The Survivors of the Chancellor
Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Judy Boss, Omaha, Nebraska
CHARLES F. HORNE
THE SURVIVORS OF THE CHANCELLOR
was issued in 1875. Shipwrecks occur
in other of Verne's tales; but this is his only
story devoted wholly to such a disaster. In it
the author has gathered all the tragedy, the
mystery, and the suffering possible to the sea. All the vari-
ous forms of disaster, all the possibilities of horror, the
depths of shame and agony, are heaped upon these unhappy
voyagers. The accumulation is mathematically complete
and emotionally unforgettable. The tale has well been called
the "imperishable epic of shipwreck."
The idea of the book is said to have originated in the cele-
brated French painting by Gericault, "the Wreck of the
Medusa," now in the Louvre gallery. The Medusa was a
French frigate wrecked off the coast of Africa in 1816.
Some of the survivors, escaping on a raft, were rescued by
a passing ship after many days of torture. Verne, however,
seems also to have drawn upon the terrifying experiences of
the British ship Sarah Sands in 1857, her story being fresh
in the public mind at the time he wrote. The Sarah Sands
caught fire off the African coast while on a voyage to India
carrying British troops. There was gunpowder aboard li-
able to blow up at any moment. Some of it did indeed ex-
plode, tearing a huge hole in the vessel's side. A storm
added to the terror, and the waters entering the breach
caused by the explosion, combated with the fire. After ten
days of desperate struggle, the charred and sinking vessel
reached a port.
The extreme length of life which Verne allows his people
in their starving, thirsting condition is proven possible by
medical science and recent "fasting"' experiments. The
dramatic climax of the tale wherein the castaways find fresh
water in the ocean is based upon a fact, one of those odd
geographical facts of which the author made such frequent,
skillful and instructive use.
"Michael Strogoff" which, through its use as a stage
play, has become one of the best known books of all the
world, was first published in 1876. Its vivid, powerful
story has made it a favorite with every red-blooded reader.
Its two well-drawn female characters, the courageous hero-
ine, and the stern, endurant, yearning mother, show how
well Verne could depict the tenderer sex when he so willed.
Though usually the rapid movement and adventure of his
stories leave women in subordinate parts.
As to the picture drawn in "Michael Strogoff" of Russia
and Siberia, it is at once instructive and sympathetic.
The horrors are not blinked at, yet neither is Russian patri-
otism ignored. The loyalty of some of the Siberian exiles
to their mother country is a side of life there which is too
often ignored by writers who dwell only on the darker view.
The Czar, in our author's hands, becomes the hero figure
to the erection of which French "hero worship" is ever
prone. The sarcasms thrown occasionally at the British
newspaper correspondent of the story, show the changing
attitude of Verne toward England, and reflect the French
spirit of his day.
The Survivors of the Chancellor
by Jules Verne
CHARLESTON, September 27, 1898. -- It is
high tide, and three o'clock in the afternoon
when we leave the Battery quay; the ebb
carries us off shore, and as Captain Huntly
has hoisted both main and top sails, the north-
erly breeze drives the Chancellor briskly
across the bay. Fort Sumter ere long is doubled, the
sweeping batteries of the mainland on our left are soon
passed, and by four o'clock the rapid current of the ebbing
tide has carried us through the harbor mouth.
But as yet we have not reached the open sea we have still
to thread our way through the narrow channels which the
surge has hollowed out amongst the sand-banks. The
captain takes a southwest course, rounding the lighthouse
at the corner of the fort; the sails are closely trimmed; the
last sandy point is safely coasted, and at length, at seven
o'clock in the evening, we are out free upon the wide At-
The Chancellor is a fine square-rigged three-master, of
900 tons burden, and belongs to the wealthy Liverpool firm
of Laird Brothers. She is two years old, is sheathed and
secured with copper, her decks being of teak, and the base
of all her masts, except the mizzen, with all their fittings,
being of iron. She is registered first class, A 1, and is now
on her third voyage between Charleston and Liverpool. As
she wended her way through the channels of Charleston
harbor, it was the British flag that was lowered from her
mast-head; but without colors at all, no sailor could have
hesitated for a moment in telling her nationality, -- for Eng-
lish she was, and nothing but English from her water-line
upward to the truck of her masts.
I must now relate how it happens that I have taken my
passage on board the Chancellor on her return voyage to
At present there is no direct steamship service between
South Carolina and Great Britain, and all who wish to cross
must go either northward to New York or southward to
New Orleans. It is quite true that if I had chosen a start
from New York I might have found plenty of vessels be-
longing to English, French, or Hamburg lines, any of which
would have conveyed me by a rapid voyage to my destina-
tion; and it is equally true that if I had selected New Or-
leans for my embarkation I could readily have reached
Europe by one of the vessels of the National Steam Naviga-
tion Company, which join the French transatlantic line
of Colon and Aspinwall. But it was fated to be otherwise.
One day, as I was loitering about the Charleston quays,
my eye lighted on this vessel. There was something about
the Chancellor that pleased me, and a kind of involuntary
impulse took me on board, where I found the internal ar-
rangements perfectly comfortable. Yielding to the idea
that a voyage in a sailing vessel had certain charms beyond
the transit in a steamer, and reckoning that with wind and
wave in my favor there would be little material difference
in time; considering, moreover, that in these low latitudes
the weather in early autumn is fine and unbroken, I came
to my decision, and proceeded forthwith to secure my pas-
sage by this route to Europe.
Have I done right or wrong? Whether I shall have rea-
son to regret my determination is a problem to be solved in
the future. However, I will begin to record the incidents
of our daily experience, dubious as I feel whether the lines
of my chronicle will ever find a reader.
CREW AND PASSENGERS
SEPTEMBER 28. -- John Silas Huntly, the captain of the
Chancellor, has the reputation of being a most experienced
navigator of the Atlantic. He is a Scotchman by birth,
a native of Dundee, and is about fifty years of age. He is
of the middle height and slight build, and has a small head,
which he has a habit of holding a little over his left shoulder.
I do not pretend to be much of a physiognomist, but I am
inclined to believe that my few hours' acquaintance with our
captain has given me considerable insight into his charac-
ter. That he is a good seaman and thoroughly understands
his duties I could not for a moment venture to deny; but
that he is a man of resolute temperament, or that he pos-
sesses the amount of courage that would render him, phy-
sically or morally, capable of coping with any great emer-
gency, I confess I cannot believe. I observed a certain
heaviness and dejection about his whole carriage. His
wavering glances, the listless motion of his hands, and his
slow, unsteady gait, all seem to me to indicate a weak and
sluggish disposition. He does not appear as though he
could be energetic enough ever to be stubborn; he never
frowns, sets his teeth, or clenches his fists. There is some-
thing enigmatical about him; however, I shall study him
closely, and do what I can to understand the man who, as
commander of a vessel, should be to those around him
"second only to God."
Unless I am greatly mistaken there is another man on
board who, if circumstances should require it, would take
the more prominent position -- I mean the mate. I have
hitherto, however, had so little opportunity of observing his
character, that I must defer saying more about him at pres-
Besides the captain and this mate, whose name is Robert
Curtis, our crew consists of Walter, the lieutenant, the boat-
swain, and fourteen sailors, all English or Scotch, making
eighteen altogether, a number quite sufficient for working
a vessel of 900 tons burden. Up to this time my sole ex-
perience of their capabilities is, that under the command of
the mate, they brought us skillfully enough through the
narrow channels of Charleston; and I have no reason to
doubt that they are well up to their work.
My list of the ship's officials is incomplete unless I men-
tion Hobart the steward and Jynxstrop the negro cook.
In addition to these, the Chancellor carries eight pas-
sengers, including myself. Hitherto, the bustle of em-
barkation, the arrangement of cabins, and all the variety of
preparations inseparable from starting on a voyage for at
least twenty or five-and-twenty days have precluded the
formation of any acquaintanceships; but the monotony of
the voyage, the close proximity into which we must be
thrown, and the natural curiosity to know something of each
other's affairs, will doubtless lead us in due time to an ex-
change of ideas. Two days have elapsed and I have not
even seen all the passengers. Probably sea-sickness has
prevented some of them from making an appearance at the
common table. One thing, however, I do know; namely,
that there are two ladies occupying the stern cabin, the win-
dows of which are in the aft-board of the vessel.
I have seen the ship's list, and subjoin a list of the pas-
sengers. They are as follows:
Mr. and Mrs. Kear, Americans, of Buffalo.
Miss Herbey, a young English lady, companion to Mrs.
M. Letourneur and his son Andre, Frenchmen, of Havre.
William Falsten, a Manchester engineer.
John Ruby, a Cardiff merchant; and myself, J. R. Kazal-
lon, of London.
BILL OF LADING
SEPTEMBER 29. -- Captain Huntly's bill of lading, that is
to say, the document that describes the Chancellor's cargo
and the conditions of transport, is couched in the following
Bronsfield and Co., Agents, Charleston:
I, John Silas Huntly, of Dundee, Scotland, commander
of the ship Chancellor, of about 900 tons burden, now at
Charleston, do purpose, by the blessing of God, at the earli-
est convenient season, and by the direct route, to sail for the
port of Liverpool, where I shall obtain my discharge. I
do hereby acknowledge that I have received from you,
Messrs. Bronsfield and Co., Commission Agents, Charles-
ton, and have placed the same under the gun-deck of the
aforesaid ship, seventeen hundred bales of cotton, of the
estimated value of 26,000 L., all in good condition, marked
and numbered as in the margin; which goods I do undertake
to transport to Liverpool, and there to deliver, free from
injury (save only such injury as shall have been caused by
the chances of the sea), to Messrs. Laird Brothers, or to
their order, or to their representatives, who shall on due
delivery of the said freight pay me the sum of 2,000 L. inclu-
sive, according to the charter-party, and damages in addi-
tion, according to the usages and customs of the sea.
And for the fulfillment of the above covenant, I have
pledged and do pledge my person, my property, and my
interest in the vessel aforesaid, with all its appurtenances.
In witness whereof, I have signed three agreements all of
the same purport, on the condition that when the terms of
one are accomplished, the other two shall be absolutely null
Given at Charleston, September 13th, 1869.
J. S. HUNTLY.
From the foregoing document it will be understood that
the Chancellor is conveying 1,700 bales of cotton to Liver-
pool; that the shippers are Bronsfield, of Charleston, and
the consignees are Laird Brothers of Liverpool. The ship
was constructed with the especial design of carrying cotton,
and the entire hold, with the exception of a very limited
space reserved for passenger's luggage, is closely packed
with the bales. The lading was performed with the utmost
care, each bale being pressed into its proper place by the
aid of screw-jacks, so that the whole freight forms one solid
and compact mass; not an inch of space is wasted, and the
vessel is thus made capable of carrying her full complement
SOMETHING ABOUT MY FELLOW PASSENGERS
SEPTEMBER 30 to October 6. -- The Chancellor is a rapid
sailer, and more than a match for many a vessel of the
same dimensions. She scuds along merrily in the freshen-
ing breeze, leaving in her wake, far as the eye can reach, a
long white line of foam as well defined as a delicate strip
of lace stretched upon an azure ground.
The Atlantic is not visited by many gales, and I have
every reason to believe that the rolling and pitching of the
vessel no longer incommode any of the passengers, who are
all more or less accustomed to the sea. A vacant seat at
our table is now very rare; we are beginning to know some-
thing about each other, and our daily life, in consequence,
is becoming somewhat less monotonous.
M. Letourneur, our French fellow-passenger, often has
a chat with me. He is a fine tall man, about fifty years of
age, with white hair and a grizzly beard. To say the truth,
he looks older than he really is: his drooping head, his de-
jected manner, and his eye, ever and again suffused with
tears, indicate that he is haunted by some deep and abiding
sorrow. He never laughs; he rarely even smiles, and then
only on his son; his countenance ordinarily bearing a look
of bitterness tempered by affection, while his general ex-
pression is one of caressing tenderness. It excites an invol-
untary commiseration to learn that M. Letourneur is con-
suming himself by exaggerated reproaches on account of
the infirmity of an afflicted son.
Andre Letourneur is about twenty years of age, with a
gentle, interesting countenance, but, to the irrepressible
grief of his father, is a hopeless cripple. His left leg is
miserably deformed, and he is quite unable to walk without
the assistance of a stick. It is obvious that the father's
life is bound up with that of his son; his devotion is unceas-
ing; every thought, every glance is for Andre; he seems to
anticipate his most trifling wish, watches his slightest move-
ment, and his arm is ever ready to support or otherwise
assist the child whose sufferings he more than shares.
M. Letourneur seems to have taken a peculiar fancy to
myself, and constantly talks about Andre. This morning,
in the course of conversation, I said:
"You have a good son, M. Letourneur. I have just
been talking to him. He is a most intelligent young man."
"Yes, Mr. Kazallon," replied M. Letourneur, brighten-
ing up into a smile, "his afflicted frame contains a noble
mind. He is like his mother, who died at his birth."
"He is full of reverence and love for you, sir," I re-
"Dear boy!" muttered the father half to himself. "Ah,
Mr. Kazallon," he continued, "you do not know what it is
to a father to have a son a cripple, beyond hope of cure."
"M. Letourneur," I answered, "you take more than your
share of the affliction which has fallen upon you and your
son. That M. Andre is entitled to the very greatest com-
miseration no one can deny; but you should remember, that
after all a physical infirmity is not so hard to bear as mental
grief. Now, I have watched your son pretty closely, and
unless I am much mistaken there is nothing that troubles
him so much as the sight of your own sorrow."
"But I never let him see it," he broke in hastily. "My
sole thought is how to divert him. I have discovered that,
in spite of his physical weakness, he delights in traveling;
so for the last few years we have been constantly on the
move. We first went all over Europe, and are now re-
turning from visiting the principal places in the United
States. I never allowed my son to go to college, but in-
structed him entirely myself, and these travels, I hope, will
serve to complete his education. He is very intelligent, and
has a lively imagination, and I am sometimes tempted to
hope that in contemplating the wonders of nature he forgets
his own infirmity."
"Yes, sir, of course he does," I assented.
"But," continued M. Letourneur, taking my hand, "al-
though, perhaps, HE may forget, I can never forget. Ah,
sir, do you suppose that Andre can ever forgive his parents
for bringing him into the world a cripple?"
The remorse of the unhappy father was very distressing,
and I was about to say a few kind words of sympathy when
Andre himself made his appearance. M. Letourneur has-
tened toward him and assisted him up the few steep steps
that led to the poop.
As soon as Andre was comfortably seated on one of the
benches, and his father had taken his place by his side, I
joined them, and we fell into conversation upon ordinary
topics, discussing the various points of the Chancellor, the
probable length of the passage, and the different details of
our life on board. I find that M. Letourneur's estimate of
Captain Huntly's character very much coincides with my
own, and that, like me, he is impressed with the man's un-
decided manner and sluggish appearance. Like me, too, he
has formed a very favorable opinion of Robert Curtis, the
mate, a man of about thirty years of age, of great muscular
power, with a frame and a will that seem ever ready for
While we were still talking of him, Curtis himself came
on deck, and as I watched his movements I could not help
being struck with his physical development; his erect and
easy carriage, his fearless glance and slightly contracted
brow all betoken a man of energy, thoroughly endowed
with the calmness and courage that are indispensable to the
true sailor. He seems a kind-hearted fellow, too, and is al-
ways ready to assist and amuse young Letourneur, who evi-
dently enjoys his company. After he had scanned the
weather and examined the trim of the sails, he joined our
party and proceeded to give us some information about those
of our fellow-passengers with whom at present we have
made but slight acquaintance.
Mr. Kear, the American, who is accompanied by his wife,
has made a large fortune in the petroleum springs in the
United States. He is a man of about fifty, a most uninter-
esting companion, being overwhelmed with a sense of his
own wealth and importance, and consequently supremely
indifferent to all around him. His hands are always in his
pockets, and the chink of money seems to follow him
wherever he goes. Vain and conceited, a fool as well as an
egotist, he struts about like a peacock showing its plumage,
and to borrow the words of the physiognomist Gratiolet,
"il se flaire, il se savoure, il se goute." Why he should
have taken his passage on board a mere merchant vessel
instead of enjoying the luxuries of a transatlantic steamer,
I am altogether at a loss to explain.
The wife is an insignificant, insipid woman, of about
forty years of age. She never reads, never talks, and I
believe I am not wrong in saying, never thinks. She seems
to look without seeing, and listen without hearing, and her
sole occupation consists in giving her orders to her com-
panion, Miss Herbey, a young English girl of about twenty.
Miss Herbey is extremely pretty. Her complexion is
fair and her eyes deep blue, while her pleasing countenance
is altogether free from that insignificance of feature which
is not unfrequently alleged to be characteristic of English
beauty. Her mouth would be charming if she ever smiled,
but, exposed as she is to the ridiculous whims and fancies
of a capricious mistress, her lips rarely relax from their
ordinary grave expression. Yet, humiliating as her posi-
tion must be, she never utters a word of open complaint,
but quietly and gracefully performs her duties, accepting
without a murmur the paltry salary which the bumptious
petroleum-merchant condescends to allow her.
The Manchester engineer, William Falsten, looks like a
thorough Englishman. He has the management of some
extensive hydraulic works in South Carolina, and is now on
his way to Europe to obtain some improved apparatus, and
more especially to visit the mines worked by centrifugal
force, belonging to the firm of Messrs. Cail. He is forty-
five years of age, with all his interests so entirely absorbed
by his machinery that he seems to have neither a thought
nor a care beyond his mechanical calculations. Once let
him engage you in conversation, and there is no chance of
escape; you have no help for it but to listen as patiently
as you can until he has completed the explanation of his
The last of our fellow-passengers, Mr. Ruby, is the type
of a vulgar tradesman. Without any originality or
magnanimity in his composition, he has spent twenty years
of his life in mere buying and selling, and as he has gener-
ally contrived to do business at a profit, he has realized a
considerable fortune. What he is going to do with the
money, he does not seem able to say: his ideas do not go
beyond retail trade, his mind having been so long closed to
all other impressions that it appears incapable of thought
or reflection on any subject besides. Pascal says,
"L'homme est visiblement fait pour penser. C'est toute
sa dignite et tout son merite;" but to Mr. Ruby the phrase
seems altogether inapplicable.
AN UNUSUAL ROUTE
OCTOBER 7. -- This is the tenth day since we left Charles-
ton, and I should think our progress has been very rapid.
Robert Curtis, the mate, with whom I continue to have
many a friendly chat, informed me that we could not be far
off the Bermudas; the ship's bearings, he said, were lat.
32 deg. 20' N. and long. 64 deg. 50' W. so that he had every reason
to believe that we should sight St. George's Island before
"The Bermudas!" I exclaimed. "But how is it we are
off the Bermudas? I should have thought that a vessel sail-
ing from Charleston to Liverpool, would have kept north-
ward, and have followed the track of the Gulf Stream."
"Yes, indeed, sir," replied Curtis, "that is the usual
course; but you see that this time the captain hasn't chosen
to take it."
"But why not?" I persisted.
"That's not for me to say, sir; he ordered us eastward,
and eastward we go."
"Haven't you called his attention to it?" I inquired.
Curtis acknowledged that he had already pointed out
what an unusual route they were taking, but that the cap-
tain had said that he was quite aware what he was about.
The mate made no further remark; but the knit of his brow,
as he passed his hand mechanically across his forehead,
made me fancy that he was inclined to speak out more
"All very well, Curtis," I said, "but I don't know what
to think about trying new routes. Here we are at the 7th
of October, and if we are to reach Europe before the bad
weather sets in, I should suppose there is not a day to be
"Right, sir, quite right; there is not a day to be lost."
Struck by his manner, I ventured to add, "Do you mind,
Curtis, giving me your honest opinion of Captain Huntly?"
He hesitated a moment, and then replied shortly, "He is
my captain, sir."
This evasive answer of course put an end to any further
interrogation on my part.
Curtis was not mistaken. At about three o'clock the
look-out man sung out that there was land to windward,
and descried what seemed as if it might be a line of smoke
in the northeast horizon. At six, I went on deck with M.
Letourneur and his son, and we could then distinctly make
out the low group of the Bermudas, encircled by their
formidable chain of breakers.
"There," said Andre Letourneur to me, as we stood gaz-
ing at the distant land, "there lies the enchanted archipel-
ago, sung by your poet Moore. The exile Waller, too, as
long ago as 1643, wrote an enthusiastic panegyric on the
islands, and I have been told that at one time English ladies
would wear no other bonnets than such as were made of the
leaves of the Bermuda palm."
"Yes," I replied, "the Bermudas were all the rage in
the seventeenth century, although latterly they have fallen
into comparative oblivion."
"But let me tell you, M. Andre," interposed Curtis, who
had as usual joined our party, "that although poets may
rave, and be as enthusiastic as they like about these islands,
sailors will tell a different tale. The hidden reefs that lie
in a semicircle about two or three leagues from shore make
the attempt to land a very dangerous piece of business.
And another thing, I know. Let the natives boast as they
will about their splendid climate, they are visited by the
most frightful hurricanes. They get the fag-end of the
storms that rage over the Antilles; and the fag-end of a
storm is like the tail of a whale; it's just the strongest bit of
it. I don't think you'll find a sailor listening much to your
poets -- your Moores, and your Wallers."
"No doubt you are right, Mr. Curtis," said Andre, smil-
ing, "but poets are like proverbs; you can always find one
to contradict another. Although Waller and Moore have
chosen to sing the praises of the Bermudas, it has been sup-
posed that Shakspeare was depicting them in the terrible
scenes that are found in 'The Tempest.'"
I may mention that there was not another of our fellow-
passengers who took the trouble to come on deck and give
a glance at this strange cluster of islands. Miss Herbey, it
is true, was making an attempt to join us, but she had barely
reached the poop, when Mrs. Kear's languid voice was
heard recalling her for some trifling service to her side.
THE SARGASSO SEA
OCTOBER 8 to October 13. -- The wind is blowing hard
from the northeast, and the Chancellor, under low-reefed
top-sail and fore-sail, and laboring against a heavy sea, has
been obliged to be brought ahull. The joists and girders
all creak again until one's teeth are set on edge. I am the
only passenger not remaining below; but I prefer being on
deck notwithstanding the driving rain, fine as dust, which
penetrates to the very skin. We have been driven along in
this fashion for the best part of two days; the "stiffish
breeze" has gradually freshened into "a gale"; the top-
gallants have been lowered, and, as I write, the wind is
blowing with a velocity of fifty or sixty miles an hour. Al-
though the Chancellor has many good points, her drift is
considerable, and we have been carried far to the south; we
can only guess at our precise position, as the cloudy at-
mosphere entirely precludes us from taking the sun's alti-
All along, throughout this period, my fellow-passengers
are totally ignorant of the extraordinary course that we are
taking. England lies to the northeast, yet we are sailing
directly southeast, and Robert Curtis owns that he is quite be-
wildered; he cannot comprehend why the captain, ever since
this northeasterly gale has been blowing, should persist in
allowing the ship to drive to the south, instead of tacking
to the northwest until she gets into better quarters.
I was alone with Robert Curtis to-day upon the poop,
and could not help saying to him, "Curtis, is your captain
"Perhaps, sir, I might be allowed to ask what YOU think
upon that matter," was his cautious reply.
"Well, to say the truth," I answered. "I can hardly tell;
but I confess there is every now and then a wandering in
his eye, and an odd look on his face that I do not like.
Have you ever sailed with him before?"
"No; this is our first voyage together. Again last night
I spoke to him about the route we were taking, but he only
said he knew all about it, and that it was all right."
"What do Lieutenant Walter and your boatswain think
of it all?" I inquired.
"Think; why, they think just the same as I do," replied
the mate; "but if the captain chooses to take the ship to
China we should obey his orders."
"But surely," I exclaimed, "there must be some limit to
your obedience! Suppose the man is actually mad, what
"If he should be mad enough, Mr. Kazallon, to bring the
vessel into any real danger, I shall know what to do."
With this assurance I am forced to be content. Matters,
however, have taken a different turn to what I bargained
for when I took my passage on board the Chancellor. The
weather has become worse and worse. As I have already
said, the ship under her large low-reefed top-sail and fore
stay-sail has been brought ahull, that is to say, she copes
directly with the wind, by presenting her broad bows to the
sea; and so we go on still drift, drift, continually to the
How southerly our course has been is very apparent; for
upon the night of the 11th we fairly entered upon that por-
tion of the Atlantic which is known as the Sargasso Sea.
An extensive tract of water is this, inclosed by the warm
current of the Gulf Stream, and thickly covered with the
wrack, called by the Spaniards "sargasso," the abundance
of which so seriously impeded the progress of Columbus's
vessel on his first voyage.
Each morning at daybreak the Atlantic has presented an
aspect so remarkable, that at my solicitation, M. Letourneur
and his son have ventured upon deck to witness the unusual
spectacle. The squally gusts make the metal shrouds
vibrate like harp-strings; and unless we were on our guard
to keep our clothes wrapped tightly to us, they would have
been torn off our backs in shreds. The scene presented to
our eyes is one of strangest interest. The sea, carpeted
thickly with masses of prolific fucus, is a vast unbroken
plain of vegetation, through which the vessel makes her way
as a plow. Long strips of seaweed caught up by the wind
become entangled in the rigging, and hang between the
masts in festoons of verdure; while others, varying from
two to three hundred feet in length, twine themselves up to
the very mast-head, from whence they float like streaming
pennants. For many hours now, the Chancellor has been
contending with this formidable accumulation of algae; her
masts are circled with hydrophytes; her rigging is wreathed
everywhere with creepers, fantastic as the untrammeled ten-
drils of a vine, and as she works her arduous course, there
are times when I can only compare her to an animated
grove of verdure making its mysterious way over some
VOICES IN THE NIGHT
OCTOBER 14. -- At last we are free from the sea of vegeta-
tion, the boisterous gale has moderated into a steady breeze,
the sun is shining brightly, the weather is warm and genial,
and thus, two reefs in her top-sails, briskly and merrily
sails the Chancellor.
Under conditions so favorable, we have been able to take
the ship's bearings: our latitude, we find, is 21 deg. 33' N., our
longitude, 50 deg. 17' W.
Incomprehensible altogether is the conduct of Captain
Huntly. Here we are, already more than ten degrees south
of the point from which we started, and yet still we are per-
sistently following a southeasterly course! I cannot bring
myself to the conclusion that the man is mad. I have had
various conversations with him: he has always spoken
rationally and sensibly. He shows no tokens of insanity.
Perhaps his case is one of those in which insanity is partial,
and where the mania is of a character which extends only
to the matters connected with his profession. Yet it is un-
I can get nothing out of Curtis; he listens coldly when-
ever I allude to the subject, and only repeats what he has
said before, that nothing short of an overt act of madness
on the part of the captain could induce him to supersede the
captain's authority, and that the imminent peril of the ship
could alone justify him in taking so decided a measure.
Last evening I went to my cabin about eight o'clock, and
after an hour's reading by the light of my cabin-lamp, I
retired to my berth and was soon asleep. Some hours later
I was aroused by an unaccustomed noise on deck. There
were heavy footsteps hurrying to and fro, and the voices
of the men were loud and eager, as if the crew were agitated
by some strange disturbance. My first impression was, that
some tacking had been ordered which rendered it needful
to fathom the yards; but the vessel continuing to lie to star-
board convinced me that this was not the origin of the com-
motion. I was curious to know the truth, and made all
haste I could to go on deck; but before I was ready, the
noise had ceased. I heard Captain Huntly return to his
cabin, and accordingly I retired again to my own berth.
Whatever may have been the meaning of the maneuver, I
cannot tell; it did not seem to result in any improvement
in the ship's pace; still it must be owned there was not much
wind to speed us along.
At six o'clock this morning I mounted the poop and made
as keen a scrutiny as I could of everything on board.
Everything appeared as usual. The Chancellor was run-
ning on the larboard tack, and carried low-sails, top-sails,
and gallant-sails. Well braced she was; and under a fresh,
but not uneasy breeze, was making no less than eleven knots
Shortly afterward M. Letourneur and Andre came on
deck. The young man enjoyed the early morning air,
laden with its briny fragrance, and I assisted him to mount
the poop. In answer to my inquiry as to whether they had
been disturbed by any bustle in the night, Andre replied
that he did not wake at all, and had heard nothing.
"I am glad, my boy," said the father, "that you have
slept so soundly. I heard the noise of which Mr. Kazallon
speaks. It must have been about three o'clock this morning,
and it seemed to me as though they were shouting. I
thought I heard them say; 'Here, quick, look to the
hatches!' but as nobody was called up, I presumed that
nothing serious was the matter."
As he spoke I cast my eye at the panel-slides, which fore
and aft of the main-mast open into the hold. They seemed
to be all close as usual, but I now observed for the first time
that they were covered with heavy tarpauling. Wondering
in my own mind what could be the reason for these ex-
tra precautions I did not say anything to M. Letourneur,
but determined to wait until the mate should come on watch,
when he would doubtless give me, I thought, an explanation
of the mystery.
The sun rose gloriously, with every promise of a fine
dry day. The waning moon was yet above the western
horizon, for as it still wants three days to her last quarter
she does not set until 10:57 A. M. On consulting my al-
manac, I find that there will be a new moon on the 24th,
and that on that day, little as it may affect us here in mid-
ocean, the phenomenon of the high sygyzian tides will take
place on the shores of every continent and island.
At the breakfast hour M. Letourneur and Andre went
below for a cup of tea, and I remained on the poop alone.
As I expected, Curtis appeared, that he might relieve Lieu-
tenant Walter of the watch. I advanced to meet him, but be-
fore he even wished me good morning, I saw him cast a
quick and searching glance upon the deck, and then, with a
slightly contracted brow, proceed to examine the state of
the weather and the trim of the sails.
"Where is Captain Huntly?" he said to Walter.
"I have seen nothing of him," answered the lieutenant;
"is there anything fresh up?"
"Nothing whatever," was the curt reply.
They then conversed for a few moments in an undertone,
and I could see that Walter by his gesture gave a negative
answer to some question which the mate had asked him.
"Send me the boatswain, Walter," said Curtis aloud as the
lieutenant moved away.
The boatswain immediately appeared, and another con-
versation was carried on in whispers. The man repeatedly
shook his head as he replied to Curtis's inquiries, and then,
in obedience to orders, called the men who were on watch,
and made them plentifully water the tarpauling that covered
the great hatchway.
Curious to fathom the mystery I went up to Curtis and
began to talk with him upon ordinary topics, hoping that
he would himself introduce the subject that was uppermost
in my mind; finding, however, that he did not allude to it, I
asked him point blank:
"What was the matter in the night, Curtis?"
He looked at me steadily, but made no reply.
"What was it?" I repeated. "M. Letourneur and my-
self were both of us disturbed by a very unusual commotion
"Oh, a mere nothing," he said at length; "the man at
the helm had made a false move, and we had to pipe hands
to brace the ship a bit; but it was soon all put to rights. It
was nothing, nothing at all."
I said no more; but I can not resist the impression that
Robert Curtis has not acted with me in his usual straight-
FIRE ON BOARD
OCTOBER 15 to October 18. -- The wind is still in the
northeast. There is no change in the Chancellor's course,
and to an unprejudiced eye all would appear to be going on
as usual. But I have an uneasy consciousness that some-
thing is not quite right. Why should the hatchways be so
hermetically closed as though a mutinous crew was im-
prisoned between decks? I can not help thinking too that
there is something in the sailors so constantly standing in
groups and breaking off their talk so suddenly whenever we
approach; and several times I have caught the word
"hatches" which arrested M. Letourneur's attention on the
night of the disturbance.
On the 15th, while I was walking on the forecastle, I over-
heard one of the sailors, a man named Owen, say to his
"Now I just give you all warning that I am not going
to wait until the last minute. Everyone for himself, say I."
"Why, what do you mean to do?" asked Jynxstrop, the
"Pshaw!" said Owen, "do you suppose that longboats
were only made for porpoises?"
Something at that moment occurred to interrupt the con-
versation, and I heard no more. It occurred to me whether
there was not some conspiracy among the crew, of which
probably Curtis had already detected the symptoms. I am
quite aware that some sailors are most rebelliously disposed,
and required to be ruled with a rod of iron.
Yesterday and to-day I have observed Curtis remonstrat-
ing somewhat vehemently with Captain Huntly, but there
is no obvious result arising from their interviews; the cap-
tain apparently being bent upon some purpose, of which it
is only too manifest that the mate decidedly disapproves.
Captain Huntly is undoubtedly laboring under strong
nervous excitement; and M. Letourneur has more than once
remarked how silent he has become at meal-times; for al-
though Curtis continually endeavors to start some subject
of general interest, yet neither Mr. Falsten, Mr. Kear, nor
Mr. Ruby are the men to take it up, and consequently the
conversation flags hopelessly, and soon drops. The pas-
sengers too are now, with good cause, beginning to murmur
at the length of the voyage, and Mr. Kear, who considers
that the very elements ought to yield to his convenience, lets
the captain know by his consequential and haughty manner
that he holds him responsible for the delay.
During the course of yesterday the mate gave repeated
orders for the deck to be watered again and again, and al-
though as a general rule this is a business which is done, once
for all, in the early morning, the crew did not utter a word
of complaint at the additional work thus imposed upon them.
The tarpaulins on the hatches have thus been kept con-
tinually wet, so that their close and heavy texture is rendered
quite impervious to the air. The Chancellor's pumps afford
a copious supply of water, so that I should not suppose that
even the daintiest and most luxurious craft belonging to an
aristocratic yacht club was ever subject to a more thorough
scouring. I tried to reconcile myself to the belief that it
was the high temperature of the tropical regions upon which
we are entering, that rendered such extra sousings a neces-
sity, and recalled to my recollection how, during the night
of the 13th, I had found the atmosphere below deck so
stifling, that in spite of the heavy swell I was obliged to open
the porthole of my cabin, on the starboard side, to get a
breath of air.
This morning at daybreak I went on deck. The sun had
scarcely risen, and the air was fresh and cool, in strange con-
trast to the heat which below the poop had been quite op-
pressive. The sailors as usual were washing the deck. A
great sheet of water, supplied continuously by the pumps,
was rolling in tiny wavelets, and escaping now to starboard,
now to larboard through the scupper-holes. After watch-
ing the men for a while as they ran about bare-footed, I
could not resist the desire to join them, so taking off my
shoes and stockings, I proceeded to dabble in the flowing
Great was my amazement to find the deck perfectly hot to
my feet! Curtis heard my exclamation of surprise, and be-
fore I could put my thoughts into words, said:
"Yes! there is fire on board!"
CURTIS EXPLAINS THE SITUATION
OCTOBER 19. -- Everything, then, is clear. The uneas-
iness of the crew, their frequent conferences, Owen's mys-
terious words, the constant scourings of the deck and the
oppressive heat of the cabins which had been noticed even
by my fellow-passengers, all are explained.
After his grave communication, Curtis remained silent.
I shivered with a thrill of horror; a calamity the most ter-
rible that can befall a voyager stared me in the face, and it
was some seconds before I could recover sufficient com-
posure to inquire when the fire was first discovered.
"Six days ago," replied the mate.
"Six days ago!" I exclaimed; "why, then, it was that
"Yes," he said, interrupting me; "it was the night you
heard the disturbance upon deck. The men on watch no-
ticed a slight smoke issuing from the large hatchway and
immediately called Captain Huntly and myself. We found
beyond all doubt, that the cargo was on fire, and what was
worse, that there was no possibility of getting at the seat of
the combustion. What could we do? Why, we took the
only precaution that was practicable under the circumstances,
and resolved most carefully to exclude every breath of air
from penetrating into the hold. For some time I hoped that
we had been successful. I thought that the fire was stifled;
but during the last three days there is every reason to make
us know that it has been gaining strength. Do what we
will, the deck gets hotter and hotter, and unless it were kept
constantly wet, it would be unbearable to the feet. But I
am glad, Mr. Kazallon," he added; "that you have made
the discovery. It is better that you should know it." I
listened in silence. I was now fully aroused to the gravity of
the situation and thoroughly comprehended how we were in
the very face of a calamity which it seemed that no human
power could avert.
"Do you know what has caused the fire?" I presently
"It probably arose," he answered, "from the sponta-
neous combustion of the cotton. The case is rare, but it is
far from unknown. Unless the cotton is perfectly dry when
it is shipped, its confinement in a damp or ill-ventilated hold
will sometimes cause it to ignite; and I have no doubt it is
this that has brought about our misfortune."
"But after all," I said, "the cause matters very little.
Is there no remedy? Is there nothing to be done?"
"Nothing, Mr. Kazallon," he said. "As I told you be-
fore, we have adopted the only possible measure within our
power to check the fire. At one time I thought of knock-
ing a hole in the ship's timbers just on her water-line, and
letting in just as much water as the pumps could afterward
get rid of again; but we found the combustion was right in
the middle of the cargo and that we should be obliged to
flood the entire hold before we could get at the right place.
That scheme consequently was no good. During the night,
I had the deck bored in various places and water poured
down through the holes; but that again seemed of no use.
There is only one thing that can be done; we must persevere
in excluding most carefully every breath of outer air, so that
perhaps the conflagration, deprived of oxygen, may smoulder
itself out. That is our only hope."
"But, you say the fire is increasing?"
"Yes; and that shows that in spite of all our care there
is some aperture which we have not been able to discover,
by which, somehow or other, air gets into the hold."
"Have you ever heard of a vessel surviving such cir-
cumstances?" I asked.
"Yes, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis; "it is not at all an
unusual thing for ships laden with cotton to arrive at Liver-
pool or Havre with a portion of their cargo consumed; and I
have myself known more than one captain run into port with
his deck scorching his very feet, and who, to save his vessel
and the remainder of his freight has been compelled to un-
load with the utmost expedition. But, in such cases, of
course the fire has been more or less under control through-
out the voyage; with us, it is increasing day by day, and I
tell you I am convinced there is an aperture somewhere
which has escaped our notice."
"But would it not be advisable for us to retrace our
course, and make for the nearest land?"
"Perhaps it would," he answered. "Walter and I, and
the boatswain, are going to talk the matter over seriously
with the captain to-day. But, between ourselves, I have
taken the responsibility upon myself; I have already
changed the tack to the southwest; we are now straight be-
fore the wind, and consequently we are sailing toward the
"I need hardly ask," I added; "whether any of the other
passengers are at all aware of the imminent danger in which
we are placed."
"None of them," he said; "not in the least; and I hope
you will not enlighten them. We don't want terrified
women and cowardly men to add to our embarrassment; the
crew are under orders to keep a strict silence on the subject.
Silence is indispensable."
I promised to keep the matter a profound secret, as I
fully entered into Curtis's views as to the absolute necessity
PICRATE OF POTASH ON BOARD
OCTOBER 20 and 21. -- The Chancellor is now crowded
with all the canvas she can carry, and at times her topmasts
threaten to snap with the pressure. But Curtis is ever on
the alert; he never leaves his post beside the man at the
helm, and without compromising the safety of the vessel, he
contrives, by tacking to the breeze, to urge her on at her
All day long on the 20th the passengers were assembled
on the poop. Evidently they found the heat of the cabins
painfully oppressive, and most of them lay stretched upon
benches and quietly enjoyed the gentle rolling of the vessel.
The increasing heat of the deck did not reveal itself to
their well-shod feet, and the constant scouring of the boards
did not excite any suspicion in their torpid minds. M.
Letourneur, it is true, did express his surprise that the crew
of an ordinary merchant vessel should be distinguished by
such extraordinary cleanliness; but as I replied to him in
a very casual tone, he passed no further remark. I could
not help regretting that I had given Curtis my pledge of
silence, and longed intensely to communicate the melancholy
secret to the energetic Frenchman; for at times when I re-
flect upon the eight-and-twenty victims who may probably,
only too soon, be a prey to the relentless flames, my heart
seems ready to burst.
The important consultation between captain, mate, lieuten-
ant and boatswain has taken place. Curtis has confided the
result to me. He says that Huntly, the captain, is com-
pletely demoralized; he has lost all power and energy; and
practically leaves the command of the ship to him. It is
now certain the fire is beyond control, and that sooner or
later it will burst out in full violence. The temperature of
the crew's quarters has already become almost unbearable.
One solitary hope remains; it is that we may reach the shore
before the final catastrophe occurs. The Lesser Antilles
are the nearest land; and although they are some five or
six hundred miles away, if the wind remains northeast there
is yet a chance of reaching them in time.
Carrying royals and studding-sails, the Chancellor during
the last four-and-twenty hours has held a steady course. M.
Letourneur is the only one of all the passengers who has re-
marked the change of tack; Curtis, however, has set all
speculation on his part at rest by telling him that he wanted
to get ahead of the wind, and that he was tacking to the west
to catch a favorable current.
To-day, the 21st, all has gone on as usual; and as far as
the observation of the passengers has reached, the ordinary
routine has been undisturbed. Curtis indulges the hope
even yet that by excluding the air the fire may be stifled be-
fore it ignites the general cargo; he has hermetically closed
every accessible aperture, and has even taken the precaution
of plugging the orifices of the pumps, under the impression
that their suction-tubes, running as they do to the bottom of
the hold, may possibly be channels for conveying some
molecules of air. Altogether, he considers it a good sign
that the combustion has not betrayed itself by some external
issue of smoke.
The day would have passed without any incident worth
recording, if I had not chanced to overhear a fragment of
a conversation which demonstrated that our situation,
hitherto precarious enough, had now become most appalling.
As I was sitting on the poop, two of my fellow-passengers,
Falsten, the engineer, and Ruby, the merchant, whom I had
observed to be often in company, were engaged in conversa-
tion almost close to me. What they said was evidently not
intended for my hearing, but my attention was directed to-
ward them by some very emphatic gestures of dissatisfaction
on the part of Falsten, and I could not forbear listening to
"Preposterous! shameful!" exclaimed Falsten; "nothing
could be more imprudent."
"Pooh! pooh!" replied Ruby, "it's all right; it is not the
first time I have done it."
"But don't you know that any shock at any time might
cause an explosion?"
"Oh, it's all properly secured," said Ruby, "tight enough;
I have no fears on that score, Mr. Falsten."
"But why," asked Falsten, "did you not inform the cap-
"Just because if I had informed him, he would not have
taken the case on board."
The wind dropped for a few seconds; and for a brief in-
terval I could not catch what passed; but I could see that
Falsten continued to remonstrate, while Ruby answered by
shrugging his shoulders. At length I heard Falsten say.
"Well, at any rate, the captain must be informed of this,
and the package shall be thrown overboard. I don't want
to be blown up."
I started. To what could the engineer be alluding? Evi-
dently he had not the remotest suspicion that the cargo was
already on fire. In another moment the words "picrate of
potash" brought me to my feet, and with an involuntary
impulse I rushed up to Ruby, and seized him by the shoulder.
"Is there picrate of potash on board?" I almost shrieked.
"Yes," said Falsten, "a case containing thirty pounds."
"Where is it?" I cried.
"Down in the hold, with the cargo."
THE PASSENGERS DISCOVER THEIR DANGER
WHAT my feelings were I cannot describe; but it was
hardly in terror so much as with a kind of resignation that
I made my way to Curtis on the forecastle, and made him
aware that the alarming character of our situation was now
complete, as there was enough explosive matter on board to
blow up a mountain. Curtis received the information as
coolly as it was delivered, and after I had made him ac-
quainted with all the particulars said, "Not a word of this
must be mentioned to anyone else, Mr. Kazallon. Where is
"On the poop," I said.
"Will you then come with me, sir?"
Ruby and Falsten were sitting just as I had left them.
Curtis walked straight up to Ruby, and asked him whether
what he had been told was true.
"Yes, quite true," said Ruby, complacently, thinking that
the worst that could befall him would be that he might be
convicted of a little smuggling.
I observed that Curtis was obliged for a moment or two
to clasp his hands tightly together behind his back to pre-
vent himself from seizing the unfortunate passenger by the
throat; but suppressing his indignation, he proceeded quietly,
though sternly, to interrogate him about the facts of the
case. Ruby only confirmed what I had already told him.
With characteristic Anglo-Saxon incautiousness he had
brought on board, with the rest of his baggage, a case con-
taining no less than thirty pounds of picrate, and had allowed
the explosive matter to be stowed in the hold with as little
compunction as a Frenchman would feel in smuggling a
single bottle of wine. He had not informed the captain of
the dangerous nature of the contents of the package, because
he was perfectly aware that he would have been refused per-
mission to bring the package on board.
"Anyway," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders, "you
can't hang me for it; and if the package gives you so much
concern, you are quite at liberty to throw it into the sea.
My luggage is insured."
I was beside myself with fury; and not being endowed
with Curtis's reticence and self-control, before he could in-
terfere to stop me, I cried out:
"You fool! don't you know that there is fire on board?"
In an instant I regretted my words. Most earnestly I
wished them unuttered. But it was too late -- their effect
upon Ruby was electrical. He was paralyzed with terror;
his limbs stiffened convulsively; his eye was dilated; he
gasped for breath, and was speechless. All of a sudden he
threw up his arms, and, as though he momentarily expected
an explosion, he darted down from the poop, and paced
frantically up and down the deck, gesticulating like a mad-
man, and shouting:
"Fire on board! Fire! Fire!"
On hearing the outcry, all the crew, supposing that the
fire had now in reality broken out, rushed on deck; the rest
of the passengers soon joined them, and the scene that ensued
was one of the utmost confusion. Mrs. Kear fell down
senseless on the deck, and her husband, occupied in looking
after himself, left her to the tender mercies of Miss Herbey.
Curtis endeavored to silence Ruby's ravings, whilst I, in as
few words as I could, made M. Letourneur aware of the
extent to which the cargo was on fire. The father's first
thought was for Andre, but the young man preserved an ad-
mirable composure, and begged his father not to be alarmed,
as the danger was not immediate. Meanwhile the sailors
had loosened all the tacklings of the long-boat, and were pre-
paring to launch it, when Curtis's voice was heard peremp-
torily bidding them to desist; he assured them that the
fire had made no further progress; that Mr. Ruby had been
unduly excited and not conscious of what he had said; and
he pledged his word that when the right moment should ar-
rive he would allow them all to leave the ship; but that mo-
ment, he said, had not yet come.
At the sound of a voice which they had learned to honor
and respect, the crew paused in their operations, and the
long-boat remained suspended in its place. Fortunately,
even Ruby himself in the midst of his ravings, had not
dropped a word about the picrate that had been deposited
in the hold; for although the mate had a power over the
sailors that Captain Huntly had never possessed, I feel cer-
tain that if the true state of the case had been known, noth-
ing on earth would have prevented some of them, in their
consternation, from effecting an escape. As it was, only
Curtis, Falsten, and myself were cognizant of the terrible
As soon as order was restored, the mate and I joined
Falsten on the poop, where he had remained throughout the
panic, and where we found him with folded arms, deep in
thought, as it might be, solving some hard mechanical prob-
lem. He promised, at my request, that he would reveal
nothing of the new danger to which we were exposed
through Ruby's imprudence. Curtis himself took the re-
sponsibility of informing Captain Huntly of our critical
In order to insure complete secrecy, it was necessary to
secure the person of the unhappy Ruby, who, quite beside
himself, continued to rave up and down the deck with the
incessant cry of "Fire! fire!" Accordingly Curtis gave or-
ders to some of his men to seize him and gag him; and
before he could make any resistance the miserable man was
captured and safely lodged in confinement in his own cabin.
CURTIS BECOMES CAPTAIN
OCTOBER 22. -- Curtis has told the captain everything; for
he persists in ostensibly recognizing him as his superior
officer, and refuses to conceal from him our true situation.
Captain Huntly received the communication in perfect
silence, and merely passing his hand across his forehead as
though to banish some distressing thought, re-entered his
cabin without a word.
Curtis, Lieutenant Walter, Falsten, and myself have been
discussing the chances of our safety, and I am surprised to
find with how much composure we can all survey our anx-
"There is no doubt," said Curtis, "that we must abandon
all hope of arresting the fire; the heat toward the bow has
already become well-nigh unbearable, and the time must
come when the flames will find a vent through the deck.
If the sea is calm enough for us to make use of the boats,
well and good; we shall of course get quit of the ship as
quietly as we can; if, on the other hand the weather should
be adverse, or the wind be boisterous, we must stick to our
place, and contend with the flames to the very last; perhaps,
after all, we shall fare far better with the fire as a declared
enemy than as a hidden one."
Falsten and I agreed with what he said, and I pointed out
to him that he had quite overlooked the fact of there being
thirty pounds of explosive matter in the hold.
"No," he gravely replied, "I have not forgotten it, but it
is a circumstance of which I do not trust myself to think.
I dare not run the risk of admitting air into the hold by
going down to search for the powder, and yet I know not at
what moment it may explode. No; it is a matter that I can-
not take at all into my reckoning; it must remain in higher
hands than mine."
We bowed our heads in a silence which was solemn. In
the present state of the weather, immediate flight was, we
After considerable pause, Mr. Falsten, as calmly as
though he were delivering some philosophic dogma, quietly
"The explosion, if I may use the formula of science, is
not necessary, but contingent."
"But tell me, Mr. Falsten," I asked, "is it possible for
picrate of potash to ignite without concussion?"
"Certainly it is," replied the engineer. "Under ordinary
circumstances, picrate of potash although not MORE inflam-
mable than common powder, yet possesses the SAME degree
We now prepared to go on deck. As we left the saloon,
in which we had been sitting, Curtis seized my hand.
"Oh, Mr. Kazallon," he exclaimed, "if you only knew
the bitterness of the agony I feel at seeing this fine vessel
doomed to be devoured by flames, and at being so powerless
to save her." Then quickly recovering himself, he continued:
"But I am forgetting myself; you, if no other, must know
what I am suffering. It is all over now," he said more
"Is our condition quite desperate?" I asked.
"It is just this," he answered deliberately, "we are over
a mine, and already the match has been applied to the train.
How long that train may be, 'tis not for me to say."
And with these words he left me.
The other passengers, in common with the crew, are still
in entire ignorance of the extremity of peril to which we are
exposed, although they are all aware that there is fire in the
hold. As soon as the fact was announced, Mr. Kear, after
communicating to Curtis his instructions that he thought he
should have the fire immediately extinguished, and intimat-
ing that he held him responsible for all contingencies that
might happen, retired to his cabin, where he has remained
ever since, fully occupied in collecting and packing together
the more cherished articles of his property and without the
semblance of a care or a thought for his unfortunate wife,
whose condition, in spite of her ludicrous complaints,
was truly pitiable. Miss Herbey, however, is unrelaxing in
her attentions, and the unremitted diligence with which
she fulfills her offices of duty, commands my highest ad-
OCTOBER 23. -- This morning, Captain Huntly sent for
Curtis into his cabin, and the mate has since made me ac-
quainted with what passed between them.
"Curtis," began the captain, his haggard eye betraying
only too plainly some mental derangement, "I am a sailor,
am I not?"
"Certainly, captain," was the prompt acquiescence of the
"I do not know how it is," continued the captain, "but
I seem bewildered; I can not recollect anything. Are we
not bound for Liverpool? Ah! yes! of course. And have
we kept a northeasterly direction since we left?"
"No, sir, according to your orders we have been sailing
southeast, and here we are in the tropics."
"And what is the name of the ship?"
"The Chancellor, sir."
"Yes, yes, the Chancellor, so it is. Well, Curtis, I really
can't take her back to the north. I hate the sea, the very
sight of it makes me ill, I would much rather not leave my
Curtis went on to tell me how he had tried to persuade him
that with a little time and care he would soon recover his
indisposition, and feel himself again; but the captain had in-
terrupted him by saying:
"Well, well; we shall see by-and-by; but for the present
you must take this for my positive order; you must, from
this time, at once take the command of the ship, and act
just as if I were not on board. Under present circum-
stances, I can do nothing. My brain is all in a whirl, you
can not tell what I am suffering;" and the unfortunate man
pressed both his hands convulsively against his forehead.
"I weighed the matter carefully for a moment," added
Curtis, "and seeing what his condition too truly was, I ac-
quiesced in all that he required and withdrew, promising him
that all his orders should be obeyed."
After hearing these particulars, I could not help remark-
ing how fortunate it was that the captain had resigned of
his own accord, for although he might not be actually in-
sane, it was very evident that his brain was in a very morbid
"I succeeded him at a very critical moment," said Curtis
thoughtfully; "but I shall endeavor to do my duty."
A short time afterward he sent for his boatswain and or-
dered him to assemble the crew at the foot of the main-mast.
As soon as the men were together, he addressed them very
calmly, but very firmly.
"My men," he said, "I have to tell you that Captain
Huntly, on account of the dangerous situation in which cir-
cumstances have placed us, and for other reasons known to
myself, has thought right to resign his command to me.
From this time forward, I am captain of this vessel."
Thus quietly and simply was the change effected, and we
have the satisfaction of knowing that the Chancellor is now
under the command of a conscientious, energetic man, who
will shirk nothing that he believes to be for our common
good. M. Letourneur, Andre, Mr. Falsten, and myself im-
mediately offered him our best wishes, in which Lieutenant
Walter and the boatswain most cordially joined.
The ship still holds her course southwest, and Curtis
crowds on all sail and makes as speedily as possible for the
nearest of the Lesser Antilles.
BETWEEN FIRE AND WATER
OCTOBER 24 to 29. -- For the last five days the sea has
been very heavy, and although the Chancellor sails with wind
and wave in her favor, yet her progress is considerably im-
peded. Here on board this veritable fire-ship I cannot help
contemplating with a longing eye this vast ocean that sur-
rounds us. The water supply should be all we need.
"Why not bore the deck?" I said to Curtis. "Why not
admit the water by tons into the hold? What could be the
harm? The fire would be quenched; and what would be
easier than to pump the water out again?"
"I have already told you, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis,
"that the very moment we admit the air, the flames will rush
forth to the very top of the masts. No; we must have cour-
age and patience; we must wait. There is nothing whatever
to be done, except to close every aperture."
The fire continued to progress even more rapidly than we
had hitherto suspected. The heat gradually drove the pas-
sengers nearly all on deck, and the two stern cabins, lighted,
as I said, by their windows in the aft-board were the only
quarters below that were inhabitable. Of these Mrs. Kear
occupied one, and Curtis reserved the other for Ruby, who,
a raving maniac, had to be kept rigidly under restraint. I
went down occasionally to see him, but invariably found him
in a state of abject terror, uttering horrible shrieks, as
though possessed with the idea that he was being scorched
by the most excruciating heat.
Once or twice, too, I looked in upon the ex-captain. He
was always calm and spoke quite rationally on any subject
except his own profession; but in connection with that he
prated away the merest nonsense. He suffered greatly, but
steadily declined all my offers of attention, and pertina-
ciously refused to leave his cabin.
To-day, an acrid, nauseating smoke made its way through
the panelings that partition off the quarters of the crew. At
once Curtis ordered the partition to be enveloped in wet tar-
paulin, but the fumes penetrated even this, and filled the
whole neighborhood of the ship's bows with a reeking vapor
that was positively stifling. As we listened, too, we could
hear a dull rumbling sound, but we were as mystified as ever
to comprehend where the air could have entered that was
evidently fanning the flames. Only too certainly, it was
now becoming a question not of days nor even of hours
before we must be prepared for the final catastrophe. The
sea was still running high, and escape by the boats was
plainly impossible. Fortunately, as I have said, the main-
mast and the mizzen are of iron; otherwise the great heat
at their base would long ago have brought them down and
our chances of safety would have been very much imperiled;
but by crowding on sail the Chancellor in the full northeast
wind continued to make her way with undiminished speed.
It is now a fortnight since the fire was first discovered,
and the proper working of the ship has gradually become a
more and more difficult matter. Even with thick shoes any
attempt to walk upon deck up to the forecastle was soon im-
practicable, and the poop, simply because its floor is elevated
somewhat above the level of the hold, is now the only avail-
able standing-place. Water began to lose its effect upon
the scorched and shriveling planks; the resin oozed out from
the knots in the wood, the seams burst open, and the tar,
melted by the heat, followed the rollings of the vessel, and
formed fantastic patterns about the deck.
Then to complete our perplexity, the wind shifted sud-
denly round to the northwest, whence it blew a perfect hur-
ricane. To no purpose did Curtis do everything in his
power to bring the ship ahull; every effort was in vain; the
Chancellor could not bear her trysail, so there was nothing
to be done but to let her go with the wind, and drift further
and further from the land for which we are longing so
To-day, the 29th, the tempest seemed to reach its height;
the waves appeared to us mountains high, and dashed the
spray most violently across the deck. A boat could not live
a moment in such a sea.
Our situation is terrible. We all wait in silence, some
few on the forecastle, the great proportion of us on the
poop. As for the picrate, for the time we have quite for-
gotten its existence; indeed it might almost seem as though
its explosion would come as a relief, for no catastrophe, how-
ever terrible, could far exceed the torture of our suspense.
While he had still the remaining chance, Curtis rescued
from the store-room such few provisions as the heat of the
compartment allowed him to obtain; and a lot of cases of
salt meat and biscuits, a cask of brandy, some barrels of
fresh water, together with some sails and wraps, a compass
and other instruments are now lying packed in a mass all
ready for prompt removal to the boats whenever we shall be
obliged to leave the ship.
About eight o'clock in the evening, a noise is heard, dis-
tinct even above the raging of the hurricane. The panels of
the deck are upheaved, and volumes of black smoke issue up-
ward as if from a safety-valve. A universal consternation
seizes one and all; we must leave the volcano which is about
to burst beneath our feet. The crew run to Curtis for or-
ders. He hesitates; looks first at the huge and threatening
waves; looks then at the boats. The long-boat is there, sus-
pended right along the center of the deck; but it is impos-
sible to approach it now; the yawl, however, hoisted on the
starboard side, and the whale-boat suspended aft, are still
available. The sailors make frantically for the yawl.
"Stop, stop," shouts Curtis; "do you mean to cut off our
last and only chance of safety? Would you launch a boat
in such a sea as this?"
A few of them, with Owen at their head, give no heed to
what he says. Rushing to the poop, and seizing a cutlass,
Curtis shouts again:
"Touch the tackling of the davit, one of you; only touch
it, and I'll cleave your skull."
Awed by his determined manner, the men retire, some
clambering into the shrouds, while others mount to the very
top of the masts.
At eleven o'clock, several loud reports are heard, caused
by the bursting asunder of the partitions of the hold. Clouds
of smoke issue from the front, followed by a long tongue of
lambent flame that seems to encircle the mizzen-mast. The
fire now reaches to the cabin of Mrs. Kear, who, shrieking
wildly, is brought on deck by Miss Herbey. A moment
more, and Silas Huntly makes his appearance, his face all
blackened with the grimy smoke; he bows to Curtis, as he
passes, and then proceeds in the calmest manner to mount
the aft-shrouds, and installs himself at the very top of the
The sight of Huntly recalls to my recollection the prisoner
still below, and my first impulse is to rush to the staircase
and do what I can to set him free. But the maniac has al-
ready eluded his confinement, and with singed hair and his
clothes already alight, rushes upon deck. Like a sal-
amander he passes across the burning deck with unscathed
feet, and glides through the stifling smoke with unchoked
breath. Not a sound escapes his lips.
Another loud report; the long-boat is shivered into frag-
ments; the middle panel bursts the tarpaulin that covered it,
and a stream of fire, free at length from the restraint that
had held it, rises half-mast high.
"The picrate! the picrate!" shrieks the madman; "we
shall all be blown up! the picrate will blow us all up."
And in an instant, before we can get near him, he has
buried himself, through the open hatchway, down into the
fiery furnace below.
BREAKERS TO STARBOARD!
OCTOBER 20. -- Night. -- The scene, as night came on, was
terrible indeed. Notwithstanding the desperateness of our
situation, however, there was not one of us so paralyzed by
fear, but that we fully realized the horror of it all.
Poor Ruby, indeed, is lost and gone, but his last words
were productive of serious consequences. The sailors
caught his cry of "Picrate, picrate!" and being thus for the
first time made aware of the true nature of their peril, they
resolved at every hazard to accomplish their escape. Beside
themselves with terror, they either did not, or would not, see
that no boat could brave the tremendous waves that were
raging around, and accordingly they made a frantic rush to-
ward the yawl. Curtis again made a vigorous endeavor to
prevent them, but this time all in vain; Owen urged them on,
and already the tackling was loosened, so that the boat was
swung over to the ship's side. For a moment it hung sus-
pended in mid-air, and then, with a final effort from the
sailors, it was quickly lowered into the sea. But scarcely
had it touched the water, when it was caught by an enor-
mous wave which, recoiling with resistless violence, dashed
it to atoms against the Chancellor's side.
The men stood aghast; they were dumbfounded. Long-
boat and yawl both gone, there was nothing now remaining
to us but a small whale-boat. Not a word was spoken;
not a sound was heard but the hoarse whistling of the wind,
and the mournful roaring of the flames. From the center
of the ship, which was hollowed out like a furnace, there
issued a column of sooty vapor that ascended to the sky.
All the passengers, and several of the crew, took refuge in
the aft-quarters of the poop. Mrs. Kear was lying sense-
less on one of the hen-coops, with Miss Herbey sitting pas-
sively at her side; M. Letourneur held his son tightly clasped
to his bosom. I saw Falsten calmly consult his watch, and
note down the time in his memorandum-book, but I was
far from sharing his composure, for I was overcome by a
nervous agitation that I could not suppress.
As far as we knew, Lieutenant Walter, the boatswain,
and such of the crew as were not with us, were safe in the
bow; but it was impossible to tell how they were faring, be-
cause the sheet of fire intervened like a curtain, and cut off
all communication between stem and stern.
I broke the dismal silence, saying, "All over now Curtis."
"No, sir, not yet," he replied, "now that the panel is
open we will set to work, and pour water with all our might
down into the furnace, and may be, we shall put it out, even
"But how can you work your pumps while the deck is
burning? and how can you get at your men beyond that
sheet of flame?"
He made no answer to my impetuous questions, and find-
ing he had nothing more to say, I repeated that it was all
After a pause, he said, "As long as a plank of the ship
remains to stand on, Mr. Kazallon, I shall not give up my
But the conflagration raged with redoubled fury, the sea
around us was lighted with a crimson glow, and the clouds
above shone with a lurid glare. Long jets of fire darted
across the hatchways, and we were forced to take refuge
on the taffrail at the extreme end of the poop. Mrs. Kear
was laid in the whale-boat that hung from the stern. Miss
Herbey persisting to the last in retaining her post by her
No pen could adequately portray the horrors of this fear-
ful night. The Chancellor under bare poles, was driven,
like a gigantic fire-ship with frightful velocity across the
raging ocean; her very speed as it were, making common
cause with the hurricane to fan the fire that was consuming
her. Soon there could be no alternative between throwing
ourselves into the sea, or perishing in the flames.
But where, all this time, was the picrate? Perhaps, after
all, Ruby had deceived us and there was no volcano, such as
we dreaded, below our feet.
At half-past eleven, when the tempest seems at its very
height, there is heard a peculiar roar distinguishable even
above the crash of the elements. The sailors in an instant
recognize its import.
"Breakers to starboard!" is the cry.
Curtis leaps on to the netting, casts a rapid glance at the
snow-white billows, and turning to the helmsman shouts
with all his might, "Starboard the helm!"
But it is too late. There is a sudden shock; the ship is
caught up by an enormous wave; she rises upon her beam
ends; several times she strikes the ground; the mizzen-mast
snaps short off level with the deck, falls into the sea, and the
Chancellor is motionless.
THE night of the 29th continued. -- It was not yet mid-
night; the darkness was most profound, and we could see
nothing. But was it probable that we had stranded on the
coast of America?
Very shortly after the ship had thus come to a stand-still
a clanking of chains was heard proceeding from her bows.
"That is well," said Curtis; "Walter and the boatswain
have cast both the anchors. Let us hope they will hold."
Then, clinging to the netting, he clambered along the
starboard side, on which the ship had heeled, as far as the
flames would allow him. He clung to the holdfasts of the
shrouds, and in spite of the heavy seas that dashed against
the vessel he maintained his position for a considerable time,
evidently listening to some sound that had caught his ear
in the midst of the tempest. In about a quarter of an hour
he returned to the poop.
"Heaven be praised! " he said, "the water is coming in,
and perhaps may get the better of the fire."
"True," said I, "but what then?"
"That," he replied, "is a question for bye-and-bye. We
can think now only of the present."
Already I fancied that the violence of the flames was
somewhat abated, and that the two opposing elements were
in fierce contention. Some plank in the ship's side was
evidently stove in, admitting free passage for the waves.
But how, when the water had mastered the fire, should we
be able to master the water? Our natural course would be
to use the pumps, but these, in the very midst of the con-
flagration, were quite unavailable.
For three long hours, in anxious suspense, we watched,
and waited. Where we were we could not tell. One thing
alone was certain; the tide was ebbing beneath us, and the
waves were relaxing in their violence. Once let the fire be
extinguished, and then, perhaps, there would be room to
hope that the next high tide would set us afloat.
Toward half-past four in the morning the curtain of fire
and smoke, which had shut off communication between the
two extremities of the ship, became less dense, and we could
faintly distinguish that party of the crew who had taken
refuge in the forecastle; and before long, although it was
impracticable to step upon the deck, the lieutenant and the
boatswain contrived to clamber over the gunwale, along the
rails, and joined Curtis on the poop.
Here they held a consultation, to which I was admitted.
They were all of opinion that nothing could be done until
daylight should give us something of an idea of our actual
position. If we then found that we were near the shore,
we would, weather permitting, endeavor to land, either in
the boat or upon a raft. If, on the other hand, no land
were in sight, and the Chancellor were ascertained to be
stranded on some isolated reef, all we could do would be
to get her afloat, and put her into condition for reaching the
nearest coast. Curtis told us that it was long since he had
been able to take any observation of latitude, but there was
no doubt the northwest wind had driven us far to the south;
and he thought, as he was ignorant of the existence of any
reef in this part of the Atlantic, that it was just possible
that we had been driven on to the coast of some portion of
I reminded him that we were in momentary expectation
of an explosion, and suggested that it would be advisable to
abandon the ship and take refuge on the reef. But he
would not hear of such a proceeding, said that the reef
would probably be covered at high tide, and persisted in the
original resolution, that no decided action could be taken
before the daylight appeared.
I immediately reported this decision of the captain to my
fellow-passengers. None of them seemed to realize the
new danger to which the Chancellor may be exposed by be-
ing cast upon an unknown reef, hundreds of miles it may be
from land. All are for the time possessed with one idea,
one hope; and that is, that the fire may now be quenched
and the explosion averted.
And certainly their hopes seem in a fair way of being ful-
filled. Already the raging flames that poured forth from
the hatches have given place to dense black smoke, and al-
though occasionally some fiery streaks dart across the dusky
fumes, yet they are instantly extinguished. The waves are
doing what pumps and buckets could never have effected;
by their inundation they are steadily stifling the fire which
was as steadily spreading to the whole bulk of the 1,700
bales of cotton.
SILAS HUNTLY RESCUED FROM THE WAVES
OCTOBER 30. -- At the first gleam of daylight we eagerly
scanned the southern and western horizons, but the morn-
ing mists limited our view. Land was nowhere to be seen.
The tide was now almost at its lowest ebb, and the color
of the few peaks of rock that jutted up around us showed
that the reef on which we had stranded was of basaltic
formation. There were now only about six feet of water
around the Chancellor, though with a full freight she draws
about fifteen. It was remarkable how far she had been
carried on to the shelf of rock, but the number of times that
she had touched the bottom before she finally ran aground
left us no doubt that she had been lifted up and borne along
on the top of an enormous wave. She now lies with her
stern considerably higher than her bows, a position which
renders walking upon the deck anything but an easy matter,
moreover as the tide receded she heeled over so much to lar-
board that at one time Curtis feared she would altogether
capsize; that fear, however, since the tide has reached its
lowest mark, has happily proved groundless.
At six o'clock some violent blows were felt against the
ship's side, and at the same time a voice was distinguished,
shouting loudly, "Curtis! Curtis!" Following the direc-
tion of the cries we saw that the broken mizzen-mast was
being washed against the vessel, and in the dusky morning
twilight we could make out the figure of a man clinging to
the rigging. Curtis, at the peril of his life, hastened to
bring the man on board. It proved to be none other than
Silas Huntly, who, after being carried overboard with the
mast, had thus, almost by a miracle, escaped a watery grave.
Without a word of thanks to his deliverer, the ex-captain,
passive, like an automaton, passed on and took his seat in
the most secluded corner of the poop. The broken mizzen
may, perhaps, be of service to us at some future time, and
with that idea it has been rescued from the waves and lashed
securely to the stern.
By this time it was light enough to see for a distance of
three miles round; but as yet nothing could be discerned to
make us think that we were near a coast. The line of
breakers ran for about a mile from southwest to northeast,
and two hundred fathoms to the north of the ship an ir-
regular mass of rocks formed a small islet. This islet rose
about fifty feet above the sea, and was consequently above
the level of the highest tides; while a sort of causeway,
available at low water, would enable us to reach the island,
if necessity required. But there the reef ended; beyond
it the sea again resumed its somber hue, betokening deep
water. In all probability, then, this was a solitary shoal,
unattached to a shore, and the gloom of a bitter disappoint-
ment began to weigh upon our spirits.
In another hour the mists had totally disappeared, and it
was broad daylight. I and M. Letourneur stood watching
Curtis as he continued eagerly to scan the western horizon.
Astonishment was written on his countenance; to him it
appeared perfectly incredible that, after our course for so
long had been due south from the Bermudas, no land should
be in sight. But not a speck, however minute, broke the
clearly-defined line that joined sea and sky. After a time
Curtis made his way along the netting to the shrouds, and
swung himself quickly up to the top of the mainmast. For
several minutes he remained there examining the open space
around, then seizing one of the backstays he glided down
and rejoined us on the poop.
"No land in sight," he said, in answer to our eager looks.
At this point Mr. Kear interposed, and in a gruff, ill-
tempered tone, asked Curtis where we were. Curtis replied
that he did not know.
"You don't know, sir? Then all I can say is that you
ought to know!" exclaimed the petroleum merchant.
"That may be, sir; but at present I am as ignorant of our
whereabouts as you are yourself," said Curtis.
"Well," said Mr. Kear, "just please to know that I
don't want to stay forever on your everlasting ship, so I
beg you will make haste and start off again."
Curtis condescended to make no other reply than a shrug
of the shoulders, and turning away he informed M. Letour-
neur and myself that if the sun came out he intended to take
its altitude and find out to what part of the ocean we had
His next care was to distribute preserved meat and biscuit
among the passengers and crew already half fainting with
hunger and fatigue, and then he set to work to devise meas-
ures for setting the ship afloat.
The conflagration was greatly abated; no flames now ap-
peared, and although some black smoke still issued from the
interior, yet its volume was far less than before. The first
step was to discover how much water had entered the
hold. The deck was still too hot to walk upon; but after
two hours' irrigation the boards became sufficiently cool for
the boatswain to proceed to take some soundings, and he
shortly afterward announced that there were five feet of
water below. This the captain determined should not be
pumped out at present, as he wanted it thoroughly to do its
duty before he got rid of it.
The next subject for consideration was whether it would
be advisable to abandon the vessel, and to take refuge on
the reef. Curtis thought not; and the lieutenant and the
boatswain agreed with him. The chances of an explosion
were greatly diminished, as it had been ascertained that the
water had reached that part of the hold in which Ruby's
luggage had been deposited; while, on the other hand, in
the event of rough weather, our position even upon the most
elevated points of rock might be very critical. It was ac-
cordingly resolved that both passengers and crew were saf-
est on board.
Acting upon this decision we proceeded to make a kind
of encampment on the poop, and a few mattresses that were
rescued uninjured have been given up for the use of the
two ladies. Such of the crew as had saved their hammocks
have been told to place them under the forecastle where they
would have to stow themselves as best they could, their
ordinary quarters being absolutely uninhabitable.
Fortunately, although the store-room has been consider-
ably exposed to the heat, its contents are not very seriously
damaged, and all the barrels of water and the greater part
of the provisions are quite intact. The stock of spare sails,
which had been packed away in front, is also free from in-
jury. The wind has dropped considerably since the early
morning, and the swell in the sea is far less heavy. On
the whole our spirits are reviving and we begin to think we
may yet find a way out of our troubles.
M. Letourneur, his son, and I, have just had a long con-
versation about the ship's officers. We consider their con-
duct, under the late trying circumstances, to have been most
exemplary, and their courage, energy, and endurance to
have been beyond all praise. Lieutenant Walter, the boat-
swain, and Dowlas the carpenter have all alike distinguished
themselves, and made us feel that they are men to be relied
on. As for Curtis, words can scarcely be found to express
our admiration of his character; he is the same as he has
ever been, the very life of his crew, cheering them on by
word or gesture; finding an expedient for every difficulty,
and always foremost in every action.
The tide turned at seven this morning, and by eleven all
the rocks were submerged, none of them being visible ex-
cept the cluster of those which formed the rim of a small
and almost circular basin from 230 to 300 feet in diameter,
in the north angle of which the ship is lying. As the tide
rose the white breakers disappeared, and the sea, fortunately
for the Chancellor, was pretty calm; otherwise the dashing
of the waves against her sides, as she lies motionless, might
have been attended by serious consequences.
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