
and there was wreckage about me everywhere. Masts and spars and planks
were in sight in all directions, sometimes floating singly and
sometimes tangled together in little heaps; half a mile away was what
seemed to be a large ship lying bottom upward; near me was a perfectly
sound boat, having in its stern-sheets a bit of sail that fell in such
folds as to make me think that a human form lay under it; and off
toward the horizon was a large raft, with a sort of mast fitted to it,
and at the foot of the mast I fancied that I saw a woman in a white
robe of some sort stretched out as though asleep. And it seemed to me,
though I could not tell why, that all this flotsam, and my own hulk
along with it, slowly was drifting closer and closer together; and was
packing tighter and tighter in the soft oozy tangle of the weed, which
everywhere was matted so thickly that the water did not show at all.

Then I seemed to walk around to the other side of my hulk and to look
down into the west--and to feel all hope dying with the sight that I
saw there. Far away, under the red mist, across the red gleaming weed
and against a sunset sky bloody red, I seemed to see a vast ruinous
congregation of wrecks; so far-extending that it was as though all the
wrecked ships in the world were lying huddled together there in a
miserably desolate company. And with sight of them the certain
conviction was borne in upon me that my own wreck presently would take
its station in that shattered fleet for which there was no salvation;
and that it would lie among them rotting slowly, as they were
rotting, through months or years--until finally, in its turn, it would
drop down from amidst those lepers of the ocean, and would sink with
all its foulness upon it into the black depths beneath the oozy weed.

And I knew, too, that whether I already were dead and went down with
it, or saved my life for a while longer by getting aboard of another
hulk which still floated, sooner or later my end must come to me in
that same way. On one or another of those rotting dead ships my own
dead body surely must sink at last.



That was the end of my visions. Through the night that followed--my
fever having run its course, I suppose--I slept easily; and when
another day came and I woke again my fever was gone. I was pretty weak
and ragged, but the cut in my head was healing and no longer hurt me
much, and my mind was clear. There still was water left in the jug,
and I drank freely and felt the better for it; and toward afternoon I
felt so hungry that I managed to get up and go to the pantry on a
foraging expedition for something to eat.

This time I was careful not to stuff myself. I found a box of light
biscuit and ate a couple of them; and then I filled my water-jug at
the tank and brought it and the biscuit back to my stateroom without
going on the deck at all. My light meal greatly refreshed me; and in
an hour or two I ate another biscuit--and kept on nibbling at them off
and on through the night when I happened to wake up. In between whiles
my sleep was of a sort to do me good; not deep, but restful. With the
coming of another morning I felt so strong that I went to the pantry
again for food of a better sort--venturing to eat a part of a tin of
meat with my biscuit and to add to my water a little wine; and when
this was down I began to feel quite like myself once more, and to long
so strongly for some sunshine and fresh air that I climbed up the
companion-way to the deck.

But when I got there I thought at first that my visions were coming
back again. Indeed, what I saw was so nearly my last vision over again
as to make me half believe, later, that I really did go on deck in my
delirium and really did see that blood-red sunset and all the rest
that had seemed to me a dream. At any rate, there was no doubting this
second time--if it were the second time--the reality of what I beheld;
and because I no longer was fever-struck, and so could take in fully
the wonder of it, my astonishment kept my spirits from being wholly
pulled down.

The haze was so thick as to be almost like a fog hanging about me, but
the hot sunshine pouring down into it gave it a golden brightness and
I could see through it dimly for a good long way; and there was no
need for far-seeing to be sure that I had before me what I think must
be the strangest sight that the world has in it for the eyes of man.
For what I looked at was the host of wrecked ships, the dross of wave
and tempest, which through four centuries--from the time when sailors
first pushed out upon the great western ocean--has been gathering
slowly, and still more slowly wasting, in the central fastnesses of
the Sargasso Sea.

The nearest edge of this mass of wreckage was not a quarter of a mile
off from me; but it swept away in a great irregular curve to the right
and left and vanished into the golden haze softly--and straight ahead
I could see it stretching dimly away from me, getting thicker and
closer until it seemed to be almost as solid as a real island would
have been. And, indeed, it had a good deal the look of being a real
island; the loom through the haze of countless broken masts rising to
various heights and having frayed ropes streaming from them having
much the effect of trees growing there, while the irregularities of
the surface made it seem as though little houses were scattered
thickly among the trees. But in spite of the golden light which hung
over it, and which ought to have given it a cheerful look, it was the
most desolate and sorrowful place I ever saw; for it seemed to
belong--and in a way really did belong, since every hulk in all that
fleet was the slowly wasting dead body of a ship slain by storm or
disaster--to that outcast region of mortality in which death has
achieved its ugliness but to which the cleansing of a complete
dissolution has not yet been brought by time.

Yet the curious interest that I found in this strange sight kept me
from feeling only the horror of it. In my talks with Bowers about the
old-time sea-wonders which must be hidden in the Sargasso Sea my
imagination had been fired; and when I thus found myself actually in
the way to see these wonders I half forgot how useless the sight was
to me--being myself about the same as killed in the winning of it--and
was so full of eagerness to press forward that I grew almost angry
because of the infinite slowness with which my hulk drifted on to its
place in the ruined ranks.

There was no hurrying my progress. Around me the weed and wreckage
were packed so closely that the wonder was that my hulk moved through
it at all. Of wind there was not a particle; indeed, as I found later,
under that soft golden haze was a dead calm that very rarely in those
still latitudes was ruffled by even the faintest breeze. Only a weak
swirl of current from the far-off Gulf Stream pushed my hulk onward;
and this, I suppose, was helped a little by that attraction of
floating bodies for each other which brings chips and leaves together
on the surface of even the stillest pool. But a snail goes faster than
I was going; and it was only at the end of a full hour of watching
that I could see--yet even then could not be quite certain about it--that
my position a very little had changed.

Save that now and then I went below and got some solid food into me--and
as I was careful to eat but little at a time I got the good of it--I sat
there on the deck all day long gazing; and by nightfall my hulk had gone
forward by perhaps as much as a hundred yards. But my motion was a steady
and direct one, and I saw that if it continued it would end by laying me
aboard of a big steamer--having the look of being a cargo-boat--that stood
out a little from the others and evidently herself had not long been a
part of that broken company. She was less of a wreck, in one way, than
my own hulk; for she floated on an even keel and so high out of the
water as to show that she had no leak in her; but her masts had been
swept clean away and even her funnel and her bridge were gone--as though
a sharp-edged sea had sliced like a razor over her and shaved her decks

Immediately beyond this steamer lay a big wooden ship evidently
waterlogged; for she lay so low that the whole of her hull, save a bit of
her stern, was hidden from me by the steamer, and the most of her that
showed was her broken masts. And beyond her again was a jam of wrecks so
confused that I could not make out clearly any one of them from the rest.
Taken all together, they made a sort of promontory that jutted out from
what I may call the main-land of wreckage; and to the right and left of
the promontory there went off in long receding lines the coast of that
country of despair.

At last the sun sunk away to the horizon, and as it fell off westward pink
tones began to show in the clouds there and then to be reflected in the
haze; and these tones grew warmer and deeper until I saw just such another
blood-red sunset as I had seen in what I had fancied was my dream. And
under the crimson haze lay the dead wrecks, looming large in it, with
gleams of crimson light striking here and there on spars and masts and
giving them the look of being on fire. And then the light faded slowly,
through shades of purple and soft pink and warm gray, until at last the
blessed darkness came and shut off everything from my tired eyes.

Indeed, I was glad when the darkness fell; for as I sat there looking and
looking and feeling the bitter hopelessness of it all, I was well on my
way to going crazy with sorrow. But somehow, not seeing any longer the
ruin which was so near to me, and of which I knew myself to be a part, it
seemed less real to me--and so less dreadful. And being thus eased a
little I realized that I was hungry again, and that commonplace natural
feeling did me good too.

I went below to the pantry, striking a match to see my way by; and when
I had lighted the big lamp that was hanging there--the glass chimney of
which, in some wonderful way, had pulled through the crash which had sent
the mizzen-mast flying--the place seemed so cheerful that my desire for
supper increased prodigiously, and tended still farther to down my
sorrowful thoughts. I even had a notion of trying to light a fire in
the galley and cooking over it some of the beef or mutton that I had
found in the cold-room; but I gave that up, just then, because I
really was too hungry to wait until I could carry through so large
a plan.

But there was a plenty of good food in tins easily to be got at; and
what was still better I felt quite strong enough to eat a lot of it
without hurting myself. I even went at my meal a little daintily,
spreading a napkin--that I got from a locker filled with table
linen--on the pantry dresser, and setting out on it a tin of chicken
and a bunch of cheese and some bread which was pretty stale and hard
and a pot of jam to end off with; and from the wine-room I brought a
bottle of good Bordeaux.

As I ate my supper, greatly relishing it, the oddness of what I was
doing did not occur to me; but often since I have thought how strange
was that meal of mine--in that brightly lighted cosey little room,
and myself really cheerful over it--in its contrast with the utterly
desperate strait in which I was. And I think that the contrast was
still sharper, my supper being ended, when I fetched a steamer-chair
that I had noticed lying on the floor of the cabin and settled myself
in it easily--facing toward the stern, so that the slope of the deck
only made the slope of the chair still easier--and so sat there in the
brightness smoking a very good cigar.

And after a while--what with my comfort of body, and the good meal
in my stomach, and the good wine there too--a soothing drowsiness
stole over me, and I had the feeling that in another moment or two I
should fall away into a delicious doze. And then, all of a sudden, I
was roused wide awake again by hearing faintly, but quite distinctly,
a long and piercingly shrill cry.

I fairly jumped from my chair, so greatly was I startled; and for a
good while I stood quite still, drawing my breath softly, in waiting
wonder for that strange cry to come again. But it did not come
again--and as the silence continued I fell to doubting if I had not
been asleep, and that this sound which had seemed so real to me had
not been only a part of a dream.



Robinson Crusoe's footprint in the sand did not startle him more than
that strange lonely cry startled me. Indeed, as between the two of us,
I had rather the worse of it: for Crusoe, at least, knew that he was
dealing with a reality, while I could not be certain that I was not
dealing with a bit of a dream in which there was no reality at all.

For a long while I sat there puzzling over it--half hoping that I
might hear it again, and so be sure of it; and half hoping that I
might not hear it, because of the thrilling tone in it which had
filled me with a sharp alarm. I was so shaken that I had not the
courage to go off to my berth in the cabin, with only a candle to
light me there, but stayed on in the little room that the lamp lighted
so brightly that there were no dark corners for my fancy to people
with things horrible; and so, at last, still scared and puzzled, I
went off to sleep in my chair.

When I woke again the lamp had burned out and had filled the place
with a vile smell of lamp-smoke that set me to sneezing. But I did
not mind that much; for daylight had come, and my nerves were both
quieted by sleep and steadied by that confident courage which most men
feel--no matter how tight a fix they may be in--when they have the
backing of the sun.

My first thought was to get on deck and have a look about me; the
feeling being strong in my mind that on one or another of the near-by
wrecks I should find the man who had uttered that thrilling cry, and
would find him in some trouble that I might be able to help him out
of. But my second thought, and it was the wiser, was to eat first of
all a good breakfast and so get strength in me that would make me
ready to face whatever might come along--for a vague dread hung by me
that I was in the way of danger, and whatever it might be I knew that
I could the better stand up against it after a hearty meal. Therefore
I got out another tin of meat and ate the whole of it, and a hunk of
stale bread along with it, and washed down my breakfast with a bottle
of beer--longing greatly for a cup of coffee in place of the beer, but
being in too much of a hurry to stop for that while I made a fire.

As the food got inside of me--though in that smoky and smelly place
eating it was not much of a pleasure--my thoughts took a more cheerful
turn. The hope of meeting a live man to talk to and to help me out of
my utter loneliness rose strong in my mind; and I felt that no matter
who or what he might be--even a man in desperate sickness and pain,
whom I must nurse and care for--finding him in that solitude would
make my own case less sad. And so, when I went on deck, my longing
hope for companionship was the strongest feeling in my heart.

With my first glance around I saw that during the night my hulk had
made more progress than I had counted on; having moved the faster, I
suppose, as it felt more strongly the pull of the mass of floatage
near by. Be this as it may, I found myself so close alongside the big
cargo-boat that a good jump would carry me aboard of her; and I was so
eager to begin my investigations that I took the jump without a single
moment of delay. And being come to her deck, the first thing that I
saw there was a dead man lying in the middle of it with a pool of
still fresh blood staining the planks by his side.

I never had seen anything like that, and as I looked at the dead
man--he was a big strong coarse fellow, dressed in a pair of dirty
sail-cloth trousers and in a dirty checked shirt--I went so queasy and
giddy that I had to step back a little and lean for a while against
the steamer's rail. It was clear enough that he had died fighting. His
face had a bad cut on it and there was another on his neck, and his
hands were cut cruelly, as though he had caught again and again at a
sharp knife in trying to keep it away from him; but the stab that had
finished him was in his breast, showing ghastly as he lay on his back
with his shirt open--and no doubt it was as the knife went into him
there that he had uttered the cry of mortal agony which had come to me
through the darkness, with so thrilling a note in it, while I was
sitting in bright comfort drowsily smoking my cigar. And then, as I
remembered my drowsiness, for a moment I seemed to get back into
it--and I had a half hope that perhaps what I was looking at was only
a part of a horrible dream.

Had there been any sign of a living man about, of the murderer as well
as the murdered, I should have been less broken by what I saw; for
then I should have had something practical to attend to--either in
bringing the other man to book on the poor dead fellow's account, or
in fighting him on my own. But the nearest thing to life in sight, on
that storm-swept hulk under the low-hanging golden haze, was the rough
body out of which life had but just gone forever; and the bloody
stains everywhere on the deck showing that he and another must have
been fighting pretty much all over it before they got to an end. And
the horror of it all was the stronger because of the awful and
hopeless loneliness: with the dead-still weed-covered ocean
stretching away to the horizon on the one hand, and on the other only
dead ships tangled and crushed together going off in a desolate
wilderness that grew fainter--but for its faintness all the more
despairing--until it was lost in the dun-gold murky thickness of
the haze.

As I got steadier, in a little while, I realized that I must hunt up
the other man, the one who had done the killing, and have things out
with him. Pretty certainly, his disposition would be to try to kill
me; and if I were to have a fight on hand as soon as I fell in with
him it was plain that my chances would be all the better for downing
him could I take him by surprise. I would have given a good deal just
then for a knife, and a good deal more for a pistol; but the best that
I could do to arm myself was to take an iron belaying-pin from the
rail, and with this in my hand I walked aft to the companion-way
--feeling sure that my best chance of coming upon my man
unexpectedly was to find him asleep in the cabin below. And then,
suddenly, the very uncomfortable thought came to me that there might
be more than one man down there--with the likelihood that if I roused
them they all would set upon me together and finish me quickly; and
this brought me to a halt just within the companion-way, in the
shadowy place at the head of the cabin stair.

I stood there for a minute or two listening closely, but I heard no
sound whatever from below; and presently the dead silence made me feel
rather ashamed of myself for being so easily scared. And then I
noticed, my eyes having become accustomed to the shadow, that there
was a splash of blood on the top step and more blood on the steps
lower down--as though a man badly hurt, and without any one to help
him, had gone down the stair slowly and had rested on almost every
step and bled for a while before he could go on; and seeing this made
it seem likely to me that I would have but a single man to deal with,
and he in such a state that I need not fear him much. But for all that
I kept a tight grip on my belaying-pin, and held it in such a way that
I could use it easily, as I put my foot on the first of the bloody
steps and so went on down.

The cabin, when I got to it, was but a small one--the boat not being
built to carry passengers--and so dusky that I could not make it out
well; for the skylight was covered with a tarpaulin--put there, I
suppose, to protect it when the gale came on that the steamer was
wrecked in--and all the light there was came in from one corner where
the covering had fetched away. It gave me a sort of shivering feeling
when I looked into that dusky place, where I saw nothing clearly and
where there was at least a chance that in another moment I might be
fighting for my life. I stood in the doorway, gripping my
belaying-pin, until I began to see more clearly--making out that a
small fixed table, with a water-jug and some bottles and glasses on
it, filled a half of the cabin, and that three state-room doors--one
of which stood open--were ranged on each of its sides. And then, just
as I was about to enter, I fairly jumped as there came to me softly
through the silence a low sad sound that was between a groan and a
sigh. But in an instant my reason told me that this was not the sort
of sound to come from a man whom I need be afraid of; and as it came
plainly enough from the state-room of which the door stood open I
stepped briskly over there and looked inside.



At first--the dead-light being fast over the port, and the state-room
in darkness save for the little light which came in from the dusky
cabin, and my own person in the doorway making it darker still--I was
sure of nothing there. But presently I made out a biggish heap of some
sort in the lower berth, and then that the heap was a man lying with
his back toward me and his face turned to the ship's side.

The noise of my footsteps must have roused him, either from sleep or
from the stupor that his hurts had put him in: for while I stood
looking at him his body moved a little, and then his head turned
slowly and in the shadows I caught the glint of his open eyes. What
little light there was being behind me, all that he could see--and
that but in black outline--was the figure of a tall man looming in the
doorway; but instantly at sight of me he let off a yell as sharp as
though I had run a knife into him, and then he covered his head all up
with the bedclothes and lay kicking and shaking as though he were in
deadly fear. I myself was so upset by his outburst, and by the
half-horror that came to me at sight of his spasms of terror, that I
stood for a moment or so silent; but in one way satisfied, since it
was evident that this poor scared wretch could not possibly do me
harm. Just as I was about to speak to him, hoping to soothe him a
little, he pushed the bedclothes down from over his eyes and took
another look at me--and straightway yelled again, and then cried out
at me: "Go away, damn you! Go away, damn you! You're dead! You're
dead, I tell you! Do you want me to kill you all over again, when I've
done it once as well as I know how?" And with that he fell to kicking
again, and to shouting out curses, and to letting off the most
dreadful shrieks and cries--until suddenly a gasping choking checked
him, and he lay silent and still.

Then the notion came to me that he took me for the dead man up on
deck; I being about the dead fellow's size and build, and therefore
looking very like him as I stood there with the light behind me and
the shadows too deep for him to make out my face. And so, to ease his
mind and get him quiet--and this was quite as much for my own sake as
for his, for his wild fear was strangely horrible to witness--I spoke
to him, asking him if he were badly hurt and if I could help him; and
at the sound of my voice he gave a long sigh, as though of great
relief, and in a moment said: "Who the devil are you, anyway? I
thought you was Jack--come back after my killin' him to have another
round with me. Is Jack true dead?"

"If you mean the man on deck," I answered, "he is true dead--as dead
as any man can be with a cut straight through his heart."

He gave another sigh of relief, as though what I told him was a real
comfort to him; and in a moment he said: "Well, that's a good job, and
I'm glad of it. He's killed me, too, I reckon; but I'm glad I got in
on him first an' fixed him fur his damn starin' at me. Now he's dead I
guess he won't stare at me no more." He was silent for nearly a
minute, and then he added: "Jest get me a drink, won't you? I'm all
burnin' up inside. There's water in th' jug out there. An' put a good
dash of gin in it--there's gin out there, too."

I got him some water from the jug on the cabin table, but when he
tasted it and found that it was water only he began to swear at me for
leaving out the gin; and when I added the gin--thinking that he
probably was so used to strong drink as really to need a little to put
some life into him--he took off the whole glassful at a gulp and
asked for more.

I told him to wait for another drink until I should have a look at his
hurts and see what I could do to better them; for, while hanging
seemed to be what he deserved, I had a natural desire to ease the
pain that was racking him--as I could tell by the gasps and groans
which he was giving and by the sharp motions which he made.

"Jest shet your head an' gimme some more drink," he said in a surly
way. "Jack's give me a dose that'll settle me, an' lookin' at me won't
do no good--'cause there's nothin' to be done. He's ripped me up, Jack
has, an' no man can live long that way. All I can do is to die
happy--so it's a good thing there's lots of gin. You'll find a kag of
it over there in th' fur corner. Me an' Jack filled it from th' spirit
room yesterday, afore our fuss begun."

But I stuck out that I must have a look at his hurts first, and
managed to open the dead-light--which luckily had not been screwed
tight--and so had some light in the room; and in the end, finding that
I would not give him a drink otherwise, he let me have my way. But I
had only to take a glance over him to see that what he said about the
other man having settled him was true enough; for he was cut in a
dozen places savagely, and had one desperate slash--which had laid him
all open about the waist--from which alone he was certain to die in a
very little while.

There was nothing for me to do, and I did not know what was best to
say to him; and while I was casting about in my mind to comfort him a
little, for his horrible hurts could not but stir my pity, he settled
the matter for both of us in his own way--grunting out that he guessed
I'd found he knew what he was talking about, and then asking for
more gin.

This time I gave it to him, and gave it to him strong--being certain
that he was past hurting by it, and hoping that it might deaden his
pain. And presently, when he asked for another drink, I gave him
that too.

The liquor did make him easier, and it raised his spirits so much that
he fell to swearing quite cheerfully at the man Jack who had given him
his death--and seemed to feel a good deal better for freeing his mind
that way. And after a while he began of his own accord to tell me
about the wreck that he had passed through, and about what had come
after it--only stopping now and then to ask for more gin-and-water,
and gulping it down with such satisfaction that I gave him all he
cared to have. Indeed, it was the only thing that I could do to ease
him, and I knew that no matter how much he drank the end shortly would
be the same.

As well as I could make out from his rambling talk, the storm that had
wrecked him had happened about three months earlier: a tremendous
burst of tempest that had sent everything to smash suddenly, and had
washed the captain and first and second officers overboard--they all
being on the bridge together--and three or four of the crew as well.
At the same time the funnel was carried away, and such a deluge of
water got down to the engine-room that the fires were drowned. This
brought the engineers on deck and the coal-passers with them; and the
coal-passers--"a beach-combin' lot," he called them--led in breaking
into the spirit-room, and before long pretty much all the men of the
crew were as drunk as lords. What happened after that for a while he
did not know; but when he got sober enough to stagger up on deck he
found the man Jack there--who also had just come up after sleeping off
his drunk below somewhere--and they had the ship to themselves. The
others might have found a boat that would float and tried their luck
that way, or they might have been washed overboard. He didn't know
what had become of them, and he didn't care. Then the hulk had taken
to drifting slowly, and at the end of a month or so had settled into
the berth where I found her; and since then the two of them had known
that all chance of their getting back into the world again was gone.

"At first I didn't mind it much," he went on, "there bein' lashins to
eat aboard, an' more to drink than me an' Jack ever'd hoped to get a
show at in all our lives. But pretty soon Jack he begun to be
worryin'. He'd get drunk, an' then he'd set an' stare at me like a
damn owl--jest a-blinkin' and a-blinkin' his damn eyes. You hev no
idee, ontil it's done to you, how worryin' it is when a drunken man
jest sets an' stares at you fur hours together in that fool way. I
give Jack fair warnin' time and agen when he was sober that I'd hurt
him ef he kep' on starin' at me like that; but then he'd get drunk
agen right off, an' at it he'd go. I s'pose I wouldn't 'a' minded it
in a ornary way an' ashore, or ef we'd had some other folks around.
But here we was jest alone--oh, it was terr'ble how much we was
alone!--an' Jack more'n half the time like a damn starin' owl, till he
a-most druv me wild."

"An' Jack said as how I was onbearable too. _He_ said it was me as
stared at him--the damn fool not knowin' that I was only a-tryin' to
squench his beastly owlin' by lookin' steady at him; an' he said he'd
settle me ef I kep' on. An' so things went like that atween us fur
days an' days--and all th' time nothin' near us but dead ships with
mos' likely dead men fillin' 'em, an' him an' me knowin' we'd soon got
to be dead too. An' the stinks out of th' rotten weed, and out of all
th' rotten ships whenever a bit of wind breezed up soft from th'
s'uthard over th' hull mess of 'em, was horrider than you hev any
idee! Gettin' drunk was all there was lef' fur us; and even in gettin'
drunk there wasn't no real Christian comfort, 'cause of Jack's damn
owlin' stares."

"I guess ef anybody stared steady at you fur better'n three months
you'd want to kill him too. Anyway, that's how I felt about it; an' I
told Jack yesterday--soon as he waked up in th' mornin', an' while he
was plumb sober--that ef he didn't let up on it I'd go fur him sure.
An' that fool up an' says it was me done th' starin', and I'd got to
stop it or he'd cut out my damn heart--an' them was his very words.
An' by noon yesterday he was drunker'n a Dutchman, an' was starin'
harder'n ever. An' he kep' at it all along till sunset, an' when we
come down into th' cabin to get supper he still was starin'; and after
supper--when we mought 'a' been jest like two brothers a-gettin' drunk
together on gin-an'-water--he stared wust of all."

"Nobody could 'a' stood it no longer--and up I gets an' goes fur him,
keepin' my promise fair an' square. At fust we jest punched each other
sort o' friendly with our fists, but after a while Jack give me a clip
that roused my dander and I took my knife to him; an' then he took his
knife to me. I don't remember jest all about it, but I know we licked
away at each other all over th' cabin, an' then up through th'
companion-way, an' then all over th' deck--me a-slicin' into him an'
him a-slicin' into me all th' time. And at last he got this rippin'
cut into me, an' jest then I give him a jab that made him yell like a
stuck pig an' down he fell. I knowed he'd done fur me, but somehow I
managed to work my way along th' deck an' to get down here to my
bunk, where I knowed I'd die easier; an' then things was all black fur
a while--ontil all of a sudden you comes along, and I sees you
standin' in the door there, an' takes you fur Jack's ghost, an' gets
scared th' wust kind. But he's not doin' no ghost racket, Jack ain't.
I've settled him an' his damn owl starin'--and it's a good job I have.
Gimme some more gin."

And then, having taken the drink that I gave him, he rolled over a
little--so that he lay as I found him, with his face turned away from
me--and for a good long while he did not speak a word.



Only an hour before I had been longing for any sort of a live man to
talk with and so break my loneliness; but having thus found a live
man--who, to be sure, was close to being a dead one--I would have been
almost ready to get rid of him by going back to my mast in the open
sea. Indeed, as I stood there in the shadows beside that dying brute,
and with the other brute lying dead on the deck above me, the feeling
of dull horror that filled me is more than I can put into words.

I think that the underlying strong strain of my wretchedness was an
intense pity for myself. In what the fellow had told me I saw clearly
outlined a good deal of what must be my own fate in that vile
solitude: which I perceived suddenly must be strewn everywhere with
dead men lying unhidden, corrupting openly; since none there were to
hide the dead from sight as we hide them in the living world. And I
realized that until I myself should be a part of that indecent
exhibition of human carcasses--which might not be for a long while,
for I was a strong man and not likely to die soon--I should have to
dwell in the midst of all that corruption; and always with the
knowledge that sooner or later I must take my place in it, and lie
with all those unhidden others wasting away slowly in the open light
of day. I got so sick as these horrid thoughts pressed upon me that I
turned to the table and poured out for myself a stiff drink of
gin-and-water--being careful first to rinse the glass well--and I was
glad that I thought of it, for it did me good.

My movement about the cabin roused up the dying fellow and he hailed
me to give him some more gin. His voice was so thick that I knew that
the drink already had fuddled him; and after he had swiped off what I
gave him he began to talk again. But the liquor had taken such hold
upon him that he called me "Jack," not recognizing me, and evidently
fancying that I was his mate--the man whom he had killed.

At first he rambled on about the storm that had wrecked them; and then
about their chance of falling in with a passing vessel; and then about
some woman named Hannah who would be worrying about him because he did
not come home. As well as I could make out he went over in this
fashion most of what had happened--and it was little enough, in one
way--from the time that the two found themselves alone upon the hulk
until they began to get among the weed, and realized pretty well
what that meant for them.

"It ain't no use now, Jack," he rambled on. "It ain't no use now
thinkin' about gettin' home, an' Hannah may as well stop lookin' fur
me. This is th' Dead Man's Sea we're gettin' into; an' I knows it
well, an' you knows it well, both on us havin' heerd it talked about
by sailor-men ever sence we come afloat as boys. Down in th' middle of
it is all th' old dead wrecks that ever was sence ships begun sailin';
and all th' old dead sailor-men is there too. It's a orful place,
Jack, that me an' you's goin' to--more damn orful, I reckon, than we
can hev any idee. Gin's all thet's lef' to us, and it's good luck we
hev such swashins of it aboard. Here's at you, Jack an' gimme some
more out o' the kag, you damn starin' owl."

There was an angry tone in his voice as he spoke these last words; and
the tone was sharper a moment later when he went on: "Can't you keep
your owl eyes shet, you beast? Don't look at me like that, or I'll
stick a knife into you. No, I'm _not_ starin' at you; it's you who's
starin' at me, damn you. Stop it! Stop it, I say, you--" and he broke
out with a volley of foul names and curses; and partly raised himself,
as though he thought that a fight was coming on. And then the pain
which this movement caused him made him fall back again with a groan.

Without his asking for it I gave him another drink, which quieted
him a little; and then put fresh strength into him, so that he burst
out again with his curses and abuse. "Cut the heart out of me, will
you--you scum of rottenness? I'd have you to know that cuttin' hearts
out is a game two can play at. Take that, damn you! An' that! An'
that! Them's fur your starin'--you damn fat-faced blinkin' owl. And I
mean now t' keep on till I stop you. No more of your owl-starin' fur
me! Take it agen, you stinkin' starin' owl. So! An' so! An' so!"

He fairly raised himself up in the berth as he rushed out his words,
and at the same time thrust savagely with his right hand as though he
had a knife in it. For a minute or more he kept his position, cursing
with a strong voice and thrusting all the time. Suddenly he gave a
yell of pain and fell on his back again, crying brokenly: "Hell! It's
_you_ who've finished me!" And then he gave two or three short sharp
gasps, and after that there was a little gurgling in his throat, and
then he was still--lying there as dead as any man could be.

This quick ending of him came so suddenly that it staggered me; but I
must say that my first feeling, when I fairly realized what had
happened, was thankfulness that his life was gone--for I had had
enough of him to know that having much more of him would drive me mad.

In the telling of it, of course, most of what made all this horrible
slips away from me, and it don't seem much to strain a man, after all.
But it really was pretty bad: what with the shadowy light in the
state-room, for even with the port uncovered it still was dusky; and
the horrid smell there; and the vividness with which the fellow
somehow managed to make me feel those days and weeks of his half-crazy
half-drunken life, while he and the other man stared at each other
until neither of them could bear it any longer--and so took to
fighting from sheer heart-breaking horror of loneliness and killed
each other out of hand. And back of all that I had the feeling that I
was caught in the same fate that had shut in upon them; and was even
worse off than they had been, since I had no one to fight my life away
with but must take it myself when I found my solitude in that rotten
desolation more than I could stand.

Even the gin-and-water, though I took another big drink of it, could
not hearten me; but it did give me the courage to rid myself of the
two dead brutes by casting them overboard; and, indeed, getting rid of
them was a necessity, for their presence seemed to me so befouling
that I found it hard to breathe.

With the man on deck--except that touching him was hateful to me--I
did not have much trouble. I just made fast to him a couple of heavy
iron bars that I found down in the engine-room--pokers, they seemed to
be, for serving the boiler fires--and then dragged him along the deck
to a place where the bulwarks were gone and there shot him overboard.
And luckily the weed was thinnish there, and he went down like a stone
into it and through it and so disappeared.

But with the man in the cabin I had a harder job. In his horridly cut
condition I could not bring myself to touch him, and the best that I
could do was to make a sort of bundle of him and the mattress and the
bedclothes all together--with a bit of light line whipped around and
around the whole mass until it was snug and firm. When it was finished
I worked it out of the state-room, and rolled it fairly easily along
the floor of the cabin to the companion-way--and there it stuck fast.
Budge it I could not; for it was too long to roll up the stair, and
too heavy for me to haul it up after me or to push it up before me,
though I tried both ways and tried hard. But in the end I managed to
get it up by means of a purchase that I rigged from a ring-bolt in the
deck just outside the companion-way door; and once having it on deck I
could manage it again easily, for there I could roll it along.

Yet I did not at once cast it overboard; for I had no more iron bars
with which to weight it, and I knew that such a bunch of stuff would
not sink through the weed--and that I should have it still
loathsomely with me, lying only partly hidden in the weed right
alongside. In the end I got up a big iron cinder-bucket that I filled
with coal--making sure that the coal would stay in it by lashing a
piece of canvas over the top--and this I made fast to the bundle by a
rope three or four fathoms long. Then I cast the bucket overboard
through the break in the bulwarks, and as it shot downward I rolled
the bundle after it--and I had the comfort of seeing the whole go down
through the weed and away from my sight forever into the hidden
water below.

And then I sat down on the deck and rested; for what little cheering
and strength I had got from the gin-and-water had left me and I was
utterly miserable and tired as a dog. But I was well quit of both my
dead men, and that was a good job well done.



Sitting there with the splotches of fresh blood on the deck all around
me was more than I could stomach for very long. The sight of them
brought back to me with a horrid distinctness everything that I had
seen since I came aboard the hulk: the dead man lying on the deck, the
other man with his frightful wounds and his wild talk and his death in
the midst of his passionate ravings, and the disgusting work that I
had been forced to do before I could hide their two bodies from my
sight in the sea-depths beneath the tangled weed. And so, presently, I
scrambled to my feet, thinking to get back to the _Hurst Castle_
again--where there was no taint of blood to bring up haunting visions
and where, though it seemed a long while past to me, I had been in the
company of honest and kindly men.

But when I turned toward this poor escape from my misery--which at
best was but a change from a foul prison to a clean one--I saw that I
could not easily compass it; for in the time that had passed since I
had made my jump in the morning--noon being by then upon me--the
_Hurst Castle_ had swung around a little, being caught I suppose upon
some bit of sunken wreckage, so that where the two ships were nearest
to each other there was an open reach of twenty feet or more
across the weed.

This was too great a distance for a jump, seeing that it must be made
from rail to rail without a run to give me a send-off; and yet it was
so short that my not being able to cross it never even entered my
mind. Had there been a mast standing on the hulk, with a yard fast to
it, I could have rigged a rope from the yard-arm and swung myself
across in a moment; but the decks being sea-swept, with nothing left
standing on them, that way was not open to me; nor could I find a
light spar--even the flag-staff at the stern being snapt away--that I
could stretch across from one rail to the other and make a bridge of.
The only other thing that occurred to me was to tear off some of the
doors in the cabin and to make of them a little raft that I could pass
by, though I saw well enough that pushing a raft through so dense a
tangle even for that short distance would be a hard job. And then I
had the thought that perhaps on the sailing-ship lying beside me I
might find a sound boat, which would better answer my purpose since it
could be the more easily moved through the weed. In point of fact I
could not have moved a boat a single foot through that thicket without
cutting a passage for it, and I might have thrown overboard three or
four doors and so made a bridge over the weed that would have borne me
easily--but I did not know then as much about that strange sea-growth
as I came to know later on.

As there was no hurry in one way, the ships being so bedded fast there
that they were certain not to move more than a few feet at the utmost,
I hunted up some food before setting myself to what I knew would be a
heavy task; finding cold victuals of a coarse sort in the galley--left
from the last meal that the two men had made there--and fairly fresh
water in the tank. It was hard work eating, on board that foul ship
and thinking of the foul hands which had made the food ready; but
going without eating would have been harder, for I had the healthy
appetite of a sound young fellow three-and-twenty years old.

When I had finished my meal, and I got through it quickly, I made fast
a line to the steamer's rail and slipped down it to the deck of the
sailing-ship--a fine vessel of above a thousand tons, built of wood
and on clipper lines. There was an immediate sense of relief in
getting aboard of her, and away from the blood-stained steamer where
the dead men had been; but I saw at a glance that what I was after was
not there. She had carried four boats on her rail, as I could tell
by the davits, and likely enough a long-boat on her fore-castle as
well. But all of them were gone, and I could only hope--since they
were not there for my use--that her crew had got safe away in them: as
well enough might have happened when she was floating water-logged
after the storm that had wrecked her was past.

Without stopping to explore her--and, indeed, after what I had found
on the steamer, I had no fancy for explorations which might end in my
stumbling upon still more horrors--I went on to a trim little brig
lying on the other side of her; a beautiful little vessel, with all
her spars and rigging save her bow-hamper in perfect order for
sea-going--but showing by her broken bow-sprit that she had been in
collision, and by her depth in the water that after the collision she
had filled. Naturally enough, her boats were gone too; and so I left
her and went on.

In the course of the next two hours or so I must have traversed more
than a hundred wrecks--scrambling up or down from one to another, as
they happened to lie low in the water or high out of it--and with all
their differences of size and build finding them in one way the same:
all of them were dead ships which some sort of a sea-disaster had
slain. And not one of them had a sound boat left on board. The same
reason that kept me from exploring the first of them kept me from
exploring any of them: the dread of finding in their shadowy depths
grisly horrors in the way of dead men long lying there; and, indeed, I
was distinctly warned to hurry away from some of them by the vile
stenches which came to me and made my stomach turn sickish and my
blood go cold.

I must have walked for a good mile, I suppose, over the dead bodies of
these sea-killed ships--and it was the most dismal walk that ever I
had taken--before I realized that even if I found a boat and got it
overboard it would be of no use to me, since there was no possibility
of my getting back in it to my own hulk through that densely packed
mass of wrecks and weed. Indeed, I should have perceived this plain
certainty sooner had not the wondering curiosity which this strange
walk bred in me lured me on and on. And then, being brought at last to
a halt by my rational reflection, there came over me suddenly a queer
shiver of doubt as to the direction in which the _Hurst Castle_ lay;
and then a still more shivering doubt as to whether I should be able
to get back to her again by the way that I had come, or by any way
at all.

At the beginning of my march in this haze-covered sea-wilderness I had
tried to keep upon the outer edge of it; but insensibly--having to
pass from ship to ship rather by the way that was open to me than by
the way that I wished to go--I had wandered into the thick of it
more and more. And so, when at last I took thought of my whereabouts,
and stopped to look around me that I might shape a course back again,
I found that in whatever direction I turned I saw only what I had seen
ahead of me when my hulk was drawing in upon its borders: a dense
confusion of broken and ruined ships which fell away from me vaguely
under the golden haze. It had been a dismal sight then; but what gave
a fresh note to it, and a thrilling one, was that it no longer was
only in front of me but was all around me--stretching away on every
side of the wreck on which I was standing, and growing fainter and
fainter as the haze shut down thick upon it until it vanished softly
into the golden blur.

Yet even then the full meaning of my outlook did not take hold of me.
That I was in something of a coil, out of which I could not find my
way easily, was plain enough; but that I really was lost in it did not
cross my mind. With all my wanderings, I knew that I could not have
traversed any great distance; and the certainty that I had passed
always from one ship to the ship next touching it seemed to make
finding my way back again entirely open and plain. And so I laughed at
myself a little--though that was not much of a place for
laughter--because of my touch of panic fright; and then I turned back
from the ship on which I was standing to the one next to it, over
which I had just come--and so on to the next, and in the same way to
three or four more. Yet even in that short distance--though my way was
unmistakable, for these ships touched only each other as it
happened--I was surprised by finding how differently things looked to
me as I took my course backward: all the ups and downs of my
scrambling walk being inverted, and the lay of the ships one to
another and the look of them being entirely changed.

Presently I got on board of a brig--which I well remembered, because
it was one of the vessels having about it a vile stench that had made
me cross it quickly--on the farther side of which two ships were
lying, both rising a little above it and both jammed close against its
side. For a moment I hesitated, in doubt as to which of the two I had
come by; and I should have hesitated longer had not a whiff of the
horrid smell struck upon me strongly and urged me to go on. And so
away I went, taking to the ship that I thought was the right one; and
still fancying that it was the right one when I got aboard of it--for
both, as I have said, were ships, and the two had been about equally
mauled by sea and storm. Indeed, except for the differences in their
build and rig, there was a strong family resemblance among these
storm-broken vessels; and the way that they were jammed together made
their build less noticeable, while a good many of them were
dismasted and so had no rig at all.

Therefore I went on confidently for a dozen ships or more before I had
any misgivings that I had missed my way--which was but a natural
reaction against my momentary doubtfulness--and then I found myself
suddenly pulled up short. Right above me was the side of a big iron
steamer--called the _City of Boston_, as I made out from the weathered
name-plate on her bows, and a packet-boat as I judged by her
build--rising so high out of the water that getting up to her deck was
impossible: as equally impossible was my having forgotten it had I
made such a rattling jump down. Yet this big steamer was the only
vessel in touch with the barque on which I was standing, save the
schooner from which I had just come; and that gave me sharply the
choice between two conclusions: either I had made that big jump
without noticing it, or else--and I felt a queer lump rising in my
throat as I faced this alternative--I had managed to go astray
completely and had lost myself in what had the look of being a
hopeless maze.



On shore, in a forest, I would not in the least have minded finding
myself in a fix of this sort--though my getting into it would have
been unlikely--because getting out of it would have been the easiest
thing in the world. I know a good deal of wood-craft, and always can
steer a course steadily by having the points of the compass fixed for
me by the size and the trend of the branches, and by the bark growing
thin or thick or by the moss or the lack of moss on the tree-trunks,
and by the other such simple forest signs which are the outcome of the
affection that there is on the part of things growing for the sun.

But what made my breath come hard and my heart take to pumping--as I
stood looking up the tall side of the _City of Boston_, being certain
that I never had come down it and so must be off my course
entirely--was my conviction that in this forest of the ocean, if I may
call it so, there were no signs which would help me to find my way.
All around me was the same wild hopeless confusion of broken wrecks
jammed tight together, or only a little separated by narrow spaces
thick-grown with weed; and everywhere overhanging it heavily, growing
denser the deeper that I got into the tangle, was the haze that made
it more confusing still. And under the haze--and because of it, I
suppose--was a soft languorish warmth that seemed to steal my strength
away and a good deal of my courage too.

But I knew that to give way to the feeling of dull fright, having
somehow a touch of awe in it, that was creeping over me would be to
put myself into a panic; and that once my wits fairly were addled my
chance of getting back to the _Hurst Castle_ again would be pretty
much gone. And to get back to her seemed to me the only way of keeping
my heart up and of keeping myself alive. She was the one ship, in all
that great dismal fleet, aboard of which I could be sure that nothing
horrible had happened, and in which I could be certain that no
loathsome sights were to be come upon suddenly in shadowy nooks and
corners to which dying men had crept in their extremity--trying, since
none ever would bury them, to hide away a little their own bodies
against the time when death should be upon them and corruption
should begin.

And so I pulled myself together as well as I could and tried to do a
little quiet thinking; and presently I came to the conclusion that I
must find my way back to the brig against which the two ships were
lying and start afresh from her; since it was pretty certain that it
was there, by boarding the wrong ship, that I had got off my course.
But because of my certain knowledge of what horridness the brig
sheltered, and of the noisome stench that I must encounter there, it
took a good deal of resolution to put this plan into practice; so
much, indeed, that for a while I wavered about it, and succeeded at
last in starting back again only by setting going the full force of
my will.

But I need not have whipped myself on to my work so resolutely, nor
have fretted myself in advance with planning the rush that I should
make across the brig when I came to her--for I never, so far as I
know, laid eyes on her again. For a little while, as in my first
turn-about, I found my way backward without much difficulty--though
again the different look that the ships had as I returned across them
pulled me up from time to time with doubts about them; and then, just
as before, I came to a place where more than one line of advance was
open to me and there went wrong--as I knew a little later by finding
myself aboard a vessel so strange in her appearance that my first
glimpse over her deck satisfied me that I saw her then for the
first time.

This craft was an old-fashioned sloop-of-war, carrying eighteen guns;
and that she had perished in action was as evident as that her
death-battle had been fought a long while back in the past. The
mauling that she had received had made an utter wreck of her--her
masts being shot away and hanging by the board, most of her bulwarks
being splintered, and her whole stern torn open as though a crashing
broad-side had been poured into her at short range. Moreover, nearly
all her guns had been dismounted, and two of them had burst in
firing--as the shattered gun-carriages showed.

But what most strongly proved the fierceness of her last action, and
the length of time that had passed since she fought it, were the
scores of skeletons lying about her deck--a few with bits of clothing
hanging fast to them, but most of them clean fleshless naked bones.
Just as they had fallen, there they lay: with legs or arms or ribs
splintered or carried off by the shot which had struck them, or with
bullet-holes clean through their skulls. But the sight of them, while
it put a sort of awe upon me, did not horrify me; because time
had done its cleansing work with them and they were pure.

Indeed, my imagination was taken such fast hold of by coming upon this
thrilling wreck of ancient sea-battle, fought out fiercely to a finish
generations before ever I was born, that for a little while I forgot
my own troubles entirely; and so got over the shock which my first
sight of the riddled sloop and her dead crew had given me by proving
that again I had lost my way. And my longing to know all that I could
find out about it--backed by the certainty that I should not come upon
anything below that would revolt me--led me to go searching in the
shattered cabin for some clue to the sloop's name and nationality, and
to the cause in which her death-fight had been fought.

The question of nationality was decided the moment that I set my foot
within the cabin doorway--there being a good deal of light there,
coming in through the broken stern--by my seeing stretched over a
standing bed-place in a state-room to starboard an American flag; and
the flag, taken together with the ancient build of the sloop, also
settled the fact pretty clearly that the action which had finished her
must have been fought with an English vessel in the War of 1812.

Under the flag I could make out faintly the lines of a human figure,
and I knew that one of the sloop's officers--most likely her
commander, from the respect shown to him by covering him with the
colors--must be lying there, just as his men had placed him to wait
for a sea-burial until the fighting should come to an end. And that he
had remained there was proof that not a man of the sloop's company but
had been killed outright in the fight or had got his death-wound in
it; and also of the fact that in a way the fight had been a
victory--since it was evident that the enemy had not taken possession,
and therefore must have been beaten off.

But the whole matter was settled clearly by my finding the sloop's
log-book lying open on the cabin table, just as it had lain there, and
had entries made in it, while the action was going on. And a very
strange thrill ran through me as I read on the mouldy page in brown
faint letters the date, "October 5, 1814," and across the page-head,
in bigger brown faint letters: "U.S. Sloop-of-war _Wasp_": and so knew
that I was aboard of that stinging little war-sloop--whereof the
record is a bright legend, and the fate a mystery, of our Navy--which
in less than three months' time successively fought and whipped three
English war-vessels--the ship _Reindeer_ and the brigs _Avon_ and
_Atalanta_, all of them bigger than herself--and then, being last
sighted in September, 1814, not far from the Azores, vanished with all
her crew and officers from off the ocean and never was seen nor
heard of again.

There before me in the mouldy log-book was the record of her last
action--and in gallantry it led the three others which have made
her fame.

The entries began at 7.20 A.M. with: "A strange sail in sight on the
weather bow;" at 7.45 followed: "The strange brig bearing down on us.
Looks English"; and at 8.10: "The strange brig has shown English
colors." Then came the manoeuvring for position, covering more than an
hour, and the beating to general quarters; and after that the short
entries ran on quickly--in such rough and ready writing as might be
expected of a man dashing in for a moment to make them, and then
dashing out again to where the fighting was going on:

"9.20 A.M. Engaged the enemy with our starboard battery,
hulling him severely.

"9.24. Our foremast by the board.

"9.28. The enemy's broadside in our stern. Great havoc.

"9.35. The wreck of the foremast cleared, giving us steerage way.

"9.40. Our hulling fire telling. The enemy's battery fire
slacking. His musketry fire very hot and galling.

"9.45. The enemy badly hulled. More than half of our crew
now killed or disabled.

"9.52. Our main-mast by the board and our mizzen badly
wounded. Action again very severe. Few of our men left.

"9.56. Captain Blakeley killed and brought below.

"10.01. Our mizzen down. The enemy's fire slacking again.

"10.10. The enemy sheering off, with the look of being

"10.15. The enemy sinking. We cannot help him. Most of our men are
dead. All of us living are badly hurt."

And there the entries came to an end.

My breath came fast as I read that short record of as brave a fight as
ever was fought on salt water; and when my reading was finished I
gave a great sigh. It was a fit ending for the little _Wasp_, that
death triumphant: and it was a fit ending to a fight between American
and English sailors that they should hang at each other's throats,
neither yielding, until they died that way--they being each of a
nation unaccustomed to surrender, and both of the one race which alone
in modern times has held the sea.



For a while I was so stirred by the enthusiasm which my discovery
aroused in me that I had no room in my mind for any other thoughts.
But at last, as I still stood pondering in the _Wasp's_ cabin, I
became aware that the daylight was fading into darkness; and as I
realized what that meant for me my thoughts came back suddenly to
myself, and then all my enthusiasm ebbed away.

I came out upon the deck again, but leaving everything as I had found
it--my momentary impulse to lift the flag having vanished as I felt
how fit it was that this dead battle-captain should rest on
undisturbed where his men had laid him beneath the colors that he had
died for; and I was glad to find when I got into the open that a good
deal of daylight still remained. But it was so far gone, and was
waning so rapidly, that I saw that I had little chance of getting back
to the _Hurst Castle_ before nightfall; and that the most that I could
hope for was to make a start in the right direction--and perhaps to
find a wreck to sleep on that had food and water aboard of it, and
thence take up my search again the next day.

Yet the dread was strong upon me, as I looked around upon the wrecks
among which the _Wasp_ was bedded, that I might not only be unable to
find the _Hurst Castle_ again, but ever to find my way across that
tangle to the outer edges of it--where only was it possible that ships
on which were provisions fit for eating would be found. The very fact
that the _Wasp_ had settled into her position more than fourscore
years back made it certain that she was deep in the labyrinth; and the
strange old-fashioned look of the craft surrounding her showed me that
I should have to go far before finding a vessel wrecked in
recent times.

But these disheartening thoughts I crushed down as well as I could,
yet not making much of it; and as trying to go back by the way that I
had come to the _Wasp_ would not serve any good purpose--even
supposing that I could have managed it, which was not likely--I went
on beyond her on a new course: taking a longish jump from her
quarter-rail and landing on the deck of a clumsy little ill-shapen
brig, with a high-built square stern and a high-built bow that was
pretty nearly square too. She was Dutch, I fancy, and a merchant
vessel; but she carried a little battery of brass six-pounders, and
had also a half dozen pederaros set along her rail. And by her
carrying these old-fashioned swivel-guns--which proved that she had
got her armament not much later than the middle of the last
century--and by the general look of her, I knew that she was an older
vessel even than the _Wasp_.

This observation, and the reflection growing out of it that the deeper
I went into the Sargasso Sea the older must be the craft bedded in
it--since that great dead fleet is recruited constantly by new wrecks
drifting in upon its outer edges from all ways seaward--put into my
head what seemed to me to be a very reasonable plan for finding my way
back to the _Hurst Castle_ again; or, at least, to some other newly
come in hulk on which there would be fresh water and sound food. And
this was to shape my course by considering attentively the look of
each wreck that I came aboard of, and the look of those surrounding
it, and by then going forward to whichever one of them seemed to be of
the most modern build.

As the first step in carrying out my plan--and it seemed to be such a
good plan that I felt almost light-hearted over it--I got up on the
rail of the old brig and jumped back to the less-old _Wasp_ again:
landing in her main-channels, and thence easily boarding her by
scrambling up what was left of the chains. But in taking my next step
I had no choice in the matter, as only one other vessel was in touch
with the sloop--a heavily-built little schooner that had the look of
being quite as old as the brig which I had just left. And her age
was so evident as I came aboard of her--having crossed the deck of the
_Wasp_ hastily, picking my way among the scattered bones--that of a
sudden my faith in my fine plan for getting out of the tangle began
to wane.

In a general way, of course, the conclusion which I had arrived at was
a sound one. Broadly speaking, it was certain that could I pass in a
straight line from the centre to the circumference of that vast
assemblage of wrecks I constantly would find vessels of newer build;
and so at last, upon the outermost fringe, would come to the wrecks of
ships belonging to my own day. But one weak point in my calculations
was my inability to hold to a straight line, or to anything like
one--because I had to advance from one wreck to another as they
happened to touch or to be within jumping distance of each other, and
therefore went crookedly upon my course and often fairly had to double
on it. And another weak point was that the sea in its tempests
recognizes no order of seniority, but destroys in the same breath of
storm ships just beginning their lives upon it and ships which have
withstood its ragings for a hundred years: so that I very well might
find--as I actually did find in the case of the _Wasp_--a
comparatively modern-built vessel lying hemmed in by ancient craft,
survivals of obsolete types, which had lingered so long upon the
ocean that in their lives as in their deaths they merged and blended
the present and the past.

Thus a check was put upon my plan at the very outset; yet in a stolid
sort of way--knowing that to give it up entirely would be to bring
despair upon me, for I could not think of a better one--I tried still
to hold by it: going on from the clumsy little old schooner to that
one of two vessels lying beyond her which I fancied, though both of
them belonged to a long past period, was the more modern-looking in
her build. And so I continued to go onward over a dozen craft of one
sort or another, holding by my rule--or trying to believe that I was
holding by it, for all of the wrecks which I crossed were of an
antique type--and now and then being left with no chance for choosing
by finding open to me only a single way. And all this while the
daylight was leaving me--the sun having gone down a ruddy globe beyond
the forest of wrecks westward, and heavy purple shadows having begun
to close down upon me through the low-hanging haze.

The imminence of night-fall made clear to me that I had no chance
whatever of getting out from among those long-dead ships before the
next morning; and this certainty was the harder to bear because I was
desperately hungry--more than six hours having passed since I had
eaten anything--and thirsty too: though my thirst, because of the
dampness of the haze I suppose, was not very severe. But the belief
that I really was advancing toward the coast of my strange floating
continent and that I should find both food and drink when I got there,
made me press forward; comforting myself as well as I could with the
reflection that even though I did have to keep a hungry and thirsty
vigil among those old withered hulks I yet should be the nearer, by
every one of them that I put behind me that night, to the freshly come
in wrecks on the coast line--where I made sure of finding a breakfast
on the following day. Moreover, I knew how forlornly miserable I
should be the moment that I lost the excitement of scrambling and
climbing and just sat down there among the ancient dead, with the
darkness closing over me, to wait for the slow coming of another day.
And my dread of that desolate loneliness urged me to push forward
while the least bit of daylight was left by which to see my way.

It was ticklish work, as the dusk deepened, getting from one wreck to
another; and at last--after nearly going down into the weed between
two of them, because of a rotten belaying-pin that I caught at
breaking in my hand--I had to resign myself to giving over until
morning any farther attempt to advance. But I was cheered by the
thought that I had got on a good way in the hour or more that had gone
since I had left the _Wasp_ behind me; and so I tried to make the
best of things as I cast around me for some sheltered nook on the deck
of the vessel I had come aboard of--a little clumsy old brig--where my
night might be passed. As to going below, either into the cabin or the
forecastle, I could not bring myself to it; for my heart failed me at
the thought of what I might touch in the darkness there, and my
mind--sore and troubled by all that I had passed through, and by the
dim dread filling it--certainly would have crowded those black depths
with grisly phantoms until I very well might have gone mad.

And so, as I say, I cast about the deck of the brig for some nook that
would shelter me from the dampness while I did my best to sleep away
into forgetfulness my hunger and my thirst; but was troubled all the
while that I was making my round of investigation by a haunting
feeling that I had been on that same deck only a little while before.
Growing stronger and stronger, this feeling became so insistent that I
could not rest for it; and presently compelled me to try to quiet it
by taking a look at the wreck next beyond the brig to see if I
recognized that too--as would be likely, since I must have crossed it
also, had I really come that way.

I did not try to board this adjoining wreck, but only clambered up on
the rail of the brig so that I could look well at it--and when I got
my look I came more nearly to breaking down completely than I had
done at any time since I had been cast overboard from the _Golden
Hind_, For there, showing faintly in the gloom below me, was the
gun-set deck of a war-ship, and over the deck dimly-gleaming bones
were scattered--and in that moment I knew that the whole of my
wandering had been but a circle, and that I was come back again at the
weary ending of it to the _Wasp_.

But what crushed the heart of me was not that my afternoon of toil had
been wasted, but the strong conviction--from which I no longer saw any
way of escaping--that I had strayed too deep into that hideous
sea-labyrinth ever to find my way out of it, and that I must die there
slowly for lack of water and of food.



I got down from the rail and seated myself on the brig's deck, leaning
my back against her bulwarks and a little sheltered by their
old-fashioned in-board overhang. But I had no very clear notion of
what I was doing; and my feeling, so far as I had any feeling, was
less that I was moving of my own volition than that I was being moved
by some power acting from outside of me--the sensation of
irresponsibility that comes to one sometimes in a dream.

Indeed, the whole of that night seemed to me then, and still seems to
me, much more a dream than a reality: I being utterly wearied by my
long hard day's work in scrambling about among the wrecks, and a
little light-headed because of my stomach's emptiness, and feverish
because of my growing thirst, and my mind stunned by the dull pain of
my despair. And it was lucky for me, I suppose, that my thinking
powers were so feeble and so blunted. Had I been fully awake to my own
misery I might very well have gone crazy there in the darkness; or
have been moved by a sharp horror of my surroundings to try to escape
them by going on through the black night from ship to ship--which
would have ended quickly by my falling down the side of one or another
of them and so drowning beneath the weed.

Yet the sort of stupor that I was in did not hold fast my inner
consciousness; being rather a numbing cloud surrounding me and
separating me from things external--though not cutting me off from
them wholly--while within this wrapping my spirit in a way was awake
and free. And the result of my being thus on something less than
speaking terms with my own body was to make my attitude toward it that
of a sympathizing acquaintance, with merely a lively pity for its
ill-being, rather than that of a personal partaker in its pains. And
even my mental attitude toward myself was a good deal of the same
sort: for my thoughts kept turning sorrowfully to the sorrow of my own
spirit solitary there, shrinking within itself because of its chill
forsakenness and lonely pain of finding itself so desolate--the one
thing living in that great sea-garnering of the dead.

And after a while--either because my light-headedness increased, or
because I dozed and took to dreaming--I had the feeling that the dense
blackness about me, a gloom that the heavily overhanging mist made
almost palpable, was filling with all those dead spirits come to
peer curiously into my living spirit; and that they hated it and were
envious of it because it was not as they were but still was alive. And
from this, presently, I went on to fancying that I could see them
about me clad again dimly in the forms which had clothed them when
they also in their time had been living men. At first they were
uncertain and shadowy, but before long they became so distinct that I
plainly saw them: shaggy-bearded resolute fellows, roughly dressed in
strange old-fashioned sea-gear, with here and there among them others
in finer garb having the still more resolute air of officers; and all
with the fierce determined look of those old-time mariners of the
period when all the ocean was a battling-place where seamen spent
their time--and most of them, in the end, spent their lives also--in
fighting with each other and in fighting with the sea.

Gradually this throng of the sea-dead filled the whole deck about me
and everywhere hemmed me in; but they gave no heed to me, and were
ranged orderly at their stations as though the service of the ship was
being carried on. Among themselves they seemed to talk; but I could
hear nothing of what they were saying, though I fancied that there was
a humming sound filling the air about me like the murmur of a far-away
crowd. Now and then an angry bout would spring up suddenly between two
or three of them; and in a moment they would be fighting together,
and would keep at it until one of their stern officers was upon them
with blows right and left with his fists or with the butt of his
pistol or with the pommel of his sword--and so would scatter the rough
brutes, scowling, and as it seemed uttering growls such as beasts
lashed by their keepers would give forth.

And at other times they would seem to be fighting with some
enemy--serving at their guns stripped half-naked, with handkerchiefs
knotted about their heads, and with the grime of powder-smoke upon
their bare flesh and so blackening their faces as to give their
gleaming eyes a still more savage look; falling dead or wounded with
their blood streaming out upon the deck and making slimy pools in
which a man running sometimes would slip and go down headlong--and
would get up, with a laugh and a curse, only in another moment to drop
for good as a musket-ball struck him or as a round-shot sliced him in
two; and all of them with a savage joy in their work, and going at it
with a lust for blood that made them delight in it--and take no more
thought than any other fighting brutes would take of guarding their
own lives.

Or, again, they would seem to be in the midst of a tempest, with the
roar of the wind and the rush of the waves upon them, and would be
fighting the gale and the ocean's turbulence with the same devil's
daring that they had shown in fighting the enemy--and with the same
carelessness as to what happened to themselves so long as they stuck
to their duty and did the best that was in them to bring their ship
safely through the storm. And so they went on ringing the changes on
their old-time wild sea-life--their savage fights among themselves,
and their battlings with foemen of a like metal, and their warfare
with the ocean--while the dark night wore on.

Yet even when these visionary forms were thickest about me--and when
it seemed, too, as though from all the dead hulks about me the shadows
of the dead were rising in the same fashion in pale fierce throngs--I
tried to hold fast, and pretty well succeeded in it, to the steadying
conviction that the making of them was in my own imagination and that
they were not real. And then, too, I fell off from time to time into a
light sleep which still was deep enough to rid me of them wholly; and
which also gave me some of the rest that I so much needed after all
that I had passed through during that weary day.

What I could not get rid of, either sleeping or waking, was my gnawing
hunger and my still worse thirst. For an hour or two after nightfall,
the air being fresher and the haze turning to a damp cool mist, my
thirst was a good deal lessened; which was a gain in one way, though
not in another--for that same chill of night very searchingly
quickened my longing for food. But as the hours wore away my desire
for water got the better of every other feeling, even changing my
haunting visions of dead crews rising from the dead ships about me
into visions of brooks and rivulets--which only made my burning
craving the more keen.

Nor did what little reasoning I could bring to bear upon my case, when
from time to time I partly came out from the sort of lethargy that had
hold of me, do much for my comforting. It was possible, I perceived,
that I might find even in a long-wrecked ship some half-rotten scraps
of old salted meat, or some remnant of musty flour, that at least
would serve to keep life in me. But even food of this wretched sort
would do me no good without water--and water was to be found only in
one of the wrecks forming the outer fringe of my prison, toward which
I had been trying so long vainly to find my way.

Yet in spite of my having already gone astray half a dozen times over
in daylight I still did have, deep down in me, a feeling that if only
the darkness would pass I could manage to steer a true course. And
when at last, as it seemed to me after years of waiting for it, I
began to see a little pink tone showing in the mist dimly it almost
seemed as though my troubles were coming instantly to an end. And,
at least, the horror of deep darkness, which all night long had been
crushing me, did leave me from the moment when that first gleam of
returning daylight appeared.



It was a long while before the pale pink gleam to the eastward spread
up into the sky far enough to thin the shadows which hung over my dead
fleet heavily, and longer still before I had light enough to venture
to begin my scrambling walk from ship to ship again. It seemed to me,
indeed, that the mist lay lower and was a good deal thicker than on
the preceding evening; and this, with the fiery glow that was in it
when the sunrise came, gave me hope that a douse of rain might be
coming--which chance of getting the water that I longed for heartened
me even more than did the up-coming of the sun.

My throat was hurting me a good deal because of its dryness, and my
itching thirst was all the stronger because the last food I had
eaten--being the mess left in the pan by the two men who had killed
each other--had been a salt-meat stew. Of hunger I did not feel much,
save for gripes in my inside now and then; but I was weak because of
my emptiness--as I discovered when I got on my legs, and found myself
staggering a little and the things around me swimming before my eyes.
And what was worse than that was a dull stupidity which so possessed
me that I could not think clearly; and so for a while kept me
wandering about the deck of the brig aimlessly, while my wits went
wool-gathering instead of trying to work out some plan--even a foolish
plan--which would cheer me up with hopes of pulling through.

I might have gone on all day that way, very likely, if I had not been
aroused suddenly by feeling a big drop of rain on my face; and only a
moment later--the thick mist, I suppose, being surcharged with water,
and some little waft of wind in its upper region having loosened its
vent-peg--I was in the thick of a dashing shower. So violent was the
downpour that in less than a minute the deck was streaming, and I had
only to plug with my shirt one of the scuppers amidships to have in
another minute or two a little lake of fresh sweet water from
which--lying on my belly, with the rain pelting down on me--I drank
and drank until at last I was full. And the feel of the rain on my
body was almost as good as the drinking of it, for it was deliciously
cool and yet not chill.

When I got at last to my legs again, with the dryness gone from my
throat and only a little pain there because of the swollen glands, I
found that I walked steadily and that my head was clear too; and for
the moment I was so entirely filled with water that I was not hungry
at all. Presently the rain stopped, and that set me to thinking of
finding some better way to keep a store of water by me than leaving it
in a pool on the open deck; where, indeed, it would not stay long, but
would ooze out through the scupper and be sopped up by the
rotten planks.

And so, though I did not at all fancy going below on the old brig, I
went down the companion-way into the cabin to search for a vessel of
some sort that would be water-tight; and shivered a little as I
entered that dusky place, and did not venture to move about there
until my eyes got accustomed to the half darkness for fear that I
should go stumbling over dead men's bones.

As it turned out, the cabin was bare enough of dead people, and of
pretty much everything else; from which I inferred that in the long
past time when the brig had been wrecked her crew had got safe away
from her, and had been able in part to strip her before they left her
alone upon the sea. What I wanted, however, they had not taken away.
In a locker I found a case made to hold six big bottles, in which the
skipper had carried his private stock of liquors very likely; and two
of the bottles, no doubt being empty when the cabin was cleared, had
been left behind. They served my turn exactly, and I brought them on
deck and filled them from my pool of rain-water--and so was safe
against thirst for at least another day.

Being thus freshened by my good drink, and cheered by the certainty of
having water by me, I sat down for a while on the cabin-scuttle that I
might puzzle out a plan for getting to some ship so recently
storm-slain that aboard of her still would be eatable food. As for
rummaging in the hold of the brig, I knew that no good could come of
it--she having lain there, as I judged, for a good deal more than half
a century; and for the same reason I knew that I only would waste time
in searching the other old wrecks about me for stores. All that was
open to me was to press toward the edge of the wreck-pack, for there
alone could I hope to find what I was after--and there it pretty
certainly would be. But after my miserable experience of the preceding
day it was plain that before I started on my hunting expedition I must
hit upon some way of laying a course and holding it; or else, most
likely, go rambling from wreck to wreck until I grew so weak from
starvation that on one or another of them I should fall down at
last and die.

Close beside me, as I sat on the hatch, was the brig's binnacle, and
in it I could see the shrivelled remnant of what had been the
compass-card; and the sight of this put into my head presently the
thought--that might have got there sooner had my wits been
sharper--to look for a compass still in working order and by means of
it to steer some sort of a steady course. The argument against this
plan was plain enough, and it was a strong one: that in holding as
well as I could to any straight line I might only get deeper and
deeper into my maze--for I was turned around completely, and while I
knew that I could not be very far from the edge of my island of
flotsam I had not the faintest notion in which direction that
near edge lay.

For some minutes longer I sat on the hatch thinking the matter over
and trying to hit on something that would open to me a better prospect
of success; and all the while I had a hungry pain in my stomach that
made clear thinking difficult, and that at the same time urged me to
do quickly anything that gave even the least promise of getting food.
And so the upshot of the matter was that I slung my two bottles of
water over my shoulders with a bit of line that I found in the brig's
cabin--making the slings short, that the bottles might hang close
under my arms and be pretty safe against breaking--and then away I
went on my cruise after a compass still on speaking terms with the
north pole.

That I would find one seemed for a good while unlikely; for I searched
a score and more of wrecks, and on every one of them the binnacle
either was empty or the needle entirely rusted away. But at last I
came to a barque that had a newer look about her than that of the
craft amidst which she was lying, and that also had her binnacle
covered with a tarred canvas hood such as is used when vessels are
lying in port. How the hood came to be where it was on that broken
wreck was more than I could account for; but by reason of its being in
place the binnacle had been well protected from the weather, and I
found to my delight that the compass inside was in working trim.

It was an awkward thing to carry, being an old-fashioned big square
box heavily and clumsily made; but I was so glad to get it that I was
not for quarrelling with it, though it did for a little put me to a
puzzle as to how I should pack it along. What I came to was to sling
it on my back knapsack-fashion, which was a poor way to have it, since
every time that I looked at it I had to unsling it and then to sling
it again; yet there was no other way for me to manage it, because in
my scrambling from one wreck to another I needs must have both hands
free. But what with this big box strapped to my shoulders, and the two
big bottles dangling close up under my arm-pits, I must have
looked--only there was nobody to look at me--nothing less than a
figure of fun.

As I knew not which way I ought to go, and so had all ways open to me,
I laid my course for the head of the compass; and was the more
disposed thus to go due north because that way, as far as I could see
for the mist and the mast-tangle, the wrecks lay packed so close
together that passing from one to another would be easy for me--which
was a matter to be considered in view of the load that I had to
carry along.

But just as I was ready to start another notion struck me. I had
noticed the modern look of the barque, as compared with the ancient
build of the hulks amidst which she was lying, when I first came
aboard of her; and as I was about to leave her--my eye being caught by
the soundness of a bit of line made fast to a belaying-pin on her
rail--the thought occurred to me that I might find on her something or
other still fit to be called food. And when this thought came to me I
unslung my compass and my water-bottles in a hurry--for I was as
ravenous as a man well could be.



The sun by that time being risen so high that the mist was changing
again to a golden haze, and the cabin of the barque well lighted
through the skylight over it, I felt less creepy and uncomfortable as
I went down the companion-way than I had felt when I went below into
the old brig's dusky cabin in the early dawn. But for all that I
walked gingerly, and stopped to sniff at every step that I took
downward; for I could not by any means get rid of my dread of coming
upon some grewsome thing. However, the air was sweet enough--the slide
of the hatch being closed, but the doors open and the cabin well
ventilated--and when I got to the foot of the stair I saw nothing
horrible in my first sharp look around.

It was a small cabin, but comfortably fitted; and almost the first
thing that caught my eye was a work-basket spilled down into a corner
and some spools and a pair of rusty scissors lying on the floor, and
then in another corner I saw a little chair. And the sight of these
things, which told that the barque's captain had had his wife and his
child along with him, gave me a heavy sorrowful feeling--for all that
if death had come to this sea-family the pain of it must have been
over quickly a long while back in the past.

Two of the state-room doors, both on the starboard side, were open;
and both rooms were empty, save for the mouldy bedding in the bunks
and in one of them a canvas bed-bag such as seamen use. The doors of
the other two rooms, there being four in all, were closed, and I
opened them hesitatingly; and felt a good deal easier in my mind when
I found that in neither of them was what I dreaded might be there. In
one of them the bunk had been left in disorder, as though some one had
risen from it hurriedly, and a frock and a bonnet were hanging against
the wall; but the other one seemed to have been used only as a sort of
storeroom--there being in it a pair of rubber boots and a suit of
oil-skins, and a locker in which were some pretty trifles in
shell-work such as might have been picked up in a West Indian port,
and a little rack of books gone mouldy with the damp. One of these
books I opened, and found written on the flyleaf: "Mary Woodbridge,
with Aunt Jane's love. For the coming Christmas of 1879"--and this
date, though it did not settle certainly when the barque had started
on the voyage that had come to so bad an ending, at least proved that
she had not been lying where I found her for a very great
many years.

As to how the barque had got so deep into the wreck-pack, she being so
lately added to it, I could not determine; but my conjecture was that
some storm had broken the pack and had driven her down into it, and
then that the opening had closed again, leaving her fast a good way in
its inside. But about the way of her getting there I did not much
bother myself, my one strong thought being that I had a chance of
finding on board of her something that I could eat; and so--being by
that time pretty well satisfied that I was safe not to come upon
anything horrid hid away in a dark corner of her--I went at my farther
explorations with a will. Indeed, I was so desperately hungry by that
time that even had I made some nasty discoveries I doubt if they would
have held me back from my eager search for food.

Luckily I had not far to look before I found what I was after, the
very first door that I tried--a door in the forward side of the
cabin--opening into a pantry in which were stowed what had been, as I
judged from the nature of them and the place where I found them, the
captain's private stores. The door was not locked, and a good many
empty boxes were lying around on the floor with splintered lids, as
though they had been smashed open in a hurry--which looked as though
the pantry had been levied on suddenly to provision the boats after
the wreck occurred, and so made me hope that the captain and his wife
and baby had got away from the barque alive.

But the stock of stores had been a big one, and I saw that I was safe
enough against starvation if only a part of what was left still were
sound--and that uncertainty I settled in no time by picking up a
hatchet that was lying among the broken boxes and splitting open the
first tin on which I laid my hands. The tin had beans in it, and when
I cracked it open that way more than half of them went flying over the
floor; and they looked so good, those blessed beans, that without
stopping to smell at them critically, or otherwise to test their
soundness, I fell to feeding myself out of the open tin with my
hand--and never stopped until all that remained of them were in my
inside. I don't suppose that they were the better for having lain
there so long, but they certainly were not much the worse for it--as I
proved more conclusively, having by that time taken off the sharp edge
of my hunger, by eating a part of another tin of them and finding them
very good indeed. After that I opened a tin of meat--but on the
instant that the hatchet split into it there came bouncing out such a
dreadful smell that I had to rush on deck in a hurry with it and heave
it over the side.

But even without the meat my food supply was secure to me for a good
while onward, there being no less than ten boxes with two dozen tins
of beans in each of them--quite enough to keep life in me for more
than half a year. I rummaged through the place thoroughly, but found
nothing more that was fit to eat there. Some boxes of biscuit and a
barrel of flour had gone musty until they fairly were rotten; and all
the other things that I came across were spoiled utterly by damp and
mould. As for the stores for the crew, when I went forward to have a
look at them, they were spoiled too--the flour and biscuit rotten, and
the pickled meat a mouldy mass of tough fibre encrusted thickly
with salt.

One other thing I did find in the captain's pantry that was as good,
save for the mould that coated the outside of it, as when it came
aboard--and because of its excellent condition was all the more
tantalizing. This was a case of plug tobacco--a bit of which shredded
and filled into one of the pipes that I found with it, could I have
got it lighted, would have made me for the moment almost a happy man.
But as I could think of no way of lighting it I was worse off than if
I had not found it at all.

Having made my tour of inspection and taken a general inventory of my
new possessions, I came on deck again and seated myself on the roof of
the cabin that I might do some quiet thinking about what should be my
next move; for I realized that only by a stroke of rare good fortune
had I come upon this supply of food far away from, the coast of my
continent, and that should I leave it and keep on the course northward
that I had set for myself I very likely might starve before another
such store fell in my way. And yet, on the other hand, to stay on
where I was merely because I was able to keep alive there--with no
outlook of hope to stay me--was but making a bid for that madness
which comes of despair.

As to carrying any great quantity of food on with me, it was a sheer
impossibility. The tins of beans weighed each of them more than five
pounds, and a score of them would make as much of a load as I well
could carry on level ground--and far more of a load than I could
manage in the scramble that was before me if I decided to go on.
Indeed, I had found my two bottles of water a serious inconvenience;
and yet I would have them to carry also, and the big compass too. As
to water, however, since the shower of the morning. I felt less
anxiety: and the event proved that my confidence in the rainfall was
justified--for the showers came regularly a little after dawn, and
only once or twice after that first sharp experience did I feel more
than passing pain from thirst.

I sat there on the roof of the cabin for a good part of the morning
cogitating the matter; and in the end I could think of no better
plan than one which promised certainly a world of hard labor, and only
promised uncertainly to serve my turn. This was to stick to my project
of going steadily northward--carrying with me as much food as I could
stagger under--until I came again to the outer edge of the
wreck--pack; but to safeguard my return to the barque, should my food
give out before my journey was accomplished, by blazing my path: that
is to say, by making a mark on each wreck that I crossed so that I
could retrace my steps easily and without fear of losing my way. What
I would gain in the end I did not try very clearly to tell
myself--having only a vague feeling that in getting again to the coast
of my great dead continent I would be that much the nearer to the
living world once more; and having a clearer feeling that only by
sticking at some sort of hard work that had a little hopefulness in it
could I save myself from going mad. And I cannot but think now,
looking back at it, that a touch of madness already was upon me; for
no man ever set himself to a crazier undertaking than that to which I
set myself then.



The morning was well spent by the time that I had made my mind up, and
I was growing hungry again. I made a good meal on what was left in the
second tin of beans that I had opened for my breakfast; and when I was
done I tried to get a light for my pipe by rubbing bits of wood
together, but made nothing of it at all. I had read about castaways on
desert islands getting fire that way--but they went at it with dry
wood, I fancy, and in my mist-sodden desert all the wood was soaked
with damp.

For that afternoon I decided to go forward only as far as I could
fetch it to be back on board the barque again by sunset, taking with
me as many tins of beans as I could carry and leaving them where I
made my turn: by which arrangement I would save the carriage of my
supper and my breakfast, and would have a little store of victuals to
fall back upon--when I should be fairly started on my journey--without
coming all the way again to the barque.

I got the bed-bag that I had seen in the stateroom, and managed with
the rusty scissors to cut it down to half its size. Into this I packed
ten tins of beans, and made them snug by whipping around the bag one
end of a longish line--which served when coiled as a handle for it;
and, being uncoiled, enabled me to haul it up a ship's side after me,
or to let it down ahead of me, or to sway it across an open space
between two vessels, and so go at my climbing and jumping with both
hands free. As for the compass, my back was the only place for it and
I put it there--where it did not bother me much, having little weight;
and I stuck the hatchet to blaze my path with into a sort of a belt
that I made for myself with a bit of line.

Considering what a load I was carrying, and that on every vessel which
I crossed I had to stop while I blazed a mark on her, I made a good
long march of it before the waning of the daylight was a sign to me
that I must put about again; and my return journey was both quick and
easy, for I left the whole of my load, excepting the empty bag, behind
me and came back lightly along my plainly marked path. But I was tired
enough when I got on board the barque again, and glad enough to eat my
supper and then stretch myself out to sleep upon the cabin floor.

That night, being easy in my body--except for my wholesome
weariness--and easier in my mind because it seemed to me that I was
doing something for my deliverance, and being also aboard a vessel
that I knew was clean and pure, I had no visions of any kind whatever,
but went to sleep almost in a moment, and slept like a log, as the
saying is, the whole night through. Indeed, I slept later than suited
my purposes--being for rising early and making a long day's march of
it--and I might have wasted still more time in drowsing lazily had I
not been wakened a little before sunrise by the rattle on the cabin
roof of a dashing burst of rain. I was on deck in a moment, and by
stopping a scupper--as I had done the previous morning--presently had
by me a far bigger supply of water than I needed; from which I got a
good drink lying down to it, and filled an empty bean-tin for another
drink after my breakfast, and so had my two bottles full to last me
until the next day--and was pretty well satisfied by the rain's
recurrence that I could count upon a shower every morning about the
hour of dawn.

When I had finished my breakfast I stowed ten tins of beans in the bag
and lashed four more together so that I could carry them on my
shoulders--being able to manage them in that way because I had no
other back-load--and so was ready to set out along my blazed path. But
before leaving the barque--hoping never again to lay eyes on her--I
took one more look through the cabin to make sure that I had not
passed over something that might be useful to me: and was lucky enough
to find under one of the bunks a drawer--that had been hidden by the
tumbled sheets hanging down over it--in which were some shirts and a
suit of linen clothing that most opportunely supplied my needs. They
all were badly mildewed, but sound enough, and the trousers--I had no
use for the coat and waistcoat--fitted me very well. So I threw off
the rags and tatters that I was wearing and put on in their place
these sound garments; and then I picked up my load and was off.

Not having to stop to take bearings or to blaze my way, I made such
good time that I got to the end of the course over which I had spent a
good part of the previous afternoon in not much more than three hours.
I was pretty well pleased to find that I could make such brisk
marching under such a load; for it showed me that even when I should
get a long way from my base of supplies, that is to say from the
barque, I still could return to it at no great expense of time--and
the thought never entered my head that time was of no value to me,
since only by what would be close upon a miracle could I hope for
anything better than to find ways for killing it through all the
remainder of my days.

Being thus come to my place of deposit I had to rearrange my
packing--going forward with a lighter load of food that I might
carry also the compass and the hatchet; and going slowly because of my
constant stops to take fresh bearings and to mark my path. But that
time I went straight onward until nightfall; and my heart sank a good
deal within me as I found that the farther I went the more antique in
model, and the more anciently sea-worn, were the wrecks which I came
upon--and so I knew that I must be making my way steadily into the
very depths of my maze.

Yet I could not see that I would gain anything by going back to the
barque and thence taking a fresh departure. The barque, as I knew
certainly from the sort of craft surrounding her, was so deeply bedded
in the pack that no matter how I headed from her I should have to go
far before I came again to the coast of it; and on the other hand I
thought that by holding to my course northward I might work my way in
no great time across the innermost huddle of ancient wrecks--for of
the vast number of these I had no notion then--and so to the outer
belt of wrecks new-made: on board of which I certainly should find
fresh food in plenty, and from which (as I forced myself to believe) I
might get away once more into the living world. And so I pushed on
doggedly until the twilight changed to dusk and I could not venture
farther; and then I ate my supper on board of a strange old ship, as
round as a dumpling and with a high bow and a higher stern; and when
I had finished settled myself for the night, being very weary, under
the in-hang of her heavy bulging side.

When morning came--and a shower with it that gave me what drink I
wanted and a store of water for the day--I debated for a while with
myself as to whether I should go onward with my whole load, or leave a
part of it in a fresh deposit to which I could return at will. The
second course seemed the better to me; and, indeed, it was necessary
for me to go light-loaded in order to get on at all. For I had come
among ships of such strange old-fashioned build, standing at bow and
stern so high out of the water, that unless they happened to be lying
side by side so that I could pass from one to another amidships--which
was the case but seldom--I had almost as much climbing up and down
among them as though I had been a monkey mounting and descending a
row of trees.

Therefore I ate as much breakfast as I could pack into myself--that
being as good a way as any other of carrying food with me--and then I
tore the sleeves from my shirt and stuffed them from the tins that I
opened until I had two great bean sausages, which I fastened
belt-fashion about my waist and so carried without any trouble at all.
Indeed, but for this new arrangement of my load I doubt if I could
have gone onward; and even with it I had all that I could do to make
my way. The bag with the remaining tins in it I stood away inside the
cabin of the old ship--which I should have explored farther, so
strange-looking was it, but for my eager desire to get on; and I felt
quite sure that I would find all just as I had left it there even
though I did not come back again for twenty years.



Bent as I was upon hurrying forward, I could not but stop often in my
wearying marches--which began each morning at sunrise and did not end
until dusk--to gaze about me in wonder at the curious ancient craft
across which lay my way. It seemed to me, indeed, as though I had got
into a great marine museum where were stored together all manner of
such antique vessels as not for two full centuries, and a good many of
them for still longer, had sailed the seas. Some of them were mere
shallops, so little that sailormen nowadays would not venture to go
a-coasting in them, and others were great round-bellied old
merchantmen--yet half war-ships, too--with high-built fore-castles,
and towering poops blossoming out into rich carvings and having
galleries rising one above another and with a big iron lantern at the
top of all. And all of them had been shattered in fights and tempests,
and were so rotten with age that the decks beneath my feet were soft
and spongy; and all were weathered to a soft gray, or to a brownish


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