The Survivors of the Chancellor
Part 2 out of 4
"Why, what a fellow you are Andre!" I said, laughing, "I believe
you would like to rule Nature with a magic wand; first of all,
you would call up a reef from the depth of the ocean to give the
'Chancellor' time to extinguish her flames, and then you would
make it disappear just that the ship might be free again."
Andre smiled; then, in a more serious tone, he expressed his
gratitude for the timely help that had been vouchsafed us in our
hour of need.
The more we examined the rocks that formed the base of the little
island, the more we became convinced that its formation was quite
recent, Not a mollusc, not a tuft of seaweed was found clinging
to the sides of the rocks; not a germ had the wind carried to its
surface, not a bird had taken refuge amidst the crags upon its
summits. To a lover of natural history, the spot did not yield a
single point of interest; the geologist alone would find subject
of study in the basaltic mass.
When we reached the southern point of the island I proposed that
we should disembark. My companions readily assented, young
Letourneur jocosely observing that if the little island was
destined to vanish, it was quite right that it should first be
visited by human beings. The boat was accordingly brought
alongside, and we set, foot upon the reef, and began to ascend
the gradual slope that leads to its highest elevation.
The walking was not very rough, and as Andre could get along
tolerably well without the assistance of an arm, he led the way,
his father and I following close behind. A quarter of an hour
sufficed to bring us to the loftiest point in the islet, when we
seated ourselves on the basaltic prism that crowned its summit.
Andre took a sketch-book from his pocket, and proceeded to make a
drawing of the reef. Scarcely had he completed the outline when
his father exclaimed,--
"Why, Andre, you have drawn a ham!"
"Something uncommonly like it, I confess," replied Andre. "I
think we had better ask Captain Curtis to let us call our island
"Good," said I; "though sailors will need to keep it at a
respectful distance, for they will scarcely find that their teeth
are strong enough to tackle with it."
M. Letourneur was quite correct; the outline of the reef as it
stood clearly defined against the deep green water resembled
nothing so much, as a fine York ham, of which the little creek,
where the "Chancellor" had been stranded, corresponded to the
hollow place above the knuckle. The tide at this time was low,
and the ship now lay heeled over very much to the starboard side,
the few points of rock that emerged in the extreme south of the
reef plainly marking the narrow passage through which she had
been forced before she finally ran aground.
As soon as Andre had finished his sketch we descended by a slope
as gradual as that by which we had come up, and made our way
towards the west. We had not gone very far when a beautiful
grotto, perfect as an architectural structure, arrested our
attention, M. Letourneur and Andre who have visited the Hebrides,
pronounced it to be a Fingal's cave in miniature; a Gothic chapel
that might form a fit vestibule for the cathedral cave of Staffa.
The basaltic rocks had cooled down into the same regular
concentric prisms; there was the same dark canopied roof with its
interstices filled up with its yellow lutings; the same precision
of outline in the prismatic angles, sharp as though chiselled by
a sculptor's hand; the same sonorous vibration of the air across
the basaltic rocks, of which the Gaelic poets have feigned that
the harps of the Fingal minstrelsy were made. But whereas at
Staffa the floor of the cave is always covered with a sheet of
water, here the grotto was beyond the reach of all but the
highest waves, whilst the prismatic shafts themselves formed
quite a solid pavement.
After remaining nearly an hour in our newly-discovered grotto we
returned to the "Chancellor," and communicated the result of our
explorations to Curtis, who entered the island upon his chart by
the name that Andre Letourneur had proposed.
Since its discovery we have not permitted a day to pass without
spending some time in our Ham Rock grotto. Curtis has taken an
opportunity of visiting it, but he is too preoccupied with other
matters to have much interest to spare for the wonders of nature.
Falsten, too, came once and examined the character of the rocks,
knocking and chipping them about with all the mercilessness of a
geologist. Mr. Kear would not trouble himself to leave the ship;
and although I asked his wife to join us in one of our excursions
she declined, upon the plea that the fatigue, as well as the
inconvenience of embarking in the boat, would be more than she
Miss Herbey, only too thankful to escape even for an hour from
her capricious mistress, eagerly accepted M. Letourneur's
invitation to pay a visit to the reef but to her great
disappointment Mrs. Kear at first refused point-blank to allow
her to leave the ship. I felt intensely annoyed, and resolved to
intercede in Miss Herbey's favour; and as I had already rendered
that self-indulgent lady sundry services which she thought she
might probably be glad again to accept, I gained my point, and
Miss Herbey has several times been permitted to accompany us
across the rocks, where the young girl's delight at her freedom
has been a pleasure to behold.
Sometimes we fish along the shore, and, then enjoy a luncheon in
the grotto, whilst the basalt columns vibrate like harps to the
breeze. This arid reef, little as it is, compared with the
cramped limits of the "Chancellor's" deck is like some vast
domain; soon there will be scarcely a stone with which we are not
familiar, scarcely a portion of its surface which we have not
merrily trodden, and I am sure that when the hour of departure
arrives we shall leave it with regret.
In the course of conversation, Andre Letourneur one day happened
to say that he believed the island of Staffa belonged to the
Macdonald family, who let it for the small sum of 12 pounds a
"I suppose then," said Miss Herbey, "that we should hardly get
more than half-a-crown a year for our pet little island."
"I don't think you would get a penny for it, Miss Herbey; but are
you thinking of taking a lease?" I said, laughing.
"Not at present," she said; then added, with a half-suppressed
sigh, "and yet it is a place where I have seemed to know what it
is to be really happy."
Andre murmured some expression of assent, and we all felt that
there was something touching in the words of the orphaned,
friendless girl who had found her long-lost sense of happiness on
a lonely rock in the Atlantic.
NOVEMBER 6th to NOVEMBER 15th.--For the first five days after the
"Chancellor" had run aground, there was a dense black smoke
continually rising from the hold; but it gradually diminished
until the 6th of November, when we might consider that the fire
was extinguished. Curtis, nevertheless, deemed it prudent to
persevere in working the pumps, which he did until the entire
hull of the ship, right up to the deck, had been completely
The rapidity, however, with which the water, at every retreat of
the tide, drained off to the level of the sea, was an indication
that the leak must be of considerable magnitude; and such, on
investigation, proved to be the case. One of the sailors, named
Flaypole, dived one day at low water to examine the extent of the
damage, and found that the hole was not much less than four feet
square, and was situated thirty feet fore of the helm, and two
feet above the rider of the keel; three planks had been stoved in
by a sharp point of rock, and it was only a wonder that the
violence with which the heavily-laden vessel had been thrown
ashore did not result in the smashing in of many parts besides.
As it would be a couple of days or more before the hold would be
in a condition for the bales of cotton to be removed for the
carpenter to examine the damage from the interior of the ship,
Curtis employed the interval in having the broken mizen-mast
repaired. Dowlas the carpenter, with considerable skill,
contrived to mortice it into its former stump, and made the
junction thoroughly secure by strong iron-belts and bolts. The
shrouds, the stays and backstays, were then carefully refitted,
some of the sails were changed, and the whole of the running
rigging was renewed. Injury, to some extent, had been done to
the poop and to the crew's lockers, in the front; but time and
labour were all that were wanted to make them good; and with such
a will, did every one set to work that it was not long before all
the cabins were again available for use.
On the 8th the unlading of the ship commenced. Pulleys and
tackling were put over the hatches, and passengers and crew
together proceeded to haul up the heavy bales which had been
deluged so frequently by water that the cotton was all but
spoiled. One by one the sodden bales were placed in the boat to
be transported to the reef. After the first layer of cotton had
been removed it became necessary to drain off part of the water
that filled the hold. For this purpose the leak in the side had
somehow or other to be stopped, and this was an operation which
was cleverly accomplished by Dowlas and Flaypole, who contrived
to dive at low tide and nail a sheet of copper over the entire
hole. This, however, of itself would have been utterly
inadequate to sustain the pressure that would arise from the
action of the pumps; so Curtis ordered that a number of the bales
should be piled up inside against the broken planks. The scheme
succeeded very well, and as the water got lower and lower in the
hold the men were enabled to resume their task of unlading.
Curtis thinks it quite probable that the leaks may be mended from
the interior. By far the best way of repairing the damage would
be to careen the ship, and to shift the planking, but the
appliances are wanting for such an undertaking; moreover, any bad
weather which might occur while the ship was on her flank would
only too certainly be fatal to her altogether. But the captain
has very little doubt that by some device or other he shall
manage to patch up the hole in such a way as will insure our
reaching land in safety.
After two days' toil the water was entirely reduced and without
further difficulty the unlading was completed. All of us,
including even Andre Letourneur, have been taking our turn at the
pumps, for the work is so extremely fatiguing that the crew
require some occasional respite; arms and back soon become
strained and weary with the incessant swing of the handles, and I
can well understand the dislike which sailors always express to
One thing there is which is much in our favour; the ship lies on
a firm and solid bottom, and we have the satisfaction of knowing
that we are not contending with a flood that encroaches faster
than it can be resisted. Heaven grant that we may not be called
to make like efforts, and to make them hopelessly, for a
NOVEMBER 15th to 20th.--The examination of the hold has at last
been made. Amongst the first things that were found was the case
of picrate, perfectly intact; having neither been injured by the
water, nor of course reached by the flames. Why it was not at
once pitched into the sea I cannot say; but it was merely
conveyed to the extremity of the island, and there it remains.
While they were below, Curtis and Dowlas made themselves
acquainted with the full extent of the mischief that had been
done by the conflagration. They found that the deck and the
cross-beams that supported it had been much less injured than
they expected, and the thick, heavy planks had only been scorched
very superficially. But the action of the fire on the flanks of
the ship had been of a much more serious character; a long
portion of the inside boarding had been burnt away, and the very
ribs of the vessel were considerably damaged; the oakum caulkings
had all started away from the butt-ends and seams; so much so
that it was little short of a miracle that the whole ship had not
long since gaped completely open.
The captain and the carpenter returned to the deck with anxious
faces. Curtis lost no time in assembling passengers and crew,
and announcing to them the facts of the case.
"My friends," he said, "I am here to tell you that the
'Chancellor' has sustained far greater injuries than we
suspected, and that her hull is very seriously damaged. If we
had been stranded anywhere else than on a barren reef, that may
at any time be overwhelmed by a tempestuous sea I should not have
hesitated to take the ship to pieces, and construct a smaller
vessel that might have carried us safely to land; but I dare not
run the risk of remaining here. We are now 800 miles from the
coast of Paramaribo, the nearest portion of Dutch Guiana, and in
ten or twelve days, if the weather should be favourable, I
believe we could reach the shore. What I now propose to do is to
stop the leak by the best means we can command, and make at once
for the nearest port."
As no better plan seemed to suggest itself, Curtis's proposal was
unanimously accepted Dowlas and his assistants immediately set to
work to repair the charred frame-work of the ribs, and to stop
the leak; they took care thoroughly to caulk from the outside all
the seams that were above low water mark; lower than that they
were unable to work, and had to content themselves with such
repairs as they could effect in the interior. But after all the
pains there is no doubt the "Chancellor" is not fit for a long
voyage, and would be condemned as unseaworthy at any port at
which we might put in.
To-day, the 20th, Curtis having done all that human power could
do to repair his ship, determined to put her to sea.
Ever since the "Chancellor" had been relieved of her cargo, and
of the water in her hold, she had been able to float in the
little natural basin into which she had been driven. The basin
was enclosed on either hand by rocks that remained uncovered even
at high water, but was sufficiently wide to allow the vessel to
turn quite round at its broadest part, and by means of hawsers
fastened on the reef to be brought with her bows towards the
south; while, to prevent her being carried back on to the reef,
she has been anchored fore and aft.
To all appearance, then, it seemed as though it would be an easy
matter to put the "Chancellor" to sea; if the wind were
favourable the sails would be hoisted, if otherwise, she would
have to be towed through the narrow passage. All seemed simple.
But unlooked-for difficulties had yet to be surmounted.
The mouth of the passage is guarded by a kind of ridge of basalt,
which at high tide we knew was barely covered with sufficient
water to float the "Chancellor," even when entirely unfreighted.
To be sure she had been carried over the obstacle once before,
but then, as I have already said, she had been caught up by an
enormous wave, and might have been said to be LIFTED over the
barrier into her present position. Besides, on that ever-
memorable night, there had not only been the ordinary spring-
tide, but an equinoctial tide, such a one as could not be
expected to occur again for many months. Waiting was out of the
question; so Curtis determined to run the risk, and to take
advantage of the spring-tide, which would occur to-day, to make
an attempt to get the ship, lightened as she was, over the bar;
after which, he might ballast her sufficiently to sail.
The wind was blowing from the north-west, and consequently right
in the direction of the passage. The captain, however, after a
consultation, preferred to tow the ship over the ridge, as he
considered it was scarcely safe to allow a vessel of doubtful
stability at full sail to charge an obstacle that would probably
bring her to a dead lock. Before the operation was commenced,
Curtis took the precaution of having an anchor ready in the
stern, for, in the event of the attempt being unsuccessful, it
would be necessary to bring the ship back to her present
moorings. Two more anchors were next carried outside the
passage, which was not more than two hundred feet in length. The
chains were attached to the windlass, the sailors worked away at
the handspikes, and at four o'clock in the afternoon the
"Chancellor" was in motion.
High tide would be at twenty minutes past four, and at ten
minutes before that time the ship had been hauled as far as her
sea-range would allow; her keel grazed the ridge, and her
progress was arrested. When the lowest part of her stern,
however, just cleared the obstruction, Curtis deemed that there
was no longer any reason why the mechanical action of the wind
should not be brought to bear and contribute its assistance.
Without delay, all sails were unfurled and trimmed to the wind.
The tide was exactly at its height, passengers and crew together
were at the windlass, M. Letourneur, Andre, Falsten, and myself
being at the starboard bar. Curtis stood upon the poop, giving
his chief attention to the sails; the lieutenant was on the
forecastle; the boatswain by the helm. The sea seemed
propitiously calm and, as it swelled gently to and fro, lifted
the ship several times.
"Now, my boys," said Curtis in his calm clear voice, "all
Round went the windlass; click, click, clanked the chains as link
by link they were forced through the hawse-holes.
The breeze freshened, and the masts gave to the pressure of the
sails, but round and round we went, keeping time in regular
monotony to the sing-song tune hummed by one of the sailors.
We had gained about twenty feet, and were redoubling our efforts
when the ship grounded again.
And now no effort would avail; all was in vain; the tide began to
turn; and the "Chancellor" would not advance an inch. Was there
time to go back? She would inevitably go to pieces if left
balanced upon the ridge. In an instant the captain has ordered
the sails to be furled, and the anchor dropped from the stern.
One moment of terrible anxiety, and all is well.
The "Chancellor" tacks to stern, and glides back into the basin,
which is once more her prison.
"Well, captain," says the boatswain, "what's to be done now?"
"I don't know" said Curtis, "but we shall get across somehow."
NOVEMBER 21st to 24th.--There was assuredly no time to be lost
before we ought to leave Ham Rock reef. The barometer had been
falling ever since the morning, the sea was getting rougher, and
there was every symptom that the weather, hitherto so favourable,
was on the point of breaking; and in the event of a gale the
"Chancellor" must inevitably be dashed to pieces on the rocks.
In the evening, when the tide was quite low, and the rocks
uncovered, Curtis, the boatswain, and Dowlas went to examine the
ridge which had proved so serious an obstruction, Falsten and I
accompanied them. We came to the conclusion that the only way of
effecting a passage was by cutting away the rocks with pikes over
a surface measuring ten feet by six. An extra depth of nine or
ten inches would give a sufficient gauge, and the channel might
be accurately marked out by buoys; in this way it was conjectured
the ship might be got over the ridge and so reach the deep water
"But this basalt is as hard as granite," said the boatswain;
"besides, we can only get at it at low water, and consequently
could only work at it for two hours out of the twenty-four."
"All the more reason why we should begin at once, boatswain,"
"But if it is to take us a month, captain, perhaps by that time
the ship may be knocked to atoms. Couldn't we manage to blow up
the rock? we have got some powder on board."
"Not enough for that;" said the boatswain.
"You have something better than powder," said Falsten.
"What's that?" asked the captain.
"Picrate of potash," was the reply.
And so the explosive substance with which poor Ruby had so
grievously imperilled the vessel was now to serve her in good
stead, and I now saw what a lucky thing it was that the case had
been deposited safely on the reef, instead of being thrown into
Picric acid is a crystalline bitter product extracted from coal-
tar, and forming, in combination with potash, a yellow salt known
as picrate of potash. The explosive power of this substance is
inferior to that of gun-cotton or of dynamite, but far greater
than that of ordinary gunpowder; one grain of picric powder
producing an effect equal to that of thirteen grains of common
powder. Picrate is easily ignited by any sharp or violent shock,
and some gun-priming which we had in our possession would answer
the purpose of setting it alight.
The sailors went off at once for their pikes, and Dowlas and his
assistants, under the direction of Falsten, who, as an engineer,
understood such matters, proceeded to hollow out a mine wherein
to deposit the powder. At first we hoped that everything would
be ready for the blasting to take place on the following morning,
but when daylight appeared we found that the men, although they
had laboured with a will, had only been able to work for an hour
at low water and that four tides must ebb before the mine had
been sunk to the required depth.
Not until eight o'clock on the morning of the 23rd was the work
complete. The hole was bored obliquely in the rock, and was
large enough to contain about ten pounds of explosive matter.
Just as the picrate was being introduced into the aperture,
"Stop," he said, "I think it will be best to mix the picrate with
common powder, as that will allow us to fire the mine with a
match instead of the gun-priming which would be necessary to
produce a shock. Besides, it is an understood thing that the
addition of gunpowder renders picrate far more effective in
blasting such rocks as this, as then the violence of the picrate
prepares the way for the powder which, slower in its action, will
complete the disseverment of the basalt."
Falsten is not a great talker, but what he does say is always
very much to the point. His good advice was immediately followed;
the two substances were mixed together, and after a match had
been introduced the compound was rammed closely into the hole.
Notwithstanding that the "Chancellor" was at a distance from the
rocks that insured her from any danger of being injured by the
explosion, it was thought advisable that the passengers and crew
should take refuge in the grotto at the extremity of the reef,
and even Mr. Kear, in spite of his many objections, was forced to
leave the ship. Falsten, as soon as he had set fire to the
match, joined us in our retreat.
The train was to burn for ten minutes, and at the end of that
time the explosion took place; the report, on account of the
depth of the mine, being muffled, and much less noisy than we had
expected. But the operation had been perfectly successful.
Before we reached the ridge we could see that the basalt had been
literally reduced to powder, and that a little channel, already
being filled by the rising tide, had been cut right through the
obstacle. A loud hurrah rang through the air; our prison-doors
were opened, and we were prisoners no more!
At high tide the "Chancellor" weighed anchor and floated out into
the open sea, but she was not in a condition to sail until she
had been ballasted; and for the next twenty-four hours the crew
were busily employed in taking up blocks of stone, and such of
the bales of cotton as had sustained the least amount of injury.
In the course of the day, M. Letourneur, Andre, Miss Herbey, and
I took a farewell walk round the reef, and Andre with artistic
skill, carved on the wall of the grotto the word "Chancellor,"
--the designation Ham Rock, which we had given to the reef,--and
the date of our running aground. Then we bade adieu to the scene
of our three week's sojourn, where we had passed days that to
some at least of our party will be reckoned as far from being the
least happy of their lives.
At high tide this morning, the 24th, with low, top, and gallant
sails all set, the "Chancellor" started on her onward way, and
two hours later the last peak of Ham Rock had vanished below the
NOVEMBER 24th to DECEMBER 1st.--Here we were then once more at
sea, and although on board a ship of which the stability was very
questionable, we had hopes, if the wind continued favourable, of
reaching the coast of Guiana in the course of a few days.
Our way was south-west and consequently with the wind, and
although Curtis would not crowd on all sail lest the extra speed
should have a tendency to spring the leak afresh, the
"Chancellor" made a progress that was quite satisfactory. Life
on board began to fall back into its former routine; the feeling
of insecurity and the consciousness that we were merely retracing
our path doing much, however, to destroy the animated intercourse
that would otherwise go on between passenger and passenger.
The first few days passed without any incident worth recording,
then on the 29th, the wind shifted to the north, and it became
necessary to brace the yards, trim the sails, and take a
starboard tack. This made the ship lurch very much on one side,
and as Curtis felt that she was labouring far too heavily, he
clued up the top-gallants, prudently reckoning that, under the
circumstances, caution was far more important than speed.
The night came on dark and foggy. The breeze freshened
considerably, and, unfortunately for us, hailed from the north-
west. Although we carried no top-sails at all, the ship seemed
to heel over more than ever. Most of the passengers had retired
to their cabins, but all the crew remained on deck, whilst Curtis
never quitted his post upon the poop.
Towards two o'clock in the morning I was myself preparing to go
to my cabin, when Burke, one of the sailors who had been down
into the hold, came on deck with the ominous cry,--
"Two feet of water below."
In an instant Curtis and the boatswain had descended the ladder.
The startling news was only too true; the sea-water was entering
the hold, but whether the leak had sprung afresh, or whether the
caulking in some of the seams was insufficient, it was then
impossible to determine; all that could be done was to let the
ship go with the wind and wait for day.
At daybreak they sounded again:--"Three feet of water!" was the
report, I glanced at Curtis, his lips were white, but he had not
lost his self-possession. He quietly informed such of the
passengers as were already on deck of the new danger that
threatened us; it was better that they should know the worst, and
the fact could not be long concealed. I told M. Letourneur that
I could not help hoping that there might yet be time to reach the
land before the last crisis came. Falsten was about to give vent
to an expression of despair, but he was soon silenced by Miss
Herbey asserting her confidence that all would yet be well.
Curtis at once divided the crew into two sets, and made them work
incessantly, turn and turn about at the pumps. The men applied
themselves to their task with resignation rather than with
ardour; the labour was hard and scarcely repaid them; the pumps
were constantly getting out of order, the valves being choked up
by the ashes and bits of cotton that were floating about in the
hold, while every moment that was spent in cleaning or repairing
them was so much time lost.
Slowly, but surely, the water continued to rise, and on the
following morning the soundings gave five feet for its depth, I
noticed that Curtis's brow contracted each time that the
boatswain or the lieutenant brought him their report. There was
no doubt it was only a question of time, and not for an instant
must the efforts for keeping down the level be relaxed. Already
the ship had sunk a foot lower in the water, and as her weight
increased she no longer rose buoyantly with the waves, but
pitched and rolled considerably.
All yesterday, and last night, the pumping continued; but still
the sea gained upon us. The crew are weary and discouraged, but
the second officer and the boatswain set them a fine example of
endurance, and the passengers have now begun to take their turn
at the pumps.
But all are conscious of toiling almost against hope; we are no
longer secured firmly to the solid soil of the Ham Rock reef, but
we are floating over an abyss which daily, nay hourly, threatens
to swallow us into its depths.
DECEMBER 2nd and 3rd.--For four hours we have succeeded in
keeping the water in the hold to one level; now, however, it is
very evident that the time cannot be far distant when the pumps
will be quite unequal to their task.
Yesterday Curtis, who does not allow himself a minute's rest,
made a personal inspection of the hold. I, with the boatswain
and carpenter, accompanied him. After dislodging some of the
bales of cotton we could hear a splashing, or rather gurgling
sound; but whether the water was entering at the original
aperture, or whether it found its way in through a general
dislocation of the seams, we were unable to discover. But
whichever might be the case, Curtis determined to try a plan
which, by cutting off communication between the interior and
exterior of the vessel, might, if only for a few hours, render
her hull more watertight. For this purpose he had some strong,
well-tarred sails drawn upwards by ropes from below the keel, as
high as the previous leaking-place, and then fastened closely and
securely to the side of the hull. The scheme was dubious, and
the operation difficult, but for a time it was effectual, and at
the close of the day the level of the water had actually been
reduced by several inches. The diminution was small enough, but
the consciousness that more water was escaping through the
scupper-holes than was finding its way into the hold gave us
fresh courage to persevere with our work.
The night was dark, but the captain carried all the sail he
could, eager to take every possible advantage of the wind, which
was freshening considerably. If he could have sighted a ship he
would have made signals of distress, and would not have hesitated
to transfer the passengers, and even have allowed the crew to
follow, if they were ready to forsake him; for himself his mind
was made up, he should remain on board the "Chancellor" until she
foundered beneath his feet. No sail, however, hove in sight;
consequently escape by such means was out of our power.
During the night the canvas covering yielded to the pressure of
the waves, and this morning, after taking the sounding, the
boatswain could not suppress an oath when be announced "Six feet
of water in the hold!"
The ship, then, was filling once again, and already had sunk
considerably below her previous water-line. With aching arms and
bleeding hands we worked harder than ever at the pumps, and
Curtis makes those who are not pumping form a line and pass
buckets, with all the speed they can, from hand to hand.
But all in vain! At half-past eight more water is reported in
the hold, and some of the sailors, overcome by despair, refuse to
work one minute longer.
The first to abandon his post was Owen, a man whom I have
mentioned before, as exhibiting something of a mutinous spirit,
He is about forty years of age, and altogether unprepossessing in
appearance; his face is bare, with the exception of a reddish
beard, which terminates in a point; his forehead is furrowed with
sinister-looking wrinkles, his lips curl inwards, and his ears
protrude, whilst his bleared and bloodshot eyes are encircled
with thick red rings.
Amongst the five or six other men who had struck work, I noticed
Jynxtrop the cook, who evidently shared all Owen's ill feelings.
Twice did Curtis order the men back to the pumps, and twice did
Owen, acting as spokesman for the rest, refuse; and when Curtis
made a step forward as though to approach him, he said savagely,--
"I advise you not to touch me," and walked away to the
Curtis descended to his cabin, and almost immediately returned
with a loaded revolver in his hand.
For a moment Owen surveyed the captain with a frown of defiance;
but at a sign from Jynxtrop he seemed to recollect himself; and,
with the remainder of the men, he returned to his work.
DECEMBER 4th.--The first attempt at mutiny being thus happily
suppressed, it is to be hoped that Curtis will succeed as well in
future. An insubordinate crew would render us powerless indeed.
Throughout the night the pumps were kept, without respite,
steadily at work, but without producing the least sensible
benefit. The ship became so water-logged and heavy that she
hardly rose at all to the waves, which consequently often washed
over the deck and contributed their part towards aggravating our
case. Our situation was rapidly becoming as terrible as it had
been when the fire was raging in the midst of us; and the
prospect of being swallowed by the devouring billows was no less
formidable than that of perishing in the flames.
Curtis kept the men up to the mark, and, willing or unwilling,
they had no alternative but to work on as best they might; but,
in spite of all their efforts, the water perpetually rose, till,
at length, the men in the hold who were passing the buckets found
themselves immersed up to their waists and were obliged to come
This morning, after a somewhat protracted consultation with
Walter and the boatswain, Curtis resolved to abandon the ship.
The only remaining boat was far too small to hold us all, and it
would therefore be necessary to construct a raft that should
carry those who could not find room in her. Dowlas the
carpenter, Mr. Falsten, and ten sailors were told off to put the
raft in hand, the rest of the crew being ordered to continue
their work assiduously at the pumps, until the time came and
everything was ready for embarkation.
Hatchet or saw in hand, the carpenter and his assistants made a
beginning without delay by cutting and trimming the spare yards
and extra spars to a proper length. These were then lowered into
the sea, which was propitiously calm, so as to favour the
operation (which otherwise would have been very difficult) of
lashing them together into a firm framework, about forty feet
long and twenty-five feet wide, upon which the platform was to be
I kept my own place steadily at the pumps, and Andre Letourneur
worked at my side; I often noticed his father glance at him
sorrowfully, as though he wondered what would become of him if he
had to struggle with waves to which even the strongest man could
hardly fail to succumb. But come what may, his father will never
forsake him, and I myself shall not be wanting in rendering him
whatever assistance I can.
Mrs. Keat, who had been for some time in a state of drowsy
unconsciousness, was not informed of the immediate danger, but
when Miss Herbey, looking somewhat pale with fatigue, paid one of
her flying visits to the deck, I warned her to take every
precaution for herself and to be ready for any emergency.
"Thank you, doctor, I am always ready," she cheerfully replied,
and returned to her duties below. I saw Andre follow the young
girl with his eyes, and a look of melancholy interest passed over
Towards eight o'clock in the evening the framework for the raft.
was almost complete, and the men were lowering empty barrels,
which had first been securely bunged, and were lashing them to
the wood-work to insure its floating.
Two hours later and suddenly there arose the startling cry, "We
are sinking! we are sinking!"
Up to the poop rushed Mr. Kear, followed immediately by Falsten
and Miss Herbey, who were bearing the inanimate form of Mrs.
Keat. Curtis ran to his cabin, instantly returning with a chart;
a sextant, and a compass in his hand.
The scene that followed will ever be engraven in my memory; the
cries of distress, the general confusion, the frantic rush of the
sailors towards the raft that was not yet ready to support them,
can never be forgotten. The whole period of my life seemed to be
concentrated into that terrible moment when the planks bent below
my feet and the ocean yawned beneath me.
Some of the sailors had taken their delusive refuge in the
shrouds, and I was preparing to follow them when a hand was laid
upon my shoulder. Turning round I beheld M. Letourneur, with
tears in his eyes, pointing towards his son. "Yes, my friend," I
said, pressing his hand, "we will save him, if possible."
But Curtis had already caught hold of the young man, and was
hurrying him to the main-mast shrouds, when the "Chancellor,"
which had been scudding along rapidly with the wind, stopped
suddenly, with a violent shock, and began to settle, The sea rose
over my ancles and almost instinctively I clutched at the nearest
rope. All at once, when it seemed all over, the ship ceased to
sink, and hung motionless in mid-ocean.
NIGHT OF DECEMBER 4th.--Curtis caught young Letourneur again in
his arms, and running with him across the flooded deck deposited
him safely in the starboard shrouds, whither his father and I
climbed up beside him.
I now had time to look about me. The night was not very dark,
and I could see that Curtis had returned to his post upon the
poop; whilst in the extreme aft near the taffrail, which was
still above water, I could distinguish the forms of Mr. and Mrs.
Kear, Miss Herbey, and Mr. Falsten The lieutenant and the
boatswain were on the far end of the forecastle; the remainder of
the crew in the shrouds and top-masts.
By the assistance of his father, who carefully guided his feet up
the rigging, Andre was hoisted into the main-top. Mrs. Kear
could not be induced to join him in his elevated position, in
spite of being told that if the wind were to freshen she would
inevitably be washed overboard by the waves; nothing could induce
her to listen to remonstrance, and she insisted upon remaining on
the poop, Miss Herbey, of course, staying by her side.
As soon as the captain saw the "Chancellor" was no longer
sinking, he set to work to take down all the sails, yards and
all, and the top-gallants, in the hope that by removing
everything that could compromise the equilibrium of the ship he
might diminish the chance of her capsizing altogether.
"But may she not founder at any moment?" I said to Curtis, when
I had joined him for a while upon the poop.
"Everything depends upon the weather," he replied, in his calmest
manner; "that, of course, may change at any hour. One thing,
however, is certain, the 'Chancellor' preserves her equilibrium
for the present."
"But do you mean to say," I further asked, "that she can sail
with two feet of water over her deck?"
"No, Mr. Kazallon, she can't sail, but she can drift with the
wind, and if the wind remains in its present quarter, in the
course of a few days we might possibly sight the coast. Besides,
we shall have our raft as a last resource; in a few hours it will
be ready, and at daybreak we can embark."
"You have not then," I added, "abandoned all hope even yet?" I
marvelled at his composure.
"While there's life there's hope, you know Mr. Kazallon; out of a
hundred chances, ninety-nine may be against us, but perhaps the
odd one may be in our favour. Besides, I believe that our case
is not without precedent. In the year 1795 a three-master, the
'Juno,' was precisely in the same half-sunk, water-logged
condition as ourselves; and yet with her passengers and crew
clinging to her top-masts she drifted for twenty days, until she
came in sight of land, when those who had survived the
deprivation and fatigue were saved. So let us not despair; let
us hold on to the hope that the survivors of the 'Chancellor' may
be equally fortunate."
I was only too conscious that there was not much to be said in
support of Curtis's sanguine view of things, and that the force
of reason pointed all the other way; but I said nothing, deriving
what comfort I could from the fact that the captain did not yet
despond of an ultimate rescue.
As it was necessary to be prepared to abandon the ship almost at
a moment's notice, Dowlas was making every exertion to hurry on
the construction of the raft. A little before midnight he was on
the point of conveying some planks for this purpose, when, to his
astonishment and horror, he found that the framework had totally
disappeared. The ropes that had attached it to the vessel had
snapped as she became vertically displaced, and probably it had
been adrift for more than an hour.
The crew were frantic at this new misfortune, and shouting
"Overboard with the masts!" they began to cut down the rigging
preparatory to taking possession of the masts for a new raft.
But here Curtis interposed:--
"Back to your places, my men; back to your places. The ship will
not sink yet, so don't touch a rope until I give you leave."
The firmness of the captain's voice brought the men to their
senses, and although some of them could ill disguise their
reluctance, all returned to their posts.
When daylight had sufficiently advanced Curtis mounted the mast,
and looked around for the missing raft; but it was nowhere to be
seen. The sea was far too rough for the men to venture to take
out the whaleboat in search of it, and there was no choice but to
set to work and to construct a new raft immediately.
Since the sea has become so much rougher, Mrs. Kear has been
induced to leave the poop, and has managed to join M. Letourneur
and his son on the main-top, where she lies in a state of
complete prostration. I need hardly add that Miss Herbey
continues in her unwearied attendance. The space to which these
four people are limited is necessarily very small, nowhere
measuring twelve feet across; to prevent them losing their
balance some spars have been lashed from shroud to shroud, and
for the convenience of the two ladies Curtis has contrived to
make a temporary awning of a sail. Mr. Kear has installed
himself with Silas Huntly on the foretop.
A few cases of preserved meat and biscuit and some barrels of
water, that floated between the masts after the submersion of the
deck, have been hoisted to the top-masts and fastened firmly to
the stays. These are now our only provisions.
DECEMBER 5th.--The day was very hot. December in latitude 16deg.
N. is a summer month, and unless a breeze should rise to temper
the burning sun, we might expect to suffer from an oppressive
The sea still remained very rough, and as the heavy waves broke
over the ship as though she were a reef, the foam flew up to the
very top-masts, and our clothes were perpetually drenched by the
The "Chancellor's" hull is three-fourths immerged; besides the
three masts and the bowsprit, to which the whale-boat was
suspended, the poop and the forecastle are the only portions that
now are visible; and as the intervening section of the deck is
quite below the water, these appear to be connected only by the
framework of the netting that runs along the vessel's sides.
Communication between the top-masts is extremely difficult, and
would be absolutely precluded, were it not that the sailors, with
practised dexterity, manage to hoist themselves about by means of
the stays. For the passengers, cowering on their narrow and
unstable platform, the spectacle of the raging sea below was
truly terrific; every wave that dashed over the ship shook the
masts till they trembled again, and one could venture scarcely to
look or to think lest he should be tempted to cast himself into
the vast abyss.
Meanwhile, the crew worked away with all their remaining vigour
at the second raft, for which the top-gallants and yards were all
obliged to be employed; the planks, too, which were continually
being loosened and broken away by the violence of the waves from
the partitions of the ship, were rescued before they had drifted
out of reach, and were brought into use. The symptoms of the
ship foundering did not appear to be immediate; so that Curtis
insisted upon the raft being made with proper care to insure its
strength; we were still several hundred miles from the coast of
Guiana, and for so long a voyage it was indispensable to have a
structure of considerable solidity. The reasonableness of this
was self-apparent, and as the crew had recovered their assurance
they spared no pains to accomplish their work effectually.
Of all the number, there was but one, an Irishman, named O'Ready,
who seemed to question the utility of all their toil. He shook
his head with an oracular gravity. He is an oldish man, not less
than sixty, with his hair and beard bleached with the storms of
many travels. As I was making my way towards the poop, he came
up to me and began talking.
"And why, bedad, I'd like to know, why is it that they'll all be
afther lavin' of the ship?"
He turned his quid with the most serene composure, and
"And isn't it me myself that's been wrecked nine times already?
and sure, poor fools are they that ever have put their trust in
rafts or boats sure and they found a wathery grave. Nay, nay;
while the ould ship lasts, let's stick to her, says I."
Having thus unburdened his mind he relapsed, into silence, and
soon went away.
About three o'clock I noticed that Mr. Kear and Silas Huntly were
holding an animated conversation in the fore top. The petroleum
merchant had evidently some difficulty in bringing the ex-captain
round to his opinion, for I, saw him several times shake his head
as he gave long and scrutinizing looks at the sea and sky. In
less than an hour afterwards I saw Huntly let himself down by the
forestays and clamber along to the forecastle where he joined the
group of sailors, and I lost sight of him.
I attached little importance to the incident, and shortly
afterwards joined the party in the main-top, where we continued
talking for some hours. The heat was intense, and if it had not
been for the shelter' afforded by the sail-tent, would have been
unbearable. At five o'clock we took as refreshment some dried
meat and biscuit, each individual being also allowed half a glass
of water. Mrs. Kear, prostrate with fever, could not touch a
mouthful; and nothing could be done by Miss Herbey to relieve
her, beyond occasionally moistening her parched lips. The
unfortunate lady suffers greatly, and sometimes I am inclined to
think that she will succumb to the exposure and privation. Not
once had her husband troubled himself about her; but when shortly
afterwards I heard him hail some of the sailors on the forecastle
and ask them to help him down from the foretop, I began to think
that the selfish fellow was coming to join his wife.
At first the sailors took no notice of his request, but on his
repeating it with the promise of paying them handsomely for their
services, two of them, Burke and Sandon, swung themselves along
the netting into the shrouds, and were soon at his side.
A long discussion ensued. The men evidently were asking more
than Mr. Kear was inclined to give, and at one time if seemed as
though the negotiation would fall through altogether. But at
length the bargain was struck, and I saw Mr. Kear take a bundle
of paper dollars from his waistcoat pocket, and hand a number of
them over to one of the men, The man counted them carefully, and
from the time it took him, I should think that he could not have
pocketed anything less than a hundred dollars.
The next business was to get Mr. Kear down from the foretop, and
Burke and Sandon proceeded to tie a rope round his waist, which
they afterwards fastened to the forestay; then, in a way which
provoked shouts of laughter from their mates, they gave the
unfortunate man a shove, and sent him rolling down like a bundle
of dirty clothes on to the forecastle.
I was quite mistaken as to his object. Mr. Kear had no intention
of looking after his wife, but remained by the side of Silas
Huntly until the gathering darkness hid them both from view.
As night drew on, the wind grew calmer, but the sea remained very
rough. The moon had been up ever since four in the afternoon,
though she only appeared at rare intervals between the clouds.
Some long lines of vapour on the horizon were tinged with a rosy
glare that foreboded a strong breeze for the morrow, and all felt
anxious to know from which quarter the breeze would come, for any
but a north-easter would bear the frail raft on which we were to
embark far away from land.
About eight o'clock in the evening Curtis mounted to the main-top
but he seemed preoccupied and anxious, and did not speak to any
one. He remained for a quarter of an hour, then after silently
pressing my hand, he returned to his old post.
I laid myself down in the narrow space at my disposal, and tried
to sleep; but my mind was filled with strange forebodings, and
sleep was impossible. The very calmness of the atmosphere was
oppressive; scarcely a breath of air vibrated through the metal
rigging, and yet the sea rose with a heavy swell as though it
felt the warnings of a coming tempest.
All at once, at about eleven o'clock, the moon burst brightly
forth through a rift in the clouds, and the waves sparkled again
as if illumined by a submarine glimmer. I start up and look
around me. Is it merely imagination? or do I really see a black
speck floating on the dazzling whiteness of the waters, a speck
that cannot be a rock; because it rises and falls with the
heaving motion of the billows? But the moon once again becomes
overclouded; the sea, is darkened, and I return to my uneasy
couch close to the larboard shrouds.
DECEMBER 6th.--I must have fallen asleep for a few hours, when at
four o'clock in the morning, I was rudely aroused by the roaring
of the wind, and could distinguish Curtis's voice as he shouted
in the brief intervals between the heavy gusts.
I got up, and holding tightly to the purlin--for the waves made
the masts tremble with their violence--I tried to look around and
below me. The sea was literally raging beneath, and great masses
of livid-looking foam were dashing between the masts, which were
oscillating terrifically. It was still dark, and I could only
faintly distinguish two figures on the stern, whom, by the sound
of their voices, that I caught occasionally above the tumult, I
made out to be Curtis and the boatswain.
Just at that moment a sailor, who had mounted to the main-top to
do something to the rigging, passed close behind me.
"What's the matter?" I asked,
"The wind has changed," he answered, adding something which I
could not hear distinctly, but which sounded like "dead against
Dead against us! then, thought I, the wind had shifted to the
south-west, and my last night's forebodings had been correct.
When daylight at length appeared, I found the wind although not
blowing actually from the south-west, had veered round to the
north-west, a change which was equally disastrous to us, inasmuch
as it was carrying us away from land. Moreover, the ship had
sunk considerably during the night, and there were now five feet
of water above deck; the side netting had completely disappeared,
and the forecastle and the poop were now all but on a level with
the sea, which washed over them incessantly. With all possible
expedition Curtis and his crew were labouring away at their raft,
but the violence of the swell materially impeded their
operations, and it became a matter of doubt as to whether the
woodwork would not fall asunder before it could be properly
As I watched the men at their work M. Letourneur, with one arm
supporting his son, came and stood by my side.
"Don't you think this main-top will soon give way?" he said, as
the narrow platform on which we stood creaked and groaned with
the swaying of the masts.
Miss Herbey heard his words, and pointing towards Mrs. Kear, who
was lying prostrate at her feet, asked what we thought ought to
"We can do nothing but stay where we are," I replied.
"No;" said Andre "this is our best refuge; I hope you are not
"Not for myself," said the young girl quietly "only for those to
whom life is precious."
At a quarter to eight we heard the boatswain calling to the
sailors in the bows.
"Ay, ay, sir," said one of the men--O'Ready, I think.
"Where's the whale boat?" shouted the boatswain.
"I don't know, sir. Not with us," was the reply.
"She's gone adrift, then!"
And sure enough the whale-boat was no longer hanging from the
bowsprit; and in a moment the discovery was made that Mr. Kear,
Silas Huntly, and three sailors,--a Scotchman and two Englishmen,
--were missing. Afraid that the "Chancellor" would founder
before the completion of the raft, Kear and Huntly had plotted
together to effect their escape, and had bribed the three sailors
to seize the only remaining boat.
This, then, was the black speck that I had seen during the night.
The miserable husband had deserted his wife, the faithless
captain had abandoned the ship that had once been under his
"There are five saved, then," said the boatswain.
"Faith, an it's five lost ye'll be maning," said O'Ready; and the
state of the sea fully justified his opinion.
The crew were furious when they heard of the surreptitious
flight, and loaded the fugitives with all the invectives they
could lay their tongues to. So enraged were they at the
dastardly trick of which they had been made the dupes, that if
chance should bring the deserters again on board I should be
sorry to answer for the consequences.
In accordance with my advice, Mrs. Kear has not been informed of
her husband's disappearance. The unhappy lady is wasting away
with a fever for which we are powerless to supply a remedy, for
the medicine chest was lost when the ship began to sink.
Nevertheless, I do not think we have anything to regret on that
score, feeling as I do, that in a case like Mrs. Kear's, drugs
would be of no avail.
DECEMBER 6th CONTINUED.--The "Chancellor" no longer maintained
her equilibrium; we felt that she was gradually going down, and
her hull was probably breaking up. The main-top was already only
ten feet above the water, whilst the bowsprit, with the exception
of the extreme end, that rose obliquely from the waves, was
The "Chancellor's" last day, we felt, had come.
Fortunately the raft was all but finished, and unless Curtis
preferred to wait till morning we should be able to embark in the
The raft is a very solid structure. The spars that form the
framework are crossed one above another and lashed together with
stout ropes, so that the whole pile rises a couple of feet above
the water. The upper platform is constructed from the planks
that were broken from the ship's sides by the violence of the
waves, and which had not drifted away. The afternoon has been
employed in charging the raft with such provisions, sails, tools,
and instruments as we have been able to save.
And how can I attempt to give any idea of the feelings with
which, one and all, we now contemplated the fate before us? For
my own part I was possessed rather by a benumbed indifference
than by any sense of genuine resignation. M. Letourneur was
entirely absorbed in his son, who, in his turn, thought only of
his father; at the same time exhibiting a calm Christian
fortitude, which was shown by no one else of the party except
Miss Herbey, who faced her danger with the same brave composure.
Incredible as it may seem, Falsten remained the same as ever,
occupying himself with writing down figures and memoranda in his
pocket-book. Mrs. Kear, in spite of all that Miss Herbey could
do for her, was evidently dying.
With regard to the sailors, two or three of them were calm
enough, but the rest had well-nigh lost their wits. Some of the
more ill-disposed amongst them seemed inclined to run into
excesses; and their conduct, under the bad influence of Owen and
Jynxtrop, made it doubtful whether they would submit to control
when once we were limited to the narrow dimensions of the raft.
Lieutenant Walter, although his courage never failed him, was
worn out with bodily fatigue, and obliged to give up all active
labour; but Curtis and the boatswain were resolute, energetic and
firm as ever. To borrow an expression from the language of
metallurgic art, they were men "at the highest degree of
At five o'clock one of our companions in misfortune was released
from her sufferings. Mrs. Kear, after a most distressing
illness, through which her young companion tended her with the
most devoted care, has breathed her last. A few deep sighs and
all was over, and I doubt whether the sufferer was ever conscious
of the peril of, her situation.
The night passed on without further incident. Towards morning I
touched the dead woman's hand, and it was cold and stiff. The
corpse could not remain any longer on the main-top, and after
Miss Herbey and I had carefully wrapped the garments about it,
with a few short prayers the body of the first victim of our
miseries was committed to the deep.
As the sea closed over the body I heard one of the men in the
"There goes a carcase that we shall be sorry we have thrown
I looked round sharply. It was Owen who had spoken, But horrible
as were his words, the conviction was forced upon my mind that
the day could not be far distant when we must want for food.
DECEMBER 7th.--The ship was sinking rapidly; the water had risen
to the fore-top; the poop and forecastle were completely
submerged; the top of the bowsprit had disappeared, and only the
three mast-tops projected from the waves.
But all was ready on the raft; an erection had been made on the
fore to hold a mast, which was supported by shrouds fastened to
the sides of the platform; this mast carried a large royal.
Perhaps, after all, these few frail planks will carry us to the
shore which the "Chancellor" has failed to reach; at any rate, we
cannot yet resign all hope.
We were just on the point of embarking at 7 a.m. when the
"Chancellor" all at once began to sink so rapidly that the
carpenter and men who were on the raft were obliged with all
speed to cut the ropes that secured it to the vessel to prevent
it from being swallowed up in the eddying waters. Anxiety, the
most intense, took possession of us all. At the very moment when
the ship was descending into the fathomless abyss, the raft, our
only hope of safety, was drifting off before our eyes. Two of
the sailors and an apprentice, beside themselves with terror,
threw themselves headlong into the sea; but it was evident from
the very first that they were quite powerless to combat the winds
and waves. Escape was impossible; they could neither reach the
raft, nor return to the ship. Curtis tied a rope round his waist
and tried to swim to their assistance; but long before he could
reach them the unfortunate men, after a vain struggle for life,
sank below the waves and were seen no more. Curtis, bruised and
beaten with the surf that raged about the mast-heads, was hauled
back to the ship.
Meantime, Dowlas and his men, by means of some spars which they
used as oars, were exerting themselves to bring back the raft,
which had drifted about two cables-lengths away; but, in spite of
all their efforts, it was fully an hour,--an hour which seemed to
us, waiting as we were with the water up to the level of the top-
masts, like an eternity--before they succeeded in bringing the
raft alongside, and lashing it once again to the "Chancellor's"
Not a moment was then to be lost. The waves were eddying like a
whirlpool around the submerged vessel, and numbers of enormous
air-bubbles were rising to the surface of the water.
The time was come. At Curtis's word "Embark!" we all hurried to
the raft. Andre who insisted upon seeing Miss Herbey go first,
was helped safely on to the platform, where his father
immediately joined him. In a very few minutes all except Curtis
and old O'Ready had left the "Chancellor."
Curtis remained standing on the main-top, deeming it not only his
duty, but his right, to be the last to leave the vessel he had
loved so well, and the loss of which he so much deplored.
"Now then, old fellow off of this!" cried the captain to the old
Irishman, who did not move.
"And is it quite sure ye are that she's sinkin?" he said.
"Ay, ay! sure enough, my man; and you'd better look sharp."
"Faith, then, and I think I will;" and not a moment too soon (for
the water was up to his waist) he jumped on to the raft.
Having cast one last, lingering look around him, Curtis then left
the ship; the rope was cut and we went slowly adrift.
All eyes were fixed upon the spot where the "Chancellor" lay
foundering. The top of the mizen was the first to disappear,
then followed the main-top; and soon, of what had been a noble
vessel, not a vestige was to be seen.
Will this frail float, forty feet by twenty, bear us in safety?
Sink it cannot; the material of which it is composed is of a kind
that must surmount the waves. But it is questionable whether it
will hold together. The cords that bind it will have a
tremendous strain to bear in resisting the violence of the sea.
The most sanguine amongst us trembles to face the future; the
most confident dares to think only of the present. After the
manifold perils of the last seventy-two days' voyage all are too
agitated to look forward without dismay to what in all human
probability must be a time of the direst distress.
Vain as the task may seem, I will not pause in my work of
registering the events of our drama, as scene after scene they
are unfolded before our eyes.
Of the twenty-eight persons who left Charleston in the
"Chancellor," only eighteen are left to huddle together upon this
narrow raft; this number includes the five passengers, namely M.
Letourneur, Andre, Miss Herbey, Falsten, and myself; the ship's
officers, Captain Curtis, Lieutenant Walter, the boatswain,
Hobart the steward, Jynxtrop the cook, and Dowlas the carpenter;
and seven sailors, Austin, Owen, Wilson, O'Ready, Burke, Sandon,
Such are the passengers on the raft; it is but a brief task to
enumerate their resources.
The greater part of the provisions in the store-room were
destroyed at the time when the ship's deck was submerged, and the
small quantity that Curtis has been able to save will be very
inadequate to supply the wants of eighteen people, who too
probably have many days to wait ere they sight either land or a
passing vessel. One cask of biscuit, another of preserved meat,
a small keg of brandy, and two barrels of water complete our
store, so that the utmost frugality in the distribution of our
daily rations becomes absolutely necessary.
Of spare clothes we have positively none; a few sails will serve
for shelter by day, and covering by night. Dowlas has his
carpenter's tools, we have each a pocket-knife, and O'Ready an
old tin pot; of which he takes the most tender care; in addition
to these, we are in possession of a sextant, a compass, a chart,
and a metal tea-kettle, everything else that was placed on deck
in readiness for the first raft having been lost in the partial
submersion of the vessel.
Such then is our situation; critical indeed, but after all
perhaps not desperate. We have one great fear; some there are
amongst us whose courage, moral as well as physical, may give
way, and over failing spirits such as these we may have no
DECEMBER 7th CONTINUED.--Our first day on the raft has passed
without any special incident. At eight o'clock this morning
Curtis asked our attention for a moment.
"My friends," he said, "listen to me. Here on this raft, just as
when we were on board the 'Chancellor,' I consider myself your
captain; and as your captain, I expect that all of you will
strictly obey my orders. Let me beg of you, one and all, to
think solely of our common welfare; let us work with one heart
and with one soul, and may Heaven protect us!"
After delivering these few words with an emotion that evidenced
their earnestness, the captain consulted his compass, and found
that the freshening breeze was blowing from the north. This was
fortunate for us, and no time was to be lost in taking advantage
of it to speed us on our dubious way. Dowlas was occupied in
fixing the mast into the socket that had already been prepared
for its reception, and in order to support it more firmly he
placed spurs of wood, forming arched buttresses, on either side.
While he was thus employed the boatswain and the other seamen
were stretching the large royal sail on the yard that had been
reserved for that purpose.
By half-past nine the mast was hoisted, and held firmly in its
place by some shrouds attached securely to the sides of the raft;
then the sail was run up and trimmed to the wind, and the raft
began to make a perceptible progress under the brisk breeze.
As soon as we had once started, the carpenter set to work to
contrive some sort of a rudder, that would enable us to maintain
our desired direction. Curtis and Falsten assisted him with some
serviceable suggestions, and in a couple of hours' time he had
made and fixed to the back of the raft a kind of paddle, very
similar to those used by the Malays.
At noon, after the necessary preliminary observations, Curtis
took the altitude of the sun. The result gave lat. 15deg. 7min.
N. by long. 49deg. 35min. W. as our position, which, on
consulting the chart, proved to be about 650 miles north-east of
the coast of Paramaribo in Dutch Guiana.
Now even under the most favourable circumstances, with trade-
winds and weather always in our favour, we cannot by any chance
hope to make more than ten or twelve miles a day, so that the
voyage cannot possibly be performed under a period of two months.
To be sure there is the hope to be indulged that we may fall in
with a passing vessel, but as the part of the Atlantic into which
we have been driven is intermediate between the tracks of the
French and English Transatlantic steamers either from the
Antilles or the Brazils, we cannot reckon at all upon such a
contingency happening in our favour; whilst if a calm should set
in, or worse still, if the wind were to blow from the east, not
only two months, but twice, nay, three times that length of time
will be required to accomplish the passage.
At best, however, our provisions, even though used with the
greatest care, will barely last three months. Curtis has called
us into consultation, and as the working of the raft does not
require such labour as to exhaust our physical strength, all have
agreed to submit to a regimen which, although it will suffice to
keep us alive, will certainly not fully satisfy the cravings of
hunger and thirst.
As far as we can estimate, we have somewhere about 500 lbs. of
meat and about the same quantity of biscuit. To make this last
for three months we ought not to consume very much more than 5
lbs. a day of each, which, when divided among eighteen people,
will make the daily ration 5 oz. of meat and 5 oz. of biscuit for
each person. Of water we have certainly not more than 200
gallons, but by reducing each person's allowance to a pint a day,
we hope to eke out that, too, over the space of three months.
It is arranged that the food shall be distributed under the
boatswain's superintendence every morning at ten o'clock. Each
person will then receive his allowance of meat and biscuit, which
may be eaten when and how he pleases. The water will be given
out twice a day--at ten in the morning and six in the evening;
but as the only drinking-vessels in our possession are the tea-
kettle and the old Irishman's tin pot, the water has to be
consumed immediately on distribution. As for the brandy, of
which there are only five gallons, it will be doled out with the
strictest limitation, and no one will be allowed to touch it
except with the captain's express permission.
I should not forget that there are two sources from which we may
hope to increase our store. First, any rain that may fall will
add to our supply of water, and two empty barrels have been
placed ready to receive it; secondly, we hope to do something in
the way of fishing, and the sailors have already begun to prepare
All have mutually agreed to abide by the rules that have been
laid down, for all are fully aware that by nothing but the most
precise regimen can we hope to avert the horrors of famine, and
forewarned by the fate, of many who in similar circumstances have
miserably perished, we are determined to do all that prudence can
suggest for husbanding our stores.
DECEMBER 8th to 17th.--When night came we wrapped ourselves in
our sails. For my own part, worn out with the fatigue of the
long watch in the top-mast, I slept for several hours; M.
Letourneur and Andre did the same, and Miss Herbey obtained
sufficient rest to relieve the tired expression that her
countenance had lately been wearing. The night passed quietly.
As the raft was not very heavily laden the waves did not break
over it at all, and we were consequently able to keep ourselves
perfectly dry. To say the truth, it was far better for us that
the sea should remain somewhat boisterous, for any diminution in
the swell of the waves would indicate that; the wind had dropped,
and it was with a feeling of regret that when the morning came I
had to note down "weather calm" in my journal.
In these low latitudes the heat in the day-time is so intense,
and the sun burns with such an incessant glare, that the entire
atmosphere becomes pervaded with a glowing vapour. The wind,
too, blows only in fitful gusts and through long intervals of
perfect calm the sails flap idly and uselessly against the mast.
Curtis and the boatswain, however, are of opinion that we are not
entirely dependent on the wind. Certain indications, which a
sailor's eye alone could detect, make them almost sure that we
are being carried along by a westerly current, that flows at the
rate of three or four miles an hour. If they are not mistaken,
this is a circumstance that may materially assist our progress,
and at which we can hardly fail to rejoice, for the high
temperature often makes our scanty allowance of water quite
inadequate to allay our thirst.
But with all our hardships I must confess that our condition is
far preferable to what it was when we were still clinging to the
"Chancellor." Here at least we have a comparatively solid
platform beneath our feet, and we are relieved from the incessant
dread of being carried down with a foundering vessel. In the
day-time we can move about with a certain amount of freedom,
discuss the weather, watch the sea, and examine our fishing-
lines; whilst at night we can rest securely under the shelter of
"I really think, Mr. Kazallon," said Andre Letourneur to me a few
days after we had embarked, "that our time on board the raft
passes as pleasantly as it did upon Ham Rock; and the raft has
one advantage even over the reef, for it is capable of motion."
"Yes, Andre," replied, "as long as the wind continues favourable
the raft has decidedly the advantage; but supposing the wind
shifts, what then?"
"Oh, we mustn't think about that," he said; "let us keep up our
courage while we can."
I felt that he was right, and that the dangers we had escaped
should make us more hopeful for the future; and I think that
nearly all of us are inclined to share his opinion.
Whether the captain is equally sanguine I am unable to say. He
holds himself very much aloof, and as he evidently feels that he
has the great responsibility of saving other lives than his own,
we are reluctant to disturb his silent meditations.
Such of the crew as are not on watch spend the greater portion of
their time in dozing on the fore part of the raft. The aft, by
the captain's orders, has been reserved for the use of us
passengers, and by erecting some uprights we have contrived to
make a sort of tent, which affords some shelter from the burning
sun. On the whole our bill of health is tolerably satisfactory.
Lieutenant Walter is the only invalid, and he, in spite of all
our careful nursing, seems to get weaker every day.
Andre Letourneur is the life of our party, and I have never
appreciated the young man so well. His originality of perception
makes his conversation both lively and entertaining and as he
talks, his wan and suffering countenance lights up with an
intelligent animation. His father seems to become more devoted
to him than ever, and I have seen him sit for an hour at a time,
with his hand resting on his son's, listening eagerly to his
Miss Herbey occasionally joins in our conversation, but although
we all do our best to make her forget that she has lost those who
should have been her natural protectors, M. Letourneur is the
only one amongst us to whom she speaks without a certain reserve.
To him, whose age gives him something of the authority of a
father, she has told the history of her life--a life of patience
and self-denial such as not unfrequently falls to the lot of
orphans. She had been, she said, two years with Mrs. Kear, and
although now left alone in the world, homeless and without
resources, hope for the future does not fail her. The young
lady's modest deportment and energy of character command the
respect of all on board, and I do not think that even the
coarsest of the sailors has either by word or gesture acted
towards her in a way that she could deem offensive.
The 12th, 13th, and 14th of December passed away without any
change in our condition. The wind continued to blow in irregular
gusts, but always in the same direction, and the helm, or rather
the paddle at the back of the raft has never once required
shifting; and the watch, who are posted on the fore, under orders
to examine the sea with the most scrupulous attention, have had
no change of any kind to report.
At the end of a week we found ourselves growing accustomed to our
limited diet, and as we had no manual exertion, and no wear and
tear of our physical constitution, we managed very well. Our
greatest deprivation was the short supply of water, for, as I
said before, the unmitigated heat made our thirst at times very
On the 15th we held high festival. A shoal of fish, of the
sparus tribe, swarmed round the raft, and although our tackle
consisted merely of long cords baited with morsels of dried meat
stuck upon bent nails, the fish were so voracious that in the
course of a couple of days we had caught as many as weighed
almost 200lbs., some of which were grilled, and others boiled in
sea-water over a fire made on the fore part of the raft. This
marvellous haul was doubly welcome, inasmuch as it not only
afforded us a change of diet, but enabled us to economize our
stores; if only some rain had fallen at the same time we should
have been more than satisfied.
Unfortunately the shoal of fish did not remain long in our
vicinity. On the 17th they all disappeared, and some sharks, not
less than twelve or fifteen feet long, belonging to the species
of spotted dog-fish, took their place. These horrible creatures
have black backs and fins, covered with white spots and stripes.
Here, on our low raft, we seem almost on a level with them, and
more than once their tails have struck the spars with terrible
violence. The sailors manage to keep them at a distance by means
of handspikes, but I shall not be surprised if they persist in
following us, instinctively intelligent that we are destined to
become their prey. For myself, I confess that they give me a
feeling of uneasiness; they seem to me like monsters of ill-omen.
DECEMBER 18th to 20th.--On the 18th the wind freshened a little,
but as it blew from the same favourable quarter we did not
complain, and only took the precaution of putting an extra
support to the mast, so that it should not snap with the tension
of the sail. This done, the raft was carried along with
something more than its ordinary speed, and left a long line of
foam in its wake.
In the afternoon the sky became slightly overclouded, and the
heat consequently somewhat less oppressive. The swell made it
more difficult for the raft to keep its balance, and we shipped
two or three heavy seas; but the carpenter managed to make with
some planks a kind of wall about a couple of feet high, which
protected us from the direct action of the waves. Our casks of
food and water were secured to the raft with double ropes, for we
dared not run the risk of their being carried overboard, an
accident that would at once have reduced us to the direst
In the course of the day the sailors gathered some of the marine
plants known by the name of sargassos, very similar to those we
saw in such profusion between the Bermudas and Ham Rock. I
advised my companions to chew the laminary tangles, which they
would find contained a saccharine juice, affording considerable
relief to their parched lips and throats.
The remainder of the day passed without incident. I should not,
however, omit to mention that the frequent conferences held
amongst the sailors, especially between Owen, Burke, Flaypole,
Wilson, and Jynxtrop, the negro, aroused some uneasy suspicions
in my mind. What was the subject of their conversation I could
not discover, for they became silent immediately that a passenger
or one of the officers approached them. When I mentioned the
matter to Curtis I found he had already noticed these secret
interviews, and that they had given him enough concern to make
him determined to keep a strict eye upon Jynxtrop and Owen, who,
rascals as they were themselves, were evidently trying to
disaffect their mates.
On the 19th the heat was again excessive. The sky was cloudless,
and as there was not enough wind to fill the sail the raft lay
motionless upon the surface of the water. Some of the sailors
found a transient alleviation for their thirst by plunging into
the sea, but as we were fully aware that the water all round was
infested with sharks, none of us was rash enough to follow their
example, though if, as seems likely, we remain long becalmed, we
shall probably in time overcome our fears, and feel constrained
to indulge ourselves with a bath.
The health of Lieutenant Walter continues to cause us grave
anxiety, the young man being weakened by attacks of intermittent
fever. Except for the loss of the medicine-chest we might have
temporarily reduced this by quinine; but it is only too evident
that the poor fellow is consumptive, and that that hopeless
malady is making ravages upon him that no medicine could
permanently arrest. His sharp dry cough, his short breathing,
his profuse perspirations, more especially in the morning; the
pinched-in nose, the hollow cheeks, of which the general pallour
is only relieved by a hectic flush, the contracted lips, the too
brilliant eye and wasted form--all bear witness to a slow but
To-day, the 20th, the temperature is as high as ever, and the
raft still motionless. The rays of the sun penetrate even
through the shelter of our tent, where we sit literally gasping
with the heat. The impatience with which we awaited the moment
when the boatswain should dole out our meagre allowance of water,
and the eagerness with which those lukewarm drops were swallowed,
can only be realized by those who for themselves have endured the
agonies of thirst.
Lieutenant Walter suffers more than any of us from the scarcity
of water, and I noticed that Miss Herbey reserved almost the
whole of her own share for his use. Kind and compassionate as
ever, the young girl does all that lies in her power to relieve
the poor fellow's sufferings.
"Mr. Kazallon," she said to me this morning, "that young man gets
manifestly weaker every day."
"Yes, Miss Herbey," I replied, "and how sorrowful it is that we
can do nothing for him, absolutely nothing."
"Hush!" she said, with her wonted consideration, "perhaps he
will hear what we are saying."
And then she sat down near the edge of the raft, where, with her
head resting on her hands, she remained lost in thought.
An incident sufficiently unpleasant occurred to-day. For nearly
an hour Owen, Flaypole, Burke, and Jynxtrop had been engaged in
close conversation and, although their voices were low, their
gestures had betrayed that they were animated by some strong
excitement. At the conclusion of the colloquy Owen got up and
walked deliberately to the quarter of the raft that has been
reserved for the use of the passengers.
"Where are you off to now, Owen?" said the boatswain.
"That's my business," said the man insolently, and pursued his
The boatswain was about to stop him, but before he could
interfere Curtis was standing and looking Owen steadily in the
"Ah, captain, I've got a word from my mates to say to you," he
said, with all the effrontery imaginable.
"Say on, then," said the captain coolly.
"We should like to know about that little keg of brandy. Is it
being kept for the porpoises or the officers?"
Finding that he obtained no reply, he went on,--
"Look here, captain, what we want is to have our grog served out
every morning as usual."
"Then you certainly will not," said the captain.
"What! what!" exclaimed Owen, "don't you mean to let us have
"Once and for all, no."
For a moment, with a malicious grin upon his lips, Owen stood
confronting the captain; then, as though thinking better of
himself, he turned round and rejoined his companions, who were
still talking together in an undertone.
When I was afterwards discussing the matter with Curtis I asked
him whether he was sure he had done right in refusing the brandy.
"Right!" he cried, "to be sure I have. Allow those men to have
brandy! I would throw it all overboard first."
DECEMBER 21st.--No further disturbance has taken place amongst
the men. For a few hours the fish appeared again, and we caught
a great many of them, and stored them away in an empty barrel.
This addition to our stock of provisions makes us hope that food,
at least, will not fail us.
Usually the nights in the tropics are cool, but to-day, as
evening drew on, the wonted freshness did not return, but the,
air remained stifling and oppressive, whilst heavy masses of
vapour hung over the water.
There was no moonlight; there would be a new moon at half-past
one in the morning, but the night was singularly dark, except for
dazzling flashes of summer lightning that from time to time
illumined the horizon far and wide. There was, however, no
answering roll of thunder, and the silence of the atmosphere
seemed almost awful, For a couple of hours, in the vain hope of
catching a breath of air, Miss Herbey, Andre Letourneur, and I,
sat watching the imposing struggle of the electric vapours. The
clouds appeared like embattled turrets crested with flame, and
the very sailors, coarse-minded men as they were, seemed struck
with the grandeur of the spectacle, and regarded attentively,
though with an anxious eye, the preliminary tokens of a coming
storm. Until midnight we kept our seats upon the stern of the
raft, whilst the lightning ever and again shed around us a livid
glare similar to that produced by adding salt to lighted alcohol.
"Are you afraid of a storm, Miss Herbey?" said Andre to the
"No, Mr. Andre, my feelings are always rather those of awe than
of fear," she replied. "I consider a storm one of the sublimest
phenomena that we can behold--don't you think so too?"
"Yes, and especially when the thunder is pealing," he said; "that
majestic rolling, far different to the sharp crash of artillery,
rises and falls like the long-drawn notes of the grandest music,
and I can safely say that the tones of the most accomplished
ARTISTE have never moved me like that incomparable voice of
"Rather a deep bass, though," I said, laughing.
"That may be," he answered; "but I wish we might hear it now, for
this silent lightning is somewhat unexpressive"
"Never mind that, Andre" I said; "enjoy a storm when it comes, if
you like, but pray don't wish for it."
"And why not?" said he; "a storm will bring us wind, you know."
"And water, too," added Miss Herbey, "the water of which we are
so seriously in need."
The young people evidently wished to regard the storm from their
own point of view, and although I could have opposed plenty of
common sense to their poetical sentiments, I said no more, but
let them talk on as they pleased for fully an hour.
Meantime the sky was becoming quite overclouded, and after the
zodiacal constellations had disappeared in the mists that hung
round the horizon, one by one the stars above our heads were
veiled in dark rolling masses of vapour, from which every instant
there issued forth sheets of electricity that formed a vivid
background to the dark grey fragments of cloud that floated
As the reservoir of electricity was confined to the higher strata
of the atmosphere, the lightning was still unaccompanied by
thunder; but the dryness of the air made it a weak conductor.
Evidently the fluid could only escape by terrible shocks, and the
storm must ere long burst forth with fearful violence.
This was the opinion of Curtis and the boatswain. The boatswain
is only weather-wise from his experience as a sailor; but Curtis,
in addition to his experience, has some scientific knowledge, and
he pointed out to me an appearance in the sky known to
meteorologists as a "cloud-ring," and scarcely ever seen beyond
the regions of the torrid zone, which are impregnated by damp
vapours brought from all quarters of the ocean by the action of
"Yes, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis, "our raft has been driven into
the region of storms, of which it has been justly remarked that
any one endowed with very sensitive organs can at any moment
distinguish the growlings of thunder."
"Hark!" I said, as I strained my ears to listen, "I think I can
hear it now."
"You can," he answered; "yet what you hear is but the first
warning of the storm which, in a couple of hours, will burst upon
us with all its fury. But never mind, we must be ready for it."
Sleep, even if we wished it, would have been impossible in that
stifling temperature. The lightning increased in brilliancy, and
appeared from all quarters of the horizon, each flash covering
large arcs, varying from 100deg. to 150deg., leaving the
atmosphere pervaded by one incessant phosphorescent glow.
The thunder became at length more and more distinct, the reports,
if I may use the expression, being "round," rather than rolling.
It seemed almost as though the sky were padded with heavy clouds
of which the elasticity muffled the sound of the electric bursts.
Hitherto, the sea had been calm, almost stagnant as a pond. Now,
however, long undulations took place, which the sailors
recognized, all too well, as being the rebound produced by a
distant tempest. A ship, in such a case, would have been
instantly brought ahull, but no manoeuvring could be applied to
our raft, which could only drift before the blast.
At one o'clock in the morning one vivid flash, followed, after
the interval of a few seconds, by a loud report of thunder,
announced that the storm was rapidly approaching. Suddenly the
horizon was enveloped in a vapourous fog, and seemed to contract
until it was close around us. At the same instant the voice of
one of the sailors was heard shouting,--
"A squall! a squall!"
DECEMBER 21st, NIGHT.--The boatswain rushed to the halliards that
supported the sail, and instantly lowered the yard; and not a
moment too soon, for with the speed of an arrow the squall was
upon us, and if it had not been for the sailor's timely warning
we must all have been knocked down and probably precipitated into
the sea; as it was, our tent on the back of the raft was carried
The raft itself, however, being so nearly level with the water,
had little peril to encounter from the actual wind; but from the
mighty waves now raised by the hurricane we had everything to
dread. At first the waves had been crushed and flattened as it
were by the pressure of the air, but now, as though strengthened
by the reaction, they rose with the utmost fury. The raft
followed the motions of the increasing swell, and was tossed up
and down, to and fro, and from side to side with the most violent
oscillations "Lash yourselves tight," cried the boatswain, as he
threw us some ropes; and in a few moments, with Curtis's
assistance, M. Letourneur, Andre, Falsten, and myself were
fastened so firmly to the raft, that nothing but its total
disruption could carry us away. Miss Herbey was bound by a rope
passed round her waist to one of the uprights that had supported
our tent, and by the glare of the lightning I could see that her
countenance was as serene and composed as ever.
Then the storm began to rage indeed. Flash followed flash, peal
followed peal in quick succession. Our eyes were blinded, our
ears deafened, with the roar and glare. The clouds above, the
ocean beneath, seemed verily to have taken fire, and several
times I saw forked lightnings dart upwards from the crest of the
waves, and mingle with those that radiated from the fiery vault
above. A strong odour of sulphur pervaded the air, but though
thunderbolts fell thick around us, not one had touched our raft.
By two o'clock the storm had reached its height. The hurricane
had increased, and the heavy waves, heated to a strange heat by
the general temperature, dashed over us until we were drenched to
the skin. Curtis, Dowlas, the boatswain, and the sailors did
what they could to strengthen the raft with additional ropes. M.
Letourneur placed himself in front of Andre to shelter him from
the waves. Miss Herbey stood upright and motionless as a statue.
Soon dense masses of lurid clouds came rolling up, and a
crackling, like the rattle of musketry, resounded through the
air. This was produced by a series of electrical concussions, in
which volleys of hailstones were discharged from the cloud-
batteries above. In fact, as the storm-sheet came in contact
with a current of cold air, hail was formed with great rapidity,
and hailstones, large as nuts, came pelting down, making the
platform of the raft re-echo with a metallic ring.
For about half an hour the meteoric shower continued to descend,
and during that time the wind slightly abated in violence; but
after having shifted from quarter to quarter, it once more blew
with all its former fury. The shrouds were broken, but happily
the mast, already bending almost double, was removed by the men
from its socket before it should be snapped short off. One gust
caught away the tiller, which went adrift beyond all power of
recovery, and the same blast blew down several of the planks that
formed the low parapet on the larboard side, so that the waves
dashed in without hindrance through the breach.
The carpenter and his mates tried to repair the damage, but,
tossed from wave to wave, the raft was inclined to an angle of
more than forty-five degrees, making it impossible for them to
keep their footing, and rolling one over another, they were
thrown down by the violent shocks. Why they were not altogether
carried away, why we were not all hurled into the sea, was to me
a mystery. Even if the cords that bound us should retain their
hold, it seemed perfectly incredible that the raft itself should
not be overturned, so that we should be carried down and stifled
in the seething waters.
At last, towards three in the morning, when the hurricane seemed
to be raging more fiercely than ever, the raft, caught up on the
crest of an enormous wave, stood literally perpendicularly on its
edge. For an instant, by the illumination of the lightning, we
beheld ourselves raised to an incomprehensible height above the
foaming breakers. Cries of terror escaped our lips. All must be
over now! But no; another moment, and the raft had resumed its
horizontal position. Safe, indeed, we were, but the tremendous
upheaval was not without its melancholy consequences. The cords
that secured the cases of provisions had burst asunder. One case
rolled overboard, and the side of one of the water-barrels was
staved in, so that the water which it contained was rapidly
escaping. Two of the sailors rushed forward to rescue the case
of preserved meat; but one of them caught his foot between the
planks of the platform, and, unable to disengage it, the poor
fellow stood uttering-cries of distress.
I tried to go to his assistance, and had already untied the cord
that was round me; but I was too late. Another heavy sea dashed
over us, and by the light of a dazzling flash I saw the unhappy
man, although he had managed without assistance to disengage his
foot, washed overboard before it was in my power to get near him.
His companion had also disappeared.
The same ponderous wave laid me prostrate on the platform, and as
my head came in collision with the corner of a spar, for a time I
lost all consciousness.
DECEMBER 22nd.--Daylight came at length, and the sun broke
through and dispersed the clouds that the storm had left behind.
The struggle of the elements, while it lasted, had been terrific,
but the swoon into which I was thrown by my fall, prevented me
from observing the final incidents of the visitation. All that I
know is, that shortly after we had shipped the heavy sea that I
have mentioned, a shower of rain had the effect of calming the
severity of the hurricane, and tended to diminish the electric
tension of the atmosphere.
Thanks to the kind care of M. Letourneur and Miss Herbey, I
recovered consciousness, but I believe that it is to Robert
Curtis that I owe my real deliverance, for he it was that
prevented me from being carried away by a second heavy wave.
The tempest, fierce as it was, did not last more than a few
hours; but even in that short space of time what an irreparable
loss we have sustained, and what a load of misery seems stored up
for us in the future!
Of the two sailors who perished in the storm, one was Austin, a
fine active young man of about eight-and-twenty; the other was
old O'Ready, the survivor of so many ship wrecks. Our party is
thus reduced to sixteen souls, leaving a total barely exceeding
half the number of those who embarked on board the "Chancellor"
Curtis's first care had been to take a strict account of the
remnant of our provisions. Of all the torrents of rain that fell
in the night we were unhappily unable to catch a single drop; but
water will not fail us yet, for about fourteen gallons still
remain in the bottom of the broken barrel, whilst the second
barrel has not yet been touched. But of food we have next to
nothing. The cases containing the dried meat, and the fish that
we had preserved, have both been washed away, and all that now
remains to us is about sixty pounds of biscuit. Sixty pounds of
biscuit between sixteen persons! Eight days, with half a pound a
day apiece, will consume it all.
The day has passed away in silence. A general depression has
fallen upon all: the spectre of famine has appeared amongst us,
and each has remained wrapped in his own gloomy meditations,
though each has doubtless but one idea dominant in his mind.
Once, as I passed near the group of sailors lying on the fore
part of the raft, I heard Flaypole say with a sneer,--
"Those who are going to die had better make haste about it."
"Yes," said Owen, "leave their share of food to others."
At the regular hour each person received his half-pound of
biscuit. Some, I noticed, swallowed it ravenously, others
reserved it for another time. Falsten divided his ration into
several portions, corresponding, I believe, to the number of
meals to which he was ordinarily accustomed. What prudence he
Back to Full Books