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In the Sargasso Sea by Thomas A. Janvier

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A Novel




* * * * *









Captain Luke Chilton counted over the five-dollar notes with a greater
care than I thought was necessary, considering that there were only
ten of them; and cautiously examined each separate one, as though he
feared that I might be trying to pay for my passage in bad money. His
show of distrust set my back up, and I came near to damning him right
out for his impudence--until I reflected that a West Coast trader must
pretty well divide his time between cheating people and seeing to it
that he isn't cheated, and so held my tongue.

Having satisfied himself that the tale was correct and that the notes
were genuine, he brought out from the inside pocket of his long-tailed
shore-going coat a big canvas pocket-book, into which he stowed them
lengthwise; and from the glimpse I had of it I fancied that until my
money got there it was about bare. As he put away the pocket-book, he
said, and pleasantly enough:

"You see, Mr. Stetworth, it's this way: fifty dollars is dirt cheap
for a cast across from New York to the Coast, and that's a fact; but
you say that it's an object with you to get your passage low, and I
say that even at that price I can make money out of you. The _Golden
Hind_ has got to call at Loango, anyhow; there's a spare room in her
cabin that'll be empty if you don't fill it; and while you're a big
man and look to be rather extra hearty, I reckon you won't eat more'n
about twenty dollars' worth of victuals--counting 'em at cost--on the
whole run. But the main thing is that I want all the spot cash I can
get a-holt of before I start. Fifty dollars' worth of trade laid in
now means five hundred dollars for me when I get back here in New York
with what I've turned it over for on the Coast. So, you see, if you're
suited, I'm suited too. Shake! And now we'll have another drink. This
time it's on me."

We shook, and Captain Luke gave me an honest enough grip, just as he
had spoken in an honest enough tone. I knew, of course, that in a
general way he must be a good deal of a rascal--he couldn't well be a
West Coast trader and be anything else; but then his rascality in
general didn't matter much so long as his dealings with me were
square. He called the waiter and ordered arrack again--it was the
most wholesome drink in the world, he said--and we touched glasses,
and so brought our deal to an end.

That a cheap passage to Loango was an object to me, as Captain Luke
had said, was quite true. It was a very important object. After I got
across, of course, and my pay from the palm-oil people began, I would
be all right; but until I could touch my salary I had to sail mighty
close to the wind. For pretty much all of my capital consisted of my
headful of knowledge of the theory and practice of mechanical
engineering which had brought me out first of my class at the Stevens
Institute--and in that way had got me the offer from the palm-oil
people--and because of which I thought that there wasn't anybody quite
my equal anywhere as a mechanical engineer. And that was only natural,
I suppose, since my passing first had swelled my head a bit, and I was
only three-and-twenty, and more or less of a promiscuously green
young fool.

As I looked over Captain Luke's shoulder, while we supped our arrack
together--out through the window across the rush and bustle of South
Street--and saw a trim steamer of the Maracaibo line lying at her
dock, I could not but be sorry that my voyage to Africa would be made
under sails. But, on the other hand, I comforted myself by thinking
that if the _Golden Hind_ were half the clipper her captain made her
out to be I should not lose much time--taking into account the
roundabout way I should have to go if I went under steam. And I
comforted myself still more by thinking what a lot of money I had
saved by coming on this chance for a cheap cast across; and I blessed
my lucky stars for putting into my head the notion of cruising along
South Street that October morning and asking every sailor-like man I
met if he knew of a craft bound for the West Coast--and especially for
having run me up against Captain Luke Chilton before my cruise had
lasted an hour.

The captain looked at his glass so sorrowfully when it was empty that
I begged him to have it filled again, and he did. But he took down his
arrack this time at a single gulp, and then got up briskly and said
that he must be off.

"We don't sail till to-morrow afternoon, on the half flood, Mr.
Stetworth," he said, "so you'll have lots of time to get your traps
aboard if you'll take a boat off from the Battery about noon. I
wouldn't come earlier than that, if I were you. Things are bound to be
in a mess aboard the brig to-morrow, and the less you have of it the
better. We lie well down the anchorage, you know, only a little this
side of Robbin's Reef. Your boatmen will know the place, and they'll
find the brig for you if you'll tell 'em where to look for her and
that she's painted green. Well, so long." And then Captain Luke shook
hands with me again, and so was off into the South Street crowd.

I hurried away too. My general outfit was bought and packed; but the
things lying around my lodgings had to be got together, and I had to
buy a few articles in the way of sea-stock for my voyage in a sailing
vessel that I should not have needed had I gone by the regular steam
lines. So I got some lunch inside of me, and after that I took a
cab--a bit of extravagance that my hurry justified--and bustled about
from shop to shop and got what I needed inside of an hour; and then I
told the man to drive me to my lodgings up-town.

It was while I was driving up Broadway--the first quiet moment for
thinking that had come to me since I had met Captain Luke on South
Street, and we had gone into the saloon together to settle about the
passage he had offered me--that all of a sudden the thought struck me
that perhaps I had made the biggest kind of a fool of myself; and it
struck so hard that for a minute or two I fairly was dizzy and faint.

What earthly proof had I, beyond Captain Luke's bare word for it, that
there was such a brig as the _Golden Hind_? What proof had I
even--beyond the general look of him and his canvas pocket-book--that
Captain Luke was a sailor? And what proof had I, supposing that there
was such a brig and that he was a sailor, that the two had anything
to do with each other? I simply had accepted for truth all that he
told me, and on the strength of his mere assertion that he was a
ship-master and was about to sail for the West African coast I had
paid him my fifty dollars--and had taken by way of receipt for it no
more than a clinking of our glasses and a shake of his hand. I said
just now that I was only twenty-three years old, and more or less of a
promiscuously green young fool. I suppose that I might as well have
left that out. There are some things that tell themselves.

For three or four blocks, as I drove along, I was in such a rage with
myself that I could not think clearly. Then I began to cool a little,
and to hope that I had gone off the handle too suddenly and too far.
After all, there were some chances in my favor the other way. Captain
Chilton, I remembered, had told me that he was about to sail for West
Coast ports before I asked him for a passage; and had mentioned, also,
whereabouts on the anchorage the _Golden Hind_ was lying. Had he made
these statements after he knew what I wanted there would have been
some reason for doubting them; but being made on general principles,
without knowledge of what I was after, it seemed to me that they very
well might be true. And if they were true, why then there was no great
cause for my sudden fit of alarm. However, I was so rattled by my
fright, and still so uncertain as to how things were coming out for
me, that the thought of waiting until the next afternoon to know
certainly whether I had or had not been cheated was more than I could
bear. The only way that I could see to settle the matter was to go
right away down to the anchorage, and so satisfy myself that the
_Golden Hind_ was a real brig and really was lying there; and it
occurred to me that I might kill two birds with one stone, and also
have a reason to give for a visit which otherwise might seem
unreasonable, if I were to take down my luggage and put it aboard that
very afternoon.



Having come to this conclusion, I acted on it. I kept the cab at the
door while I finished my packing with a rush, and then piled my
luggage on it and in it--and what with my two trunks, and my kit of
fine tools, and all my bundles, this made tight stowing--and then away
I went down-town again as fast as the man could drive with such
a load.

We got to the Battery in a little more than an hour, and there I
transshipped my cargo to a pair-oared boat and started away for the
anchorage. The boatmen comforted me a good deal at the outset by
saying that they thought they knew just where the _Golden Hind_ was
lying, as they were pretty sure they had seen her only that morning
while going down the harbor with another fare; and before we were much
more than past Bedloe's Island--having pulled well over to get out of
the channel and the danger of being run down by one of the swarm of
passing craft--they made my mind quite easy by actually pointing her
out to me. But almost in the same moment I was startled again by one
of them saying to me: "I don't believe you've much time to spare,
captain. There's a lighter just shoved off from her, and she's gettin'
her tops'ls loose. I guess she means to slide out on this tide. That
tug seems to be headin' for her now."

The men laid to their oars at this, and it was a good thing--or a bad
thing, some people might think--that they did; for had we lost five
minutes on our pull down from the Battery I never should have got
aboard of the _Golden Hind_ at all. As it was, the anchor was a-peak,
and the lines of the tug made fast, by the time that we rounded under
her counter; and the decks were so full of the bustle of starting that
it was only a chance that anybody heard our hail. But somebody did
hear it, and a man--it was the mate, as I found out afterwards--came
to the side.

"Hold on, captain," one of the boatmen sang out, "here's your

"Go to hell!" the mate answered, and turned inboard again.

But just then I caught sight of Captain Chilton, coming aft to stand
by the wheel, and called out to him by name. He turned in a hurry--and
with a look of being scared, I fancied--but it seemed to me a good
half-minute before he answered me. In this time the men had shoved the
boat alongside and had made fast to the main-chains; and just then
the tug began to puff and snort, and the towline lifted, and the brig
slowly began to gather way. I could not understand what they were up
to; but the boatmen, who were quick fellows, took the matter into
their own hands, and began to pass in my boxes over the gunwale--the
brig lying very low in the water--as we moved along. This brought the
mate to the side again, with a rattle of curses and orders to stand
off. And then Captain Chilton came along himself--having finished
whatever he had been doing in the way of thinking--and gave matters a
more reasonable turn.

"It's all right, George," he said to the mate. "This gentleman is a
friend of mine who's going out with us" (the mate gave him a queer
look at that), "and he's got here just in time." And then he turned to
me and added: "I'd given you up, Mr. Stetworth, and that's a
fact--concluding that the man I sent to your lodgings hadn't found
you. We had to sail this afternoon, you see, all in a hurry; and the
only thing I could do was to rush a man after you to bring you down.
He seems to have overhauled you in time, even if it was a close
call--so all's well."

While he was talking the boatmen were passing aboard my boxes and
bundles, while the brig went ahead slowly; and when they all were
shipped, and I had paid the men, he gave me his hand in a friendly way
and helped me up the side. What to make of it all I could not tell.
Captain Luke told a straight enough story, and the fact that his
messenger had not got to me before I started did not prove that he
lied. Moreover, he went on to say that if I had not got down to the
brig he had meant to leave my fifty dollars with the palm-oil people
at Loango, and that sounded square enough too. At any rate, if he were
lying to me I had no way of proving it against him, and he was
entitled to the benefit of the doubt; and so, when he had finished
explaining matters--which was short work, as he had the brig to look
after--I did not see my way to refusing his suggestion that we should
call it all right and shake hands.

For the next three hours or so--until we were clear of the Hook and
had sea-room and the tug had cast us off--I was left to my own
devices: except that a couple of men were detailed to carry to my
state-room what I needed there, while the rest of my boxes were stowed
below. Indeed, nobody had time to spare me a single word--the captain
standing by the wheel in charge of the brig, and the two mates having
their hands full in driving forward the work of finishing the lading,
so that the hatches might be on and things in some sort of order
before the crew should be needed to make sail.

The decks everywhere were littered with the stuff put aboard from the
lighter that left the brig just before I reached her, and the huddle
and confusion showed that the transfer must have been made in a
tearing hurry. Many of the boxes gave no hint of what was inside of
them; but a good deal of the stuff--as the pigs of lead and cans of
powder, the many five-gallon kegs of spirits, the boxes of fixed
ammunition, the cases of arms, and so on--evidently was regular West
Coast "trade." And all of it was jumbled together just as it had been
tumbled aboard.

I was surprised by our starting with the brig in such a mess--until it
occurred to me that the captain had no choice in the matter if he
wanted to save the tide. Very likely the tide did enter into his
calculations; but I was led to believe a little later--and all the
more because of his scared look when I hailed him from the boat--that
he had run into some tangle on shore that made him want to get away in
a hurry before the law-officers should bring him up with a round turn.

What put this notion into my head was a matter that occurred when we
were down almost to the Hook, and its conclusion came when we were
fairly outside and the tug had cast us off; otherwise my boxes and I
assuredly would have gone back on the tug to New York--and I with a
flea in my ear, as the saying is, stinging me to more prudence in my
dealings with chance-met mariners and their offers of cheap passages
on strange craft.

When we were nearly across the lower bay, the nose of a steamer
showed in the Narrows; and as she swung out from the land I saw that
she flew the revenue flag. Captain Luke, standing aft by the wheel, no
doubt made her out before I did; for all of a sudden he let drive a
volley of curses at the mates to hurry their stowing below of the
stuff with which our decks were cluttered. At first I did not
associate the appearance of the cutter with this outbreak; but as she
came rattling down the bay in our wake I could not but notice his
uneasiness as he kept turning to look at her and then turning forward
again to swear at the slowness of the men. But she was a long way
astern at first, and by the time that she got close up to us we were
fairly outside the Hook and the tug had cast us off--which made a
delay in the stowing, as the men had to be called away from it to set
enough sail to give us steerage way.

Captain Luke barely gave them time to make fast the sheets before he
hurried them back to the hatch again; and by that time the cutter had
so walked up to us that we had her close aboard. I could see that he
fully expected her to hail us; and I could see also that there seemed
to be a feeling of uneasiness among the crew, though they went on
briskly with their work of getting what remained of the boxes and
barrels below. And then, being close under our stern, the cutter
quietly shifted her helm to clear us--and so slid past us, without
hailing and with scarcely a look at us, and stood on out to sea.

That the captain and all hands so manifestly should dread being
overhauled by a government vessel greatly increased my vague doubts as
to the kind of company that I had got into; and at the very moment
that the cutter passed us these doubts were so nearly resolved into
bad certainties that my thoughts shot around from speculation upon
Captain Luke's possible perils into consideration of what seemed to be
very real perils of my own.

With the cutter close aboard of us, and with the captain and both the
mates swearing at them, I suppose that the men at the hatch--who were
swinging the things below with a whip--got rattled a little. At any
rate, some of them rigged the sling so carelessly that a box fell out
from it, and shot down to the main-deck with such a bang that it burst
open. It was a small and strongly made box, that from its shape and
evident weight I had fancied might have arms in it. But when it split
to bits that way--the noise of the crash drawing me to the hatch to
see what had happened--its contents proved to be shackles: and the
sight of them, and the flash of thought which made me realize what
they must be there for, gave me a sudden sick feeling in my inside!

In my hurried reading about the West Coast--carried on at odd times
since my meeting with the palm-oil people--I had learned enough about
the trade carried on there to know that slaving still was a part of
it; but so small a part that the matter had not much stuck in my mind.
But it was a fact then (as it also is a fact now) that the traders who
run along the coast--exchanging such stuff as Captain Luke carried for
ivory and coffee and hides and whatever offers--do now and then take
the chances and run a cargo of slaves from one or another of the lower
ports into Mogador: where the Arab dealers pay such prices for live
freight in good condition as to make the venture worth the risk that
it involves. This traffic is not so barbarous as the old traffic to
America used to be--when shippers regularly counted upon the loss of a
third or a half of the cargo in transit, and so charged off the
death-rate against profit and loss--for the run is a short one, and
slaves are so hard to get and so dangerous to deal in nowadays that it
is sound business policy to take enough care of them to keep them
alive. But I am safe in saying that the men engaged in the Mogador
trade are about the worst brutes afloat in our time--not excepting the
island traders of the South Pacific--and for an honest man to get
afloat in their company opens to him large possibilities of being
murdered off-hand, with side chances of sharing in their punishment if
he happens to be with them when they are caught. And so it is not to
be wondered at that when I saw the shackles come flying out from that
broken box, and so realized the sort of men I had for shipmates, that
a sweating fright seized me which made my stomach go queer. And then,
as I thought how I had tumbled myself into this scrape that the least
shred of prudence would have kept me out of, I realized for the second
time that day that I was very young and very much of a fool.



I went to the stern of the brig and looked at the tug, far off and
almost out of sight in the dusk, and at the loom of the Highlands,
above which shone the light-house lamps--and my heart went down into
my boots, and for a while stayed there. For a moment the thought came
into my head to cut away the buoy lashed to the rail and to take my
chances with it overboard--trusting to being picked up by some passing
vessel and so set safe ashore. But the night was closing down fast and
a lively sea was running, and I had sense enough to perceive that
leaving the brig that way would be about the same as getting out of
the frying-pan into the fire.

Fortunately, in a little while I began to get wholesomely angry; which
always is a good thing, I think, when a man gets into a tight
place--if he don't carry it too far--since it rouses the fighting
spirit in him and so helps him to pull through. In reason, I ought to
have been angry with myself, for the trouble that I was in was all of
my own making; but, beyond giving myself a passing kick or two, all
my anger was turned upon Captain Luke for taking advantage of my
greenness to land me in such a pickle when his gain from it would be
so small. I know now that I did Captain Luke injustice. His subsequent
conduct showed that he did not want me aboard with him any more than I
wanted to be there. Had I not taken matters into my own hands by
boarding the brig in such a desperate hurry--just as I had hurried to
close with his offer and to clinch it by paying down my
passage-money--he would have gone off without me. And very likely he
would have thought that the lesson in worldly wisdom he had given me
was only fairly paid for by the fifty dollars which had jumped so
easily out of my pocket into his.

But that was not the way I looked at the matter then; and in my heart
I cursed Captain Luke up hill and down dale for having, as I fancied,
lured me aboard the brig and so into peril of my skin. And my anger
was so strong that I went by turns hot and cold with it, and itched to
get at Captain Luke with my fists and give him a dressing--which I
very well could have done, had we come to fighting, for I was a bigger
man than he was and a stronger man, too.

It is rather absurd as I look back at it, considering what a taking I
was in and how strong was my desire just then to punch Captain Luke's
head for him, that while I was at the top of my rage he came aft to
where I was leaning against the rail and put his hand on my shoulder
as friendly as possible and asked me to come down into the cabin to
supper. I suppose I had a queer pale look, because of my anger, for he
said not to mind if I did feel sickish, but to eat all the same and I
would feel better for it; and he really was so cordial and so pleasant
that for a moment or two I could not answer him. It was upsetting,
when I was so full of fight, to have him come at me in that friendly
way; and I must say that I felt rather sheepish, and wondered whether
I had not been working myself up over a mare's-nest as I followed
him below.

We had the mate to supper with us, at a square table in the middle of
the cabin, and at breakfast the next morning we had the second mate;
and so it went turn and turn with them at meals--except that they had
some sort of dog-watch way about the Saturday night and Sunday morning
that always gave the mate his Sunday dinner with the captain, as was
the due of his rank.

The mate was a surly brute, and when Captain Chilton said, in quite a
formal way, "Mr. Roger Stetworth, let me make you acquainted with Mr.
George Hinds," he only grunted and gave me a sort of a nod. He did not
have much to say while the supper went on, speaking only when the
captain spoke to him, and then shortly; but from time to time he
snatched a mighty sharp look at me--that I pretended not to notice,
but saw well enough out of the tail of my eye. It was plain enough
that he was taking my measure, and I even fancied that he would have
been better pleased had I been six inches or so shorter and with less
well-made shoulders and arms. When he did speak it was in a growling
rumble of a voice, and he swore naturally.

Captain Luke evidently tried to make up for the mate's surliness; and
he really was very pleasant indeed--telling me stories about the
Coast, and giving me good advice about guarding against sickness
there, and showing such an interest in my prospects with the palm-oil
people, and in my welfare generally, that I was still more inclined to
think that my scare about the shackles was only foolishness from first
to last. He seemed to be really pleased when he found that I was not
seasick, and interested when I told him how well I knew the sea and
the management of small craft from my sailing in the waters about
Nantucket every summer for so many years; and then we got to talking
about the Coast again and about my outfit for it, which he said was a
very good one; and he especially commended me--instead of laughing at
me, as I was afraid he would--for having brought along such a lot of
quinine. Indeed, the quinine seemed to make a good deal of an
impression on him, for he turned to the mate and said: "Do you hear
that, George? Mr. Stetworth has with him a whole case of
quinine--enough to serve a ship's company through a cruise." And the
mate rumbled out, as he got up from the table and started for the
deck, that quinine was a damned good thing.

We waited below until the second mate came down, to whom the captain
introduced me with his regular formula: "Mr. Roger Stetworth, let me
make you acquainted with Mr. Martin Bowers." He was a young fellow, of
no more than my own age, and I took a fancy to him at sight--for he
not only shook my hand heartily but he looked me squarely in the eyes,
and that is a thing I like a man to do. It seemed to me that my being
there was a good deal of a puzzle to him; and he also took my measure,
but quite frankly--telling me when he had looked me over that if I
knew how to steer I'd be a good man to have at the wheel in a gale.

The captain brought out a bottle of his favorite arrack, and he and I
had a glass together--in which, as I thought rather hard, Bowers was
not given a chance to join us--and then we went on deck and walked up
and down for a while, smoking our pipes and talking about the weather
and the prospects for the voyage. And it all went so easily and so
pleasantly that I couldn't help laughing a little to myself over
my scare.

I turned in early, for I was pretty well tired after so lively a day;
but when I got into my bunk I could not get to sleep for a long
while--although the bunk was a good one and the easy motion of the
brig lulled me--for the excitement I was in because my voyage fairly
was begun. I slipped through my mind all that had happened to me that
day--from my meeting with Captain Luke in the forenoon until there I
was, at nine o'clock at night, fairly out at sea; and I was so pleased
with the series of lucky chances which had put me on my way so rapidly
that my one mischance--my scare about the shackles--seemed
utterly absurd.

It was perfectly reasonable, I reflected, for Captain Luke to carry
out a lot of shackles simply as "trade." It was pretty dirty "trade,"
of course, but so was the vile so-called brandy he was carrying out
with him; and so, for that matter, were the arms--which pretty
certainly would be used in slaving forays up from the Coast. And even
supposing the very worst--that Captain Luke meant to ship a cargo of
slaves himself and had these irons ready for them--that worst would
come after I was out of the brig and done with her; the captain having
told me that Loango, which was my landing-place, would be his first
port of call. When I was well quit of the _Golden Hind_ she and her
crew and her captain, for all that I cared, might all go to the devil
together. It was enough for me that I should be well treated on the
voyage over; and from the way that the voyage had begun--unless the
surly mate and I might have a bit of a flare-up--it looked as though I
were going to be very well treated indeed. And so, having come to this
comforting conclusion, I let the soft motion of the brig have its way
with me and began to snooze.

A little later I was partly aroused by the sound of steps coming down
the companion-way; and then by hearing, in the mate's rumble, these
words: "I guess you're right, captain. As you had to run for it to-day
before you could buy our quinine, it's a damn good thing he did get
aboard, after all!"

I was too nearly asleep to pay much attention to this, but in a drowsy
way I felt glad that my stock of quinine had removed the mate's
objections to me as a passenger; and I concluded that my purchase of
such an absurd lot of it--after getting worked up by my reading about
the West Coast fevers--had turned out to be a good thing for me in
the long-run.

After that the talk went on in the cabin for a good while, but in such
low tones that even had I been wide awake I could not have followed
it. But I kept dozing off, catching only a word or two now and then;
and the only whole sentence I heard was in the mate's rumble again:
"Well, if we can't square things, there's always room for one more
in the sea."

It all was very dream-like--and fitted into a dream that came later,
in the light sleep of early morning, I suppose, in which the mate wore
the uniform of a street-car conductor, and I was giving him doses of
quinine, and he was asking the passengers in a car full of salt-water
to move up and make room for me, and was telling them and me that in a
sea-car there always was room for one more.



During the next fortnight or so my life on board the brig was as
pleasant as it well could be. On the first day out we got a slant of
wind that held by us until it had carried us fairly into the northeast
trades--and then away we went on our course, with everything set and
drawing steady, and nothing much to do but man the wheel and eat three
square meals a day.

And so everybody was in a good humor, from the captain down. Even the
mate rumbled what he meant to be a civil word to me now and then; and
Bowers and I--being nearly of an age, and each of us with his foot on
the first round of the ladder--struck up a friendship that kept us
talking away together by the hour at a time: and very frankly, except
that he was shy of saying anything about the brig and her doings, and
whenever I tried to draw him on that course got flurried a little and
held off. But in all other matters he was open; and especially
delighted in running on about ships and seafaring--for the man was a
born sailor and loved his profession with all his heart.

It was in one of these talks with Bowers that I got my first knowledge
of the Sargasso Sea--about which I shortly was to know a great deal
more than he did: that old sea-wonder which puzzled and scared
Columbus when he coasted it on his way to discover America; and which
continued to puzzle all mariners until modern nautical science
revealed its cause--yet still left it a good deal of a mystery--almost
in our own times.

The subject came up one day while we were crossing the Gulf Stream,
and the sea all around us was pretty well covered with patches of
yellow weed--having much the look of mustard-plasters--amidst which a
bit of a barnacled spar bobbed along slowly near us, and not far off a
new pine plank. The yellow stuff, Bowers said, was gulf-weed, brought
up from the Gulf of Mexico where the Stream had its beginning; and
that, thick though it was around us, this was nothing to the thickness
of it in the part of the ocean where the Stream (so he put it, not
knowing any better) had its end. And to that same place, he added, the
Stream carried all that was caught in its current--like the spar and
the plank floating near us--so that the sea was covered with a thick
tangle of the weed in which was held fast fragments of wreckage, and
stuff washed overboard, and logs adrift from far-off southern shores,
until in its central part the mass was so dense that no ship could
sail through it, nor could a steamer traverse it because of the
fouling of her screw. And this sort of floating island--which lay in a
general way between the Bermudas and the Canaries--covered an area of
ocean, he said, half as big as the area of the United States; and to
clear it ships had to make a wide detour--for even in its thin outward
edges a vessel's way was a good deal retarded and a steamer's wheel
would foul sometimes, and there was danger always of collision with
derelicts drifting in from the open sea to become a part of the
central mass. Our own course, he further said, would be changed
because of it; but we would be for a while upon what might be called
its coast, and so I would have a chance to see for myself something of
its look as we sailed along.

As I know now, Bowers over-estimated the size of this strange island
of sea-waifs and sea-weed by nearly one-half; and he was partly wrong
as to the making of it: for the Sargasso Sea is not where any current
ends, but lies in that currentless region of the ocean that is found
to the east of the main Gulf Stream and to the south of the branch
which sweeps across the North Atlantic to the Azores; and its floating
stuff is matter cast off from the Gulf Stream's edge into the
bordering still water--as a river eddies into its pools twigs and dead
leaves and such-like small flotsam--and there is compacted by
capillary attraction and by the slow strong pressure of the winds.

On the whole, though, Bowers was not very much off in his
description--which somehow took a queer deep hold upon me, and
especially set me to wondering what strange old waifs and strays of
the ocean might not be found in the thick of that tangle if only there
were some way of pushing into it and reaching the hidden depths that
no man ever yet had seen. But when I put this view of the matter to
him I did not get much sympathy. He was a practical young man, without
a stitch of romance in his whole make-up, and he only laughed at my
suggestion and said that anybody who tried to push into that mess just
for the sake of seeing some barnacle-covered logs, or perhaps a
rotting hulk or two, would be a good deal of a fool. And so I did not
press my fancy on him, and our talks went on about more
commonplace things.

It was with Captain Luke that I had most to do, and before long I got
to have a very friendly feeling for him because of the trouble that he
took to make me comfortable and to help me pass the time. The first
day out, seeing that I was interested when he took the sun, he turned
the sextant over to me and showed me how to take an observation; and
then how to work it out and fix the brig's position on the chart--and
was a good deal surprised by my quickness in understanding his
explanations (for I suppose that to him, with his rule-of-thumb
knowledge of mathematics, the matter seemed complex), and still more
surprised when he found, presently, that I really understood the
underlying principle of this simple bit of seamanship far better than
he did himself. He said that I knew more than most of the captains
afloat and that I ought to be a sailor; which he meant, no doubt, to
be the greatest compliment that he could pay me. After that I took the
sights and worked them with him daily; and as I several times
corrected his calculations--for even simple addition and subtraction
were more than he could manage with certainty--he became so impressed
by my knowledge as to treat me with an odd show of respect.

But in practical matters--knowledge of men and things, and of the many
places about the world which he had seen, and of the management of a
ship in all weathers--he was one of the best-informed men that ever I
came across: being naturally of a hard-headed make, with great
acuteness of observation, and with quick and sound reasoning powers. I
found his talk always worth listening to; and I liked nothing better
than to sit beside him, or to walk the deck with him, while we smoked
our pipes together and he told me in his shrewd way about one queer
thing and another which he had come upon in various parts of the
world--for he had followed the sea from the time that he was a boy,
and there did not seem to be a bit of coast country nor any part of
all the oceans which he did not know well.

Unlike Bowers, he was very free in talking about the trade that he
carried on in the brig upon the African coast, and quite astonished me
by his showing of the profits that he made; and he generally ended his
discourses on this head by laughingly contrasting the amount of money
that even Bowers got every year--the mates being allowed an interest
in the brig's earnings--with the salary that the palm-oil people were
to pay to me. Indeed, he managed to make me quite discontented with my
prospects, although I had thought them very good indeed when I first
told him about them; and when he would say jokingly, as he very often
did, that I had better drop the palm-oil people and take a berth on
the brig instead, I would be half sorry that he was only in fun.

In a serious way, too, he told me that the Coast trade had got very
unfairly a bad name that it did not deserve. At one time, he said, a
great many hard characters had got into it, and their doings had given
it a black reputation that still stuck to it. But in recent years, he
explained, it had fallen into the hands of a better class of traders,
and its tone had been greatly improved. As a rule, he declared, the
West Coast traders were as decent men as would be found anywhere--not
saints, perhaps, he said smilingly, but men who played a reasonably
square game and who got big money mainly because they took big risks.
When I asked him what sort of risks, he answered: "Oh, pretty much all
sorts--sometimes your pocket and sometimes your neck," and added that
to a man of spirit these risks made half the fun. And then he said
that for a man who did not care for that sort of thing it was better
to be contented with a safe place and low wages--and asked me how long
I expected to stay at Loango, and if I had a better job ahead, when my
work there was done.

At first he would shift the subject when I tried to make him talk
about the slave traffic. But one day--it was toward the end of our
second week out, and I was beginning to think from his constant
turning to it that perhaps he really might mean to offer me a berth on
the brig, and that his offer might be pretty well worth accepting--he
all of a sudden spoke out freely and of his own accord. It was true,
he said, that sometimes a few blacks were taken aboard by traders,
when no other stuff offered for barter, and were carried up to Mogador
and there sold for very high prices indeed--for there was a prejudice
against the business, and the naval vessels on the Coast tried so
persistently to stop it that the risk of capture was great and the
profit from a successful venture correspondingly large. But the
prejudice, he continued, was really not well-founded. Slavery, of
course, was a very bad thing; but there were degrees of badness in it,
and since it could not be broken up there was much to be said in favor
of any course that would make it less cruel. The blacks who were the
slaves of other blacks, or of Portuguese,--and it was only these that
the traders bought--were exposed to such barbarous treatment that it
was a charity to rescue them from it on almost any terms. Certainly it
was for their good, as they had to be in bondage somewhere, to deliver
them from such masters by carrying them away to Northern Africa: where
the slavery was of so mild and paternal a sort that cruelty almost was
unknown. And then he went on to tell me about the kindly relations
which he himself had seen existing between slaves and their masters in
those parts, both among Arabs and Moors.

This presentment of the case put so new a face on it that at first I
could not get my bearings; which I am the less ashamed to own up to
because, as I look at the matter now, I perceive how much trouble
Captain Luke took to win me for his own purposes--he being a
middle-aged man packed full of shrewd worldly wisdom, and I only a
fresh young fool.

My hesitation about making up an answer to him--for, while I was sure
that in the main point he was all wrong, I was caught for the moment
in his sophisms--made him fancy, I suppose, that he had convinced me;
and so was safe to go ahead in the way that he had intended, no doubt,
all along. At any rate, without stopping until my slow wits had a
chance to get pulled together, he put on a great show of friendly
frankness and said that he now knew me well enough to trust me, and so
would tell me openly that he himself engaged in the Mogador trade when
occasion offered; and that there was more money in it a dozen times
over than in all the other trade that he carried on in the
_Golden Hind_.

I confess that this avowal completely staggered me, and with a rush
brought back all the fears by which I had been so rattled on the first
day of our voyage. In a hazy way I perceived that the captain had been
playing a part with me, and that the others had been playing parts
too--for I could not hope that among men of that stripe such
friendliness should be natural--and what with my surprise, and the
fresh fright I was thrown into, I was struck fairly dumb.

But Captain Luke--likely enough deceived by his own hopes, as even
shrewd men will be sometimes--either did not notice the fluster I was
in, or thought to set matters all right with me in his own way; for
when he found that I remained silent he took up the talk himself
again, and went on to show in detail the profits of a single venture
with a live cargo--and his figures were certainly big enough to fire
the fancy of any man who was keen for money-getting and who was
willing to get his money by rotten ways. And then, when he had
finished with this part of the matter, he came out plumply with the
offer to give me a mate's rating on board the brig if I would cast in
my fortunes with his. Of the theory of seamanship, he said, I already
knew more than he did himself; and so much more than either of his
mates that he would feel entirely at ease--as he could not with
them--in trusting the navigation of the brig in my hands. As to the
practical part of the work, that was a matter that with my quickness I
would pick up in no time; and my bigness and strength, he added, would
come in mighty handily when there was trouble among the crew, as
sometimes happened, and in keeping the blacks in order, and in the
little fights that now and then were necessary with folks on shore.
And then he came to the real kernel of the matter: which was that
Bowers did not like his work and was not fit for it, and was
threatening to leave the brig at the first port she made, and so a man
who could be trusted was badly needed to take his place.

When he had finished with it all I was dumber than ever; for I was in
a rage at him for making me such an offer, and at the same time saw
pretty clearly that if I refused it as plumply as he made it we
should come to such open enmity that I--being in his power
completely--would be in danger of my skin. And so I was glad when he
gave me a breathing spell, and the chance to think things over
quietly, by telling me that he would not hurry me for answer and that
I could take a day or two--or a week or two if I wanted it--in which
to make up my mind.



For the rest of that day, and for the two days following, Captain Luke
did not in any way refer to his offer; and as he showed himself more
than ever friendly, and talked away to me in his usual entertaining
fashion, my rage and fright began to go off a little--though at
bottom, of course, there was no change in my opinions, nor any doubt
as to my giving him a point-blank refusal when the issue should be
squarely raised.

All this time the brig was bowling along down the trades; and on the
third morning after I had the captain's offer--we being then close
upon the thirty-fifth parallel of north latitude--Bowers called my
attention to the gulf-weed floating about us, and told me that we were
fairly on the outer edge of the Sargasso Sea. We should not get into
any thicker part of it, he said, as we should bear up to clear it; and
so we actually did, hauling away a good deal to the eastward when the
brig's course was set that day at noon. But my interest in the matter
had been so checked--all my thought being given to finding some way
out of the pickle in which I found myself--that I paid little
attention to the patches of yellow weed on the water around us or to
the bits of wreckage that we saw now and then; and when Bowers,
keeping on with his talk, fell to chaffing me about my desire to make
a voyage of discovery into the thick part of this floating mystery I
did not rise to his joking, nor did I make him much of a reply.

Indeed, I was in rather a low way that day; which was due in part to
my not being able, for all my thinking, to see any sort of a clear
course before me; and in part to the fact that the weather was
thickening and that my spirits were dulled a good deal by what we call
the heaviness of the air. All around the horizon steel-gray clouds
were rising, and a soft sort of a haze hung about us and took the life
out of the sunshine, and the wind fell away until there was almost
nothing of it, and that little fitful--while with the dying out of it
the sea began to stir slowly with a long oily swell. Far down to the
southeast a line of smoke hung along the horizon, coming from the
funnel of some steamer out of sight over the ocean's curve, and the
heaviness of the atmosphere was shown by the way that this smoke held
close to the surface of the sea.

That Captain Luke did not like the look of things was plain enough
from his sharp glances about him and from his frequent examinations
of the glass; and he seemed to be all the more bothered--his seaman's
instinct that a storm was brewing being at odds with the barometer's
prophecy--by the fact that the mercury showed a marked tendency to
rise. Had he known as much of the scientific side of navigation as he
knew of the practical side he could have reconciled the conduct of the
barometer with his own convictions, and so would have been easier in
his mind; for it is a fact that the mercury often rises suddenly on
the front edge of a storm--that is to say, a little in advance of
it--by reason of the air banking up there. But having only his
rule-of-thumb knowledge to apply in the premises, the apparent
scientific contradiction of his own practical notions as to what was
going to happen confused him and made him irritable--the
nerve-stirring state of the atmosphere no doubt having also a share in
the matter--as was made plain by his sharp quick motions, and by the
way in which on the smallest provocation he fell to swearing at the
men. And so the day wore itself out to nightfall: with the steel-gray
clouds lifting steadily from the horizon toward the zenith, and with
the swell of the weed-spattered sea slowly rising, and with a doubting
uneasiness among all of us that found its most marked expression in
Captain Luke's increasingly savage mood.

Our supper was a glowering one. The captain had little to say, and
that little of a sharp sort, while the mate only rumbled out a curse
now and then at the boy who served us; and I myself was in a bitter
bad humor as I thought how hard it was on me to be shut up at sea in
such vile company, and how I had only myself to blame for getting into
it--and found my case all the harder because of my nervous uneasiness
due to the coming storm. As to the storm, there no longer could be
doubt about it, for the barometer had got into line with Captain
Luke's convictions and was falling fast.

When the supper was over the captain brought out his arrack-bottle and
took off a full tumbler, which was more than double his usual
allowance, and then pushed the liquor across to the mate and me. The
mate also took a good pull at it, and I took a fair drink myself in
the hope that it would quiet my nerves--but it had exactly the
opposite effect and made me both excited and cross. And then we all
came on deck together, and all in a rough humor, and Bowers went down
into the cabin to have his supper by himself.

What happened in the next half-hour happened so quickly that I cannot
give a very clear account of it. A part of it, no doubt, was due to
mere chance and angry impulse; but not the whole of it, and I think
not the worst of it--for the first thing that the captain did was to
order the man who was steering to go forward and to tell the mate to
take the wheel. That left just the three of us together at the stern
of the brig--with Bowers below and so out of sight and hearing, and
with all the crew completely cut off from us and put out of sight and
hearing by the rise of the cabin above the deck.

Night had settled down on the ocean, but not darkness. Far off to the
eastward the full moon was standing well above the horizon and was
fighting her way upward through the clouds--now and then getting
enough the better of them to send down a dash of brightness on the
water, but for the most part making only a faint twilight through
their gloom. The wind still was very light and fitful, but broken by
strongish puffs which would heel the brig over a little and send her
along sharply for half a mile or so before they died away; and the
swell had so risen that we had a long sleepy roll. Up to windward I
made out a ship's lights--that seemed to be coming down on us rapidly,
from their steady brightening--and I concluded that this must be the
steamer from which the smoke had come that I had seen trailing along
the horizon through the afternoon; and I even fancied, the night being
intensely still, that I could hear across the water the soft purring
sound made by the steady churning of her wheel. Somehow it deepened
the sullen anger that had hold of me to see so close by a ship having
honest men aboard of her, and to know at the same time how hopelessly
fast I was tied to the brig and her dirty crew. I don't mind saying
that the tears came to my eyes, for I was both hurt by my sorrow and
heavy with my dull rage.

We all three were silent for a matter of ten minutes or so, or it
might even have been longer, and then Captain Luke faced around on me
suddenly and asked: "Well, have you made up your mind?"

Had I been cooler I should have tried to fence a little, since my only
resource--I being caught like a rat in a trap that way--was to try to
gain time; but I was all in a quiver, just as I suppose he was, with
the excitement of the situation and with the excitement of the
thunderous night, and his short sharp question jostled out of my head
what few wits I had there and made me throw away my only chance. And
so I answered him, just as shortly and as sharply: "Yes, I have."

"Do you mean to join the brig?" he demanded.

"No, I don't," I answered, and stepped a little closer to him and
looked him squarely in the eyes.

"I told you so," the mate broke in with his rumble; and I saw that he
was whipping a light lashing on the wheel in a way that would hold it
steady in case he wanted to let go.

"Better think a minute," said Captain Luke, speaking coolly enough,
but still with an angry undertone in his voice. "I've made you a good
offer, and I'm ready to stand by it. But if you won't take what I've
offered you you'll take something else that you won't like, my fresh
young man. In a friendly way, and for your information, I've told you
a lot of things that I can't trust to the keeping of any living man
who won't chip in with us and take our chances--the bad ones with the
good ones--just as they happen to come along. You know too much, now,
for me to part company from you while you have a wagging tongue in
your head--and so my offer's still open to you. Only there's this
about it: if you won't take it, overboard you go."

I had a little gleam of sense at that; for I knew that he spoke in
dead earnest, and that the mate stood ready to back him, and that
against the two of them I had not much show. And so I tried to play
for time, saying: "Well, let me think it over a bit longer. You said
there was no hurry and that I might have a week to consider in. I've
had only three days, so far. Do you call that square?"

"Squareness be damned," rumbled the mate, and he gave a look aloft and
another to windward--the breeze just then had fallen to a mere
whisper--and took his hands off the wheel and stepped away from it so
that he and the captain were close in front of me, side by side. I
stood off from them a little, and got my back against the cabin--that
I might be safe against an attack from behind--and I was so furiously
angry that I forgot to be scared.

"Three days is as good as three years," Captain Luke jerked out. "What
I want is an answer right now. Will you join the brig--yes or no?"

Somehow I remembered just then seeing our pig killed, when I was a
boy--how he ran around the lot with the men after him, and got into a
corner and tried to fight them, and was caught in spite of his poor
little show of fighting, and was rolled over on his back and had his
throat stuck. He was a nice pig, and I had felt sorry for him:
thinking that he didn't deserve such treatment, his life having been a
respectable one, and he never having done anybody any harm. It all
came back to me in a flash, as I settled myself well against the cabin
and answered: "No, I won't join you--and you and your brig may go
to hell!"

All I remember after that was their rush together upon me, and my
hitting out two or three times--getting in one smasher on the mate's
jaw that was a comfort to me--and then something hard cracking me on
the head, and so stunning me that I knew nothing at all of what
happened until I found myself coming up to the surface of the sea,
sputtering salt-water and partly tangled in a bunch of gulf-weed, and
saw the brig heeling over and sliding fast away from me before a
sudden strong draught of wind.



My head was tingling with pain, and so buzzy that I had no sense worth
speaking of, but just kept myself afloat in an instinctive sort of way
by paddling a little with my hands. And I could not see well for what
I thought was water in my eyes--until I found that it was blood
running down over my forehead from a gash in my scalp that went from
the top of my right ear pretty nearly to my crown. Had the blow that
made it struck fair it certainly would have finished me; but from the
way that the scalp was cut loose the blow must have glanced.

The chill of the water freshened me and brought my senses back a
little: for which I was not especially thankful at first, being in
such pain and misery that to drown without knowing much about it
seemed quite the best thing that I could hope for just then. Indeed,
when I began to think again, though not very clearly, I had half a
mind to drop my arms to my sides and so go under and have done with
it--so despairing was I as I bobbed about on the swell among the
patches of gulf-weed which littered the dark ocean, with the brig
drawing away from me rapidly, and no chance of a rescue from her even
had she been near at hand.

Whether I had or had not hurried the matter, under I certainly should
have gone shortly--for the crack on my head and the loss of blood from
it had taken most of my strength out of me, and even with my full
strength I could not have kept afloat long--had not a break in the
clouds let through a dash of moonlight that gave me another chance. It
was only for a moment or two that the moonlight lasted, yet long
enough for me to make out within a hundred feet of me a biggish piece
of wreckage--which but for that flash I should not have noticed, or in
the dimness would have taken only for a bunch of weed.

Near though it was, getting to it was almost more than I could manage;
and when at last I did reach it I was so nearly used up that I barely
had strength to throw my arms about it and one leg over it, and so
hang fast for a good many minutes in a half-swoon of weakness
and pain.

But the feel of something solid under me, and the certainty that for a
little while at least I was safe from drowning, helped me to pull
myself together; and before long some of my strength came back, and a
little of my spirit with it, and I went about settling myself more
securely on my poor sort of a raft. What I had hit upon, I found, was
a good part of a ship's mast; with the yards still holding fast by it
and steadying it, and all so clean-looking that it evidently had not
been in the water long. The main-top, I saw, would give me a back to
lean against and also a little shelter; and in that nook I would be
still more secure because the futtock-shrouds made a sort of cage
about it and gave me something to catch fast to should the swell of
the sea roll me off. So I worked along the mast from where I first had
caught hold of it until I got myself stowed away under the main-top:
where I had my body fairly out of water, and a chance to rest easily
by leaning against the upstanding woodwork, and a good grip with my
legs to keep me firm. And it is true, though it don't sound so, that I
was almost happy at finding myself so snug and safe there--as it
seemed after having nothing under me but the sea.

And then I set myself--my head hurting me cruelly, and the flow of
blood still bothering me--to see what I could do in the way of binding
up my wound; and made a pretty good job of it, having a big silk
handkerchief in my pocket that I folded into a smooth bandage and
passed over my crown and under my chin--after first dowsing my head in
the cold sea water, which set the cut to smarting like fury but helped
to keep the blood from flowing after the bandage was made fast. At
first, while I was paddling in the water and splashing my way along
the mast and while the bandage was flapping about my ears, I had no
chance to hear any noises save those little ones close to me which I
was making myself. But when I had finished my rough surgery, and
leaned back against the top to rest after it--and my heart was
beginning to sink with the thought of how utterly desperate my case
was, afloat there on the open ocean with a gale coming on--I heard in
the deep silence a faint rythmic sound that I recognized instantly as
the pulsing of a steamer's engine and the steady churning of her
screw. This mere whisper in the darkness was a very little thing to
hang a hope upon; but hope did return to me with, the conviction that
the sound came from the steamer of which I had seen the lights just
before I was pitched overboard, and that I had a chance of her passing
near enough to me to hear my hail.

I peered eagerly over the waters, trying to make out her lights again
and so settle how she was heading; but I could see no lights, though
with each passing minute the beating of the screw sounded louder to my
straining ears. From that I concluded that she must be coming up
behind me and was hid by the top from me; and so, slowly and
painfully, I managed to get on my hands and knees on the mast, and
then to raise myself until I stood erect and could see over the edge
of the top as it rose like a little wall upright--and gave a weak
shout of joy as I saw what I was looking for, the three bright points
against the blackness, not more than a mile away. And I was all the
more hopeful because her red and green lights showed full on each side
of the white light on her foremast, and by that I knew that she was
heading for me as straight as she could steer.

I gave another little shout--but fainter than the first, for my
struggle to get to my feet, and then to hold myself erect as the swell
rolled the mast about, made me weak and a little giddy; and I wanted
to keep on shouting--but had the sense not to, that I might save my
strength for the yells that I should have to give when the steamer got
near enough to me for her people to hear my cries. So I stood
silent--swaying with the roll of the mast, and with my head throbbing
horribly because of my excitement and the strain of holding on
there--while I watched her bearing down on me; and making her out so
plainly as she got closer that it never occurred to me that I and my
bit of mast would not be just as plain to her people as her great bulk
was to me.

I don't suppose that she was within a quarter of a mile of me when I
began my yelling; but I was too much worked up to wait longer, and the
result of my hurry was to make my voice very hoarse and feeble by the
time that she really was within hail. She came dashing along so
straight for me that I suddenly got into a tremor of fear that she
would run me down; and, indeed, she only cleared me by fifty feet or
so--her huge black hull, dotted with the bright lights of her cabin
ports, sliding past me so close that she seemed to tower right up over
me--and I was near to being swamped, so violently was my mast tossed
about by the rush and suck of the water from her big screw. And while
she hung over me, and until she was gone past me and clear out of all
hearing. I yelled and yelled!

At first I could not believe, so sure had I been of my rescue, that
she had left me; and it was not until she was a good half mile away
from me, with only the sound of her screw ripping the water, and a
faint gleam of light from her after ports showing through the
darkness, that I realized that she was gone--and then I grew so sick
and dizzy that it is a wonder I did not lose my hold altogether and
fall off into the sea. Somehow or another I managed to swing myself
down and to seat myself upon the mast again, with my head fairly
splitting and with my heart altogether gone: and so rested there,
shutting my eyes to hide the sight of my hope vanishing, and as
desolate as any man ever was.

Presently, in a dull way, I noticed that I no longer heard the swash
of her screw, and rather wondered at her getting out of hearing so
quickly; but for fear of still seeing her lights, and so having more
pain from her, I still kept my eyes tight closed. And then, all of a
sudden, I heard quite close by me a hail--and opened my eyes in a
hurry to see a light not a hundred feet away from me, and to make out
below it the loom of a boat moving slowly over the weed-strewn sea.

The shout that I gave saved me, but before it saved me I came near to
being done for. Such a rush of blood went up into my broken head with
the sudden burst of joy upon me that a dead faint came upon me and I
fell off into the water; and that I was floating when the boat got to
me was due to the mere chance that as I dropped away from the mast one
of my arms slipped into the tangle of the futtock-shrouds. But I knew
nothing about that, nor about anything else that happened, until we
were half-way back to the steamer and I came to my senses a little;
and very little for a good while longer--except that I was swung up a
ship's side and there was a good deal of talking going on around me;
and then that my clothes were taken off and I was lifted into a soft
delightful berth; and then that somebody with gentle hands was binding
up my broken crown.

When this job was finished--which hurt me a good deal, but did not
rouse me much--I just fell back upon the soft pillow and went to
sleep: with a blessed sense of rest and safety, as I felt the roll of
a whole ship under me again after the short jerk of my mast, and knew
that I was not back on the brig but aboard an honest steamer by
hearing and by feeling the strong steady pulsing of her screw.



I was roused from my sleep by the sharp motion of the vessel; but did
not get very wide awake, for I felt donsie and there was a dull
ringing in my head along with a great dull pain. I had sense enough,
though, to perceive that the storm had come, about which Captain Luke
and the barometer had been at odds; and to shake a little with a
creepy terror as I thought of the short work it would have made with
me had I waited for it on my mast. But I was too much hurt to feel
anything very keenly, and so heavy that even with the quick short roll
of the ship to rouse me I kept pretty much in a doze.

After a while the door of my state-room was opened a little and a man
peeped in; and when he saw my open eyes looking at him he came in
altogether, giving me a nod and a smile. He was a tall fellow in a
blue uniform, with a face that I liked the looks of; and when he spoke
to me I liked the sound of his voice.

"You must be after being own cousin to all the Seven Sleepers of
Ephesus and the dog too, my big young man," he said, holding fast to
the upper berth to steady himself. "You've put in ten solid hours, so
far, and you don't seem to be over wide awake yet. Faith, I'd be after
backing you to sleep standing, like Father O'Rafferty's old dun cow!"

I did not feel up to answering him, but I managed to grin a little,
and he went on: "I'm for thinking that I'd better let that broken head
of yours alone till this fool of a ship is sitting still
again--instead of trying to teach the porpoises such tricks of rolling
and pitching as never entered into their poor brute minds. But you'll
do without doctoring for the present, myself having last night sewed
up all right and tight for you the bit of your scalp that had fetched
away. How does it feel?"

"It hurts," was all that I could answer.

"And small blame to it," said the doctor, and went on: "It's a
well-made thick head you have, and its tough you are, my son, not to
be killed entirely by such a whack as you got on your brain-box--to
say nothing of your fancy for trying to cure it hydropathically by
taking it into the sea with you when you were for crossing the
Atlantic Ocean on the fag-end of a mast. It's much indeed that you
have to learn, I am thinking, both about surgery and about taking care
of yourself. But in the former you'll now do well, being in the
competent hands of a graduate of Dublin University; and in regard to
your incompetence in the latter good reason have you for being
thankful that the _Hurst Castle_ happened to be travelling in these
parts last night, and that her third officer is blessed with a pair of
extra big ears and so happened to hear you talking to him from out of
the depths of the sea."

"But talking isn't now the best thing for you, and some more of the
sleep that you're so fond of is--if only the tumbling of the ship will
let you have it; so take this powder into that mouth of yours which
you opened so wide when you were conversing with us as we went sailing
past you, and then stop your present chattering and take all the sleep
that you can hold."

With that he put a bitter powder into my mouth, and gave me a drink of
water after it--raising me up with a wonderful deftness and gentleness
that I might take it, and settling me back again on the pillow in just
the way that I wanted to lie. "And now be off again to your friends
the Ephesians," he said; "only remember that if you or they--or their
dog either, poor beasty--wants anything, it's only needed to touch
this electric bell. As to the doggy," he added, with his hand on the
door-knob, "tell him to poke at the button with the tip of his foolish
nose." And with that he opened the door and went away. All this
light friendly talk was such a comfort to me--showing, as it did,
along with the good care that I was getting, what kindly people I had
fallen among--that in my weak state I cried a little because of my
happy thankfulness; and then, my weakness and the powder acting
together to lull me, in spite of the ship's sharp motion I went off
again to sleep.

But that time my sleep did not last long. In less than an hour, I
suppose, the motion became so violent as to shake me awake again--and
to give me all that I could do to keep myself from being shot out of
my berth upon the floor. Presently the doctor came again, fetching
with him one of the cabin stewards to rig the storm-board at the side
of my berth and some extra pillows with which to wedge me fast. But
though he gave me a lot more of his pleasant chaff to cheer me I could
see that his look was anxious, and it seemed to me that the steward
was badly scared. Between them they managed to stow me pretty tight in
my berth and to make me as comfortable as was possible while
everything was in such commotion--with the ship bouncing about like a
pea on a hot shovel and all the wood-work grinding and creaking with
the sudden lifts and strains.

"It's a baddish gale that's got hold of the old _Hurst Castle_, and
that's a fact," the doctor said, when they had finished with me, in
answer to the questioning look that he saw in my eyes. "But it's
nothing to worry about," he went on; "except that it's hard on you,
with that badly broken head of yours, to be tumbled about worse than
Mother O'Donohue's pig when they took it to Limerick fair in a cart.
So just lie easy there among your pillows, my son; and pretend that
it's exercise that you are taking for the good of your liver--which is
a torpid and a sluggish organ in the best of us, and always the better
for such a shaking as the sea is giving us now. And be remembering
that the _Hurst Castle_ is a Clyde-built boat, with every plate and
rivet in her as good as a Scotsman knows how to make it--and in such
matters it's the Sandies who know more than any other men alive. In my
own ken she's pulled through storms fit to founder the Giant's
Causeway and been none the worse for 'em, and so it's herself that's
certain to weather this bit of a gale--which has been at its worst no
less than two times this same morning, and therefore by all rule and
reason must be for breaking soon.

"And be thinking, too," he added as he was leaving me, "that I'll be
coming in to look after you now and then when I have a spare
minute--for there are some others, I'm sorry to say, who are after
needing me; and as soon as the gale goes down a bit I'll overhaul
again that cracked head of yours, and likely be singing you at the
same time for your amusement a real Irish song." But not much was
there of singing, nor of any other show of lightheartedness, aboard
the _Hurst Castle_ during the next twelve hours. So far from breaking,
the gale--as the doctor had called it, although in reality it was a
hurricane--got worse steadily; with only a lull now and then, as
though for breath-taking, and then a fiercer rush of wind--before
which the ship would reel and shiver, while the grinding of her iron
frame and the crunching of her wood-work made a sort of wild chorus of
groans and growls. For all my wedging of pillows I was near to flying
over the storm-board out of my berth with some of the plunges that she
took; and very likely I should have had such a tumble had not the
doctor returned again in a little while and with the mattress from the
upper berth so covered me as to jam me fast--and how he managed to do
this, under the circumstances, I am sure I don't know.

When he had finished my packing he bent down over me--or I could not
have heard him--and said: "It's sorry I am for you, my poor boy, for
you're getting just now more than your full share of troubles. But
we're all in a pickle together, and that's a fact, and the choice
between us is small. And I'd be for suggesting that if you know such a
thing as a prayer or two you'll never have a finer opportunity for
saying them than you have now." And by that, and by the friendly
sorrowful look that he gave me, I knew that our peril must
be extreme.

I don't like to think of the next few hours; while I lay there packed
tight as any mummy, and with no better than a mummy's chances, as it
seemed to me, of ever seeing the live world again--terrified by the
awful war of the storm and by the confusion of wild noises, and every
now and then sharply startled by hearing on the deck above me a fierce
crash as something fetched away. It was a bad time, Heaven knows, for
everybody; but for me I thought that it was worst of all. For there I
was lying in utter helplessness, with the certainty that if the ship
foundered there was not a chance for me--since I must drown solitary
in my state-room, like a rat drowned in a hole.



At last, having worn itself out, as sailors say, the storm began to
lessen: first showing its weakening by losing its little lulls and
fiercer gusts after them, and then dropping from a tempest to a mere
gale--that in turn fell slowly to a gentle wind. But even after the
wind had fallen, and for a good while after, the ship labored in a
tremendous sea.

As I grew easier in my mind and body, and so could think a little, I
wondered why my friend the doctor did not come to me; and when at last
my door was opened I looked eagerly--my eyes being the only free part
of me--to see him come in. But it was the steward who entered, and I
had a little sharp pang of disappointment because I missed the face
that I wanted to see. However, the man stooped over me, kindly enough,
and lifted off the mattress and did his best to make me comfortable;
only when I asked him where the doctor was he pretty dismally
shook his head.

"It's th' doctor himself is needin' doctorin', poor soul," he
answered, "he bein' with his right leg broke, and with his blessed
head broke a-most as bad as yours!" And then he told me that when the
storm was near ended the doctor had gone on deck to have a look at
things, and almost the minute he got there had been knocked over by a
falling spar. "For th' old ship's shook a-most to pieces," the man
went on; "with th' foremast clean overboard, an' th' mizzen so wobbly
that it's dancin' a jig every time she pitches, and everything at rags
an' tatters of loose ends."

"But the doctor?" I asked.

"He says himself, sir, that he's not dangerous, and I s'pose he ought
to know. Th' captain an' th' purser together, he orderin' 'em, have
set his leg for him; and his head, he says, 'll take care of itself,
bein' both thick an' hard. But he's worryin' painful because he can't
look after you, sir, an' th' four or five others that got hurt in th'
storm. And I can tell you, sir," the man went on, "that all th' ship's
company, an' th' passengers on top of 'em, are sick with sorrow that
this has happened to him; for there's not a soul ever comes near th'
doctor but loves him for his goodness, and we'd all be glad to break
our own legs this minute if by that we could be mendin' his!"

The steward spoke very feelingly and earnestly, and with what he said
I was in thorough sympathy; for the doctor's care of me and his
friendliness had won my heart to him, just as it had won to him the
hearts of all on board. But there was comfort in knowing that he had
got off with only a broken leg and a broken head from a peril that so
easily might have been the death of him, and of that consolation I
made the most--while the steward, who was a handy fellow and pretty
well trained as a surgeon's assistant, freshly bandaged my head for me
as the doctor had ordered him to do, and so set me much more at my
ease. After that, for the rest of the day, he came every hour or so to
look after me; giving me some broth to eat and a biscuit, and some
medicine that the doctor sent me with the message that it would put
strength enough into a dead pig to set him to dancing--by which I knew
that even if his head and leg were broken there was no break in his
whimsical fun.

The steward was the only man who came near me; but this did not
surprise me when he told me more about the condition that the ship was
in, and how all hands--excepting himself, who had been detailed
because of his knowledge that way to look after the hurt people under
the doctors direction--were hard at work making repairs, with what men
there were among the passengers helping too. The ship was not leaking,
he said, and this was the luckier because her frame was so strained
that it was doubtful if her water-tight compartments would hold; but
the foremast had been carried away, and all the weather-boats had been
mashed out of all shape or swept overboard, and the mizzen was so
shaky that it seemed likely at any moment to fall. Indeed, the mast
was in such a bad way, he said, that the first and second officers
were for getting rid of it--and of the danger that there was of its
coming down all in a heap anyway--by sending it overboard; but that
the captain thought it safe to stand now that the sea was getting
smooth again, and was setting up jury-stays to hold it until we made
the Azores--for which islands our course was laid.

By the time that night came again the sea had pretty well gone down,
and beyond the easy roll that was on her the ship had no motion save
the steady vibration of her screw. With this comforting change the
pain in my head became only a dull heavy aching, and I had a chance to
feel how utterly weary I was after the strain of mind and body that
had been put on me by the gale. A little after eight o'clock, as I
knew by hearing the ship's bell striking--and mighty pleasant it was
to hear regularly that orderly sound again--the steward brought me a
bowl of broth and propped me up in my berth while I drank it; and
cheered me by telling me that the doctor was swearing at his broken
leg like a good fellow, and was getting on very well indeed. And then
my weariness had its way with me, and I fell off into that deep sleep
which comes to a man only when all his energy has slipped away from
him on a dead low tide. How long I slept I do not know. But I do
know that I was routed suddenly into wakefulness by a jar that almost
pitched me out of my berth, and that an instant later there was a
tremendous crash as though the whole deck above me was smashing to
pieces, and with this a rattle of light woodwork splintering and the
sharp tinkling of breaking glass. For a moment there was silence; and
then I heard shouts and screams close by me in the cabin, and a little
later a great trampling on deck, and then the screw stopped turning
and there was a roar of escaping steam.

I was so heavy with sleep that at first I thought we still were in the
storm and that this commotion was a part of it; but as I shook off my
drowsiness I got a clearer notion of the situation--remembering what
the steward had told me of the condition of the mizzen-mast, and so
arriving at the conclusion that it had fetched away bodily and had
come crashing through the cabin skylight in its fall. But what the
shock was that had sent it flying--unless we had been in collision--I
could not understand. And all this while the trampling on deck
continued, and out in the cabin the shouts and cries went on.

I thought that the steward would come to me--forgetting that in times
of danger men are apt to think only of saving their own skins--and so
laid still; being, indeed, so weak and wretched that it did not seem
possible to me to do anything else. But he did not come, and at the
end of what seemed to me to be a desperately long time--though I doubt
if it were more than five minutes--I realized that I must try to do
something to help myself; and was the more nerved to action by the
fact that there no longer was the sound of voices in the cabin, while
the noises on deck a good deal had increased. Indeed, I began to hear
up there the puffing and snorting of the donkey-engine, and so felt
certain that they were hoisting out the boats.

Somehow or another I managed to get out of my berth, and on my feet,
and so to the door; but when I tried to open the door I could not
budge it, and in the darkness I struck my head against what seemed to
be a bar of wood that stuck in through one of the upper panels and so
held it fast. The blow dizzied me, for it took me close to where my
cut was and put me into intense pain.

While I stood there, pulling in a weak way at the door-knob and making
nothing of it, I heard voices out in the cabin and through my broken
door saw a gleam of light. But in the moment that my hope rose it went
down again, for I heard some one say quickly and sharply: "It's no
good. The way the spar lies we can't get at him--and to cut it through
would take an hour."

And then a voice that I recognized for the steward's answered: "But
the doctor ordered it. Where's an axe for a try?" To which the other
man answered back again: "If it was the doctor himself we couldn't do
it, and we'll tell him so. The ship'll be down in five minutes. We've
got to run for it or the boats'll be off." And then away they ran
together, giving no heed in their fright to my yells after them to
come back and not leave me there to drown.

For a little while I was as nearly wild crazy as a man can be and yet
have a purpose in his mind. The keen sense of my peril made me strong
again. I kicked with my bare feet and pounded with my hands upon the
door to break it, I shouted for help to come to me, and I gave out
shrill screams of terror such as brutes give in their agony--for I was
down to the hard-pan of human nature, and what I felt most strongly
was the purely animal longing to keep alive.

But no one answered me, and I could tell by the sounds on deck getting
fainter that some of the boats already had put off; and in a little
while longer no sound came from the deck of any sort whatever, and by
that I knew that all the boats must have got away. And as I realized
that I was forsaken, and felt sure from what I had heard that the ship
would float for only a few minutes longer, I gave a cry of downright
despair--and then I lost track of the whole bad business by tumbling
to the floor in the darkness in a dead swoon.



When I came to myself again, and found my state-room--although the
dead-light was set--bright with the light which entered through the
broken door, my first feeling was of wonder that I was not yet
drowned; for it was evident that the sun must be well up in the
heavens to shine so strongly, and therefore that a good many hours
must have passed since the smash had happened that had sent everybody
flying to the boats believing that the ship was going right down. And
my next wonder was caused by the queer way in which the ship was
lying--making me fancy at first that I was dizzy again, and my eyes
tricking me--with a pitch forward that gave a slope to the floor of my
state-room, of not less than twenty degrees.

For a while, in a stupid sort of way, I ruminated over these matters;
and at last got hold of the simple explanation of them. Evidently, in
spite of the straining of the steamer's frame in the storm, her
water-tight compartments--or some of them--had held, leaving her
floating with her broken bow well down in the water and her stern
canted up into the air. And then the farther comforting thought came
to me that if she had kept afloat for so many hours already, and
seemed so steady in her new position, there was no reason why she
should not keep on floating at least for as long as the fine weather
lasted--which gave me a chance of rescue by some passing vessel, and
so brought a good deal of hope back into my heart.

I still was very weak and shaky, and how I was to get out of the
prison that I was in I did not know. By daylight it was easy to see
what held me there: which was the end of a yard, with the reef-block
hanging to it, smashed through the upper panel and caught so tight in
the splintered wood-work as to anchor the door fast. If the wits of
the steward and of the other fellow had not been scared clean out of
them they easily might have knocked in the lower part of the door with
an axe and so opened a way out for me; but as their only notion had
been to cut away the spar--a tough piece of work--I could not in cool
blood very greatly blame them for having given up my rescue and run
for their own lives.

These thoughts went through my head while I lay there, most
uncomfortably, on the sloping floor. Presently I managed to get up,
but felt so dizzy that I had to seat myself in a hurry on the edge of
the berth until my head got steadier. Fortunately my water-jug was
half full, and I had a good drink from it which refreshed me greatly;
and then I had the farther good fortune to see some biscuit which the
steward had left on a shelf in the corner, and as I caught sight of
them I realized that I was very hungry indeed. I ate one, along with
some more sups of water, and felt much the better for it; but lay down
in my berth that I might save the strength it gave me until I should
have thought matters over a little and settled some line of action
in my mind.

That I was too weak to break the door down was quite certain, and the
only other thing that I could think of was cutting out the lower
panels and so making a hole through which I could crawl. As this
thought came to me I remembered the big jack-knife that had been in my
trousers' pocket when I went overboard from the brig; and in a minute
I was on my feet--and without feeling any dizziness, this time--and
got to where my clothes were hanging on a hook, and found to my joy
that my knife and all the other things which had been in my pockets
had been returned to them after the clothes had been dried. The knife
was badly rusted and I had a hard time opening it; but the rust did
not much dull it, and I seated myself upon the floor and fell to
slicing away at the soft pine wood with a will. I had to rest now and
then, although I found that my strength held out better than I had
hoped for, and that put me back a little; but the wood was so soft
that in not much more than half an hour I had the job finished--and
then I slipped on my trousers, and out I went through the hole on my
hands and knees.

I found the cabin in utter wreck: littered everywhere with broken
glass and broken wood from the skylight, and from the smashed
hanging-racks and the smashed dining-table, and with splinters from
the mast--which had broken in falling, and along the whole length of
the place had made a tangle of its own fragments and of the ropes and
blocks which had held its sails. Of the sails themselves there were
left only some fuzzy traces clinging to the bolt-ropes, all the rest
having been blown loose and frayed away by the storm. Oddly enough,
some of the drinking-glasses still remained unbroken in one of the
racks, and with them a bottle partly filled with wine--to the neck of
which a card was fastened bearing the name, Jos Rubio y Salinas, of
the passenger to whom it had belonged. I took the liberty of drinking
a glass of Don Jos's wine--feeling sure that he was not coming back
to claim it--and felt so much better after it that I thanked him
cordially for leaving it there.

Most of the state-room doors stood open, showing within clothing
tossed about and trunks with their lids turned back, and the general
confusion in which the passengers had left things when they scrambled
together their most precious belongings and rushed for the boats--with
death, as they fancied, treading close upon their heels. But with what
remained in the state-rooms I did not concern myself, being desirous
first of all to get on deck and have a look about me that I might size
up my chances of keeping alive. That there was no companion-way up
from the cabin puzzled me a little, for I knew nothing of the internal
arrangements of steamships; but presently I found a passage leading
forward, and by that I came to the stair to the deck of which I was
in search.

Up it I went, but when I fairly got outside and saw the desperate
state of the craft that I was afloat on my heart sank. Indeed, it
seemed a flying in the face of all reason that such an utter wreck
should float at all. Of the foremast nothing but the splintered stump
remained. The starboard rail, which had been to windward of it, was
gashed by chance axe-blows made in cutting away the shrouds; and as to
the port rail, twenty feet of it was gone entirely where the mast had
come crashing down, while the side-plates below were bulged out with
the strain put upon them before the standing-rigging fastened there
had fetched away. The mizzen-mast lay aft across the cabin skylight,
with its standing and running rigging making a tangle on each side of
it. The main-mast still stood, but with its top-mast broken off and
dangling nearly to the deck. Two of the weather-boats remained fast
to the davits, but so smashed that they looked like battered tin
wash-basins, and would have floated just about as well. All the other
boats were gone: those on the weather side, as the splintered ways and
broken ropes showed, having been washed overboard; and those to
leeward having been hoisted out by the tackles, which still hung from
the davits and dipped lazily with the ship's easy motion into the sea.

All this was bad enough, but what most took the spirit out of me was
the way that the ship was lying--her stern high up in the air, and her
bow so deep in the water that the sea came up almost to her main-mast
along her sloping deck. It seemed inevitable that in another moment
she would follow her nose in the start downward that it had made and
go straight to the bottom; and each little wave, as it lapped its way
aft softly, made me fancy that the plunge had begun.

As to the outlook around me, the only comfort that I got from it was
the fairness of the weather and the smoothness of the sea. For close
upon the water a soft haze was hanging that even to the north, out of
which blew a gentle wind, brought the horizon within a mile of me; and
down to leeward the haze was banked so thick that I could make out
nothing beyond half a mile. And so, even though a whole fleet might be
passing near me, my chances of rescue were very small. But from the
look of the ocean I knew that no fleets were likely to be thereabouts,
and that even though the haze lifted I might search long and vainly
for sight of so much as a single sail. As far as I could see around me
the water was covered thickly with gulf-weed, and with this was all
sorts of desolate flotsam--planks, and parts of masts, and fragments
of ships' timbers--lolling languidly on the soft swell that was
running, yet each scrap having behind it its own personal tragedy of
death and storm. And this mess of wreckage was so much thicker than I
had seen when the brig was on the coast--as Bowers had called it--of
the Sargasso Sea as to convince me that already I must be within the
borders of that ocean mystery which a little while before I had been
so keen for exploring; and my fate seemed sealed to me as I realized
that I therefore was in a region which every living ship steered clear
of, and into which never any but dead ships came.



When I perceived the tight fix that I was in my broken head went to
throbbing again, and my legs were so shaky under me that I had to sit
down on the deck in a hurry in order to save myself from a fall.
Indeed, I was in no condition to face even an ordinary trouble, let
alone an overwhelming disaster; for what with my loss of blood from
the cut on my head, and the little food I had eaten since I got it, I
was as weak as a cat.

Luckily I had the sense to realize that I needed the strength which
food would give me in order to save myself from dropping off into
sheer despair. And with the thought of eating there suddenly woke up
in my inside a hungry feeling that surprised me by its sharpness; and
instantly put such vigor into my shaky legs that I was up on them in a
moment, and off to the companion-way to begin my explorations below.
And when, being come to the cabin again, I had another sup of Don
Jos's wine I got quite ravenous, and felt strong enough to kick a
door in--if that should be necessary--in order to satisfy my
craving for food.

There was no need for staving in doors, for none of them was fastened;
but it was some little time--because of my ignorance of the
arrangement of steamships--before I could find one that had things to
eat on the other side of it. Around the cabin, and along the passage
leading forward, were only state-rooms; but just beyond the
companion-way I came at last to the pantry--and beyond this again, as
I found later, were the store-rooms and the galley. For the moment,
however, the pantry gave me all that I wanted. In a covered box I
found some loaves of bread, and in a big refrigerator a lot of cold
victuals that set my eyes to dancing--two or three roast fowls, part
of a big joint of beef, a boiled tongue, and so on; and, what was
almost as welcome, in another division of the refrigerator a dozen or
more bottles of beer. On the racks above were dishes and glasses, in a
locker were knives and forks, and I even found hanging on a hook a
corkscrew--and the quickness with which I brought these various things
together and made them serve my purposes was a sight to see!

When I had eaten nearly a whole fowl, and had drunk a bottle of beer
with it, I felt like another man; and then, pursuing my investigations
more leisurely, I found in one of the lockers--which I took the
liberty of prying open with a big carving-knife--four or live boxes
of capital cigars. In the same locker was a package of safety-matches,
and in a moment I was puffing away with such satisfaction that I
fairly grew light-hearted--so great is the comfort that comes to a man
with good smoking on top of a hearty meal. All sorts of bright fancies
came to me: of making one of the battered boats serviceable again and
getting off in it, of a ship blown out of her course coming to my
rescue, of a strong southerly wind that would carry the hulk of the
poor old _Hurst Castle_ back again into the inhabited parts of the
sea. And with these thoughts cheering me I set myself to work to find
out just what I had in the way of provisions aboard my shattered craft.

I did not have to search far nor long to satisfy myself that I had a
bigger stock of food by me than I could eat in a dozen years. Forward
of the galley were the store-rooms: a cold-room, with a plenty of ice
still in it, in which was hanging a great quantity of fresh meat; a
wine-room, very well stocked and containing also some cases of tobacco
and cigars; and in the other rooms was stuff enough to fit up a big
grocery shop on shore--hams and bacon and potted meats, and a great
variety of vegetables in tins, and all sorts of sweets and sauces and
table-delicacies in tins and in glass. Indeed, although I was full to
the chin with the meal that I had just eaten, my mouth fairly watered
at sight of all these good things. In the bakery I found only a loaf
or two of bread, and this--as it was lying on the floor--I suppose
must have been dropped in the scramble while the boats were being
provisioned; but in the baker's store-room were a good many cases of
fine biscuit, and more than twenty barrels of flour. In addition to
all this, I did not doubt that somewhere on board was an equally large
store of provisions for the use of the crew; but with that I did not
bother myself, being satisfied to fare as a cabin-passenger on the
good things which I had found. Finally, two of the big water-tanks
still were full--the others, as I inferred from the cocks being open,
having been emptied for the supply of the boats; and as a
reserve--leaving rain out of the question--I had the ice to fall back
upon, of which there was so great a quantity that it alone would last
me for a long while. In a word, so far as eating and drinking were
concerned, I was as well off as a man could be anywhere--having by me
not only all the necessaries of life but most of its luxuries as well.

Finding all these good things cheered me and put heart in me in much
the same way that I was cheered and heartened by finding my floating
mast after Captain Luke and the mate chucked me overboard. Again I had
the certainty that death for a while could not get a chance at me; and
this second reprieve was of a more promising sort than that which my
mast had given me in the open sea. On board the steamer, or what was
left of her, I was sure of being in positive comfort so long as she
floated; and my good spirits made me so sanguine that I was confident
she would keep on floating until I struck out some plan by which I
could get safe away from her, or until rescue came to me by some lucky
turn of chance. And so, having completed my tour of inspection, and my
general inventory of the property to which by right of survival I had
fallen heir, I went on deck again in a very hopeful mood.

Even the utter wreck and confusion into which the steamer had fallen,
when I got to the deck and saw it again, did not crush the hope out of
me as it did when I came upon it--being then weak and famished--for
the first time. I even found a cause for greater hopefulness in
observing that the water-line still stood, as it had stood an hour and
more earlier, a little forward of the main-mast; for that showed that
the water-tight compartments were holding, and that the hulk was in no
immediate danger of going down. It did seem, to be sure, that the haze
had grown a little thicker, and that the weed and wreckage around the
steamer were thicker too; and I was convinced that my hulk was
moving--or that the flotsam about it was moving--by seeing a broken
boat floating bottom upward that I was sure was not in sight when I
went below. But I argued with myself cheerfully that the thickening
of the haze might be due to a wind coming down on me that would blow
it clean away; and that a small thing like an empty boat drifting down
from windward proved that the _Hurst Castle_ herself was moving
southward very slowly, or perhaps was not moving at all. And so, still
in good spirits, I set myself to looking carefully for something that
would float me, in case I decided to abandon the hulk and make a dash
for it--on the chance of falling in with a passing vessel--out over
the open sea.

But when I had made the round of the deck--at least of the part of it
that was out of water--I had to admit that getting away from the
steamer was a sheer impossibility, unless I might manage it by
cobbling together some sort of a raft. It had been all very well for
me to fancy, while I was being cheered with chicken and beer and
tobacco down in the pantry, that I could make one of the battered
boats sea-worthy; but my round of the deck showed me that with all my
training in mechanics I never could make one of them float again--for
the sea had wrenched and hammered them until they were no better than
so much old iron. The raft, certainly, was a possibility. Spars that
would serve for its body were lying around in plenty, and with the
doors from the rooms below I could deck it over so as to make it both
solid and dry; and somewhere aboard the ship, no doubt, were
carpenter's tools--though, most likely, they were down under water
forward and could be come at only by diving for them. Still, the raft
was a possibility; and so was comforting to think about as giving me
another reprieve from drowning in case the water-tight compartments
broke down--and as that break might come at any moment, and as the job
would take me two days at the shortest, I realized that I could not
set about it too soon.



But the other chance which I had thought of, that my hulk might be
blown clear of the Sargasso Sea and back into the track of trade
again, still was to be reckoned with; and to know how that chance was
working it was necessary that I should find out my exact position on
the ocean, and then check off the changes in it by fresh observations
taken from day to day. And as I saw that the sun was close upon the
meridian, and no time to waste if I wanted to secure my first
noon-sight, I put off beginning my carpentering until I should have
hunted for the ship's instruments and got the latitude and longitude
that would give me my departure on my drifting voyage.

This was so simple a piece of work that I anticipated no difficulty in
executing it. While the low-lying haze narrowed my horizon it did not
sufficiently obscure the sun to interfere with sight-taking; I could
count upon finding the chronometers still going, they being made to
run for fifty-six hours and the ship having been abandoned only the
night before; and where I found the chronometers I felt sure that I
should find also a sextant and a chart. But when I went at this
easy-looking task I was brought up with a round turn: there were no
chronometers, there was no sextant, there was no chart of the North
Atlantic--there was not even a compass left on board!

It took me some little time to arrive at a certainty in this series of
negatives. I fancied--because it had been that way aboard the _Golden
Hind_--that the captain's room would be one of those opening off from
the cabin, and so began my search for it in that quarter. But when I
had made the round of all the state-rooms I was satisfied that they
had been occupied only by passengers. The single timepiece that I
found--for the clock in the cabin had been smashed when the
mizzen-mast came down--was a fine gold watch lying in one of the
berths partly under the pillow, where its owner must have left it in
his hurry to get to the boats. It still was going, and I slipped it
into my pocket--feeling that a thing with even that much of life in it
would be a comfort to me; but the hour that it gave was a quarter past
eleven (it having been set to the ship's time the day before, I
suppose) and therefore was of no use to me as a basis for

Having exhausted the possibilities of the cabin I concluded that the
captain's quarters must have been forward, and so shifted my search
to the forward deck-house; and as I found a blue uniform coat and a
suit of oil-skins in the first room that I entered I was sure that in
a general way I was on the right track. But in none of these rooms did
I find what I was looking for--though I did find in one of them, and
greatly to my satisfaction, a chest of carpenter's tools and a big box
of nails. The nails must have been there by pure accident, but the
tools probably were the carpenters private kit; and as in the course
of my farther search I did not come across the ship's
carpenter-shop--which no doubt was under water forward--I felt that
this chance supply of what I needed for my raft-building was a very
lucky thing for me indeed.

The upper story of the deck-house still remained to be investigated;
and when, by the steps leading to the steamer's bridge, I got up there
and entered a little room behind the wheel-house, I was pretty sure
that at last I had found the place where what I wanted ought to be.
The part forward of the doors on each side of this room--a good third
of it--was filled by a chart-locker having a dozen or more wide
shallow drawers; and the flat top of the locker showed at its four
corners the prickings of thumb-tacks which had held the charts open
there, and four tacks still were in place with scraps of thick white
paper under them--as though some one in too great a hurry to loosen
it properly had ripped the chart away.

This would be, of course, the chart actually in use when the steamer
got into trouble, and therefore the one that I needed. As it was gone,
I opened the drawers of the locker and looked through them in search
of a duplicate; or of anything--even a wind-chart or a current-chart
would have answered--that would serve my turn. But while there were
charts in plenty of West Indian and of English waters, and a set
covering the German Ocean, not a chart of any sort relating to the
North Atlantic did I find. Neither were there chronometers nor any
nautical instruments in the room. In one corner was a strongly made
closet in which they may have been kept; but of this the door stood
open and the shelves were bare. Even a barometer which had hung near
the closet had been wrenched away, as I could tell by the broken brass
gimbals still fast to the brass supports; but this was a matter of no
importance, since I had noticed another in good order in the cabin--to
say nothing of the fact that my powerlessness to make any provision
against bad weather made me indifferent to warnings of coming storms.
And then, when I continued my search in the wheel-house, though not
very hopefully, all that I discovered there was that the binnacle was
empty and that the compass was gone too. In a word, there was
absolutely nothing on board the hulk that would enable me to fix my
position on the surface of the ocean, or that would guide me should I
try the pretty hopeless experiment of going cruising on a raft.

This fact being settled--and hindsight being clearer than foresight--I
had no difficulty in accounting for it. In order to lay a course and
to keep it, the people in the boats would need precisely the things
which had been carried off; and as each boat no doubt had been
furnished so that in case of separation it could make its way alone, a
clean sweep had been made of all the North Atlantic charts and of all
the nautical instruments that the steamer had on board. It was to the
credit of the captain that he had kept his wits so well about
him--seeing to it, in the sudden skurry for the boats, that the
ultimate as well as the immediate safety of his people was provided
for--but when I found out, and fairly realized, what his coolness had
cost me I fell off once more from good spirits into gloom.

Being left that way all at loose ends as to my reckoning, with no
means of finding out where I was nor whether my position changed for
the better from day to day, the hopes that I had been building of
drifting northward and so falling in with a passing vessel fell down
in a bunch and left me miserable. I see now, though I did not see it
then, that they went quite as unreasonably as they came. In that
region of calms--for I was fairly within the horse-latitudes--the only
bit of wind that I was likely to encounter was an eddy from the
northeast trades that would set me still farther to the southward; and
the only other moving impulse acting upon my hulk--at least while fair
weather lasted--would be the slow eddy setting in from the Gulf Stream
and moving me in the same direction. In the case of a storm coming up
from the south, and so giving me the push northward that I was so
eager for, the chances were a thousand to one that my hulk would go to
the bottom long before I could get to a part of the ocean where ships
were likely to be. And as to navigating a raft through that tangle of
weed, already thick enough around me to check the way of a sharply
built boat, the notion was so absurd that only a man in my desperate
fix would even have thought about it.

But had there been a Job's comforter at hand to put these black
thoughts into my head they would not have helped me nor harmed me
much. My whole heart had been set on getting my sights, and filled
with the inconsequent hope that in getting them I somehow would be
bettering my chances of coming out safe at last; and so it seemed to
me when I could not get them--and in this, though the sight-taking had
nothing to do with it, there was reason in plenty--that all
likelihood of my being rescued had slipped away.

I had come out from the wheel-house and was standing on the steamer's
bridge--which rose right out of the water so that I looked down from
it directly on the weed-laden sea. As far as my sight would carry
through the soft golden haze I saw only weed-covered water, broken
here and there by a bit of wreckage or by a little open space on which
the pale sunshine gleamed. A very gentle swell was running, giving to
the ocean the look of some strange sort of meadow with tall grass
swaying evenly in an easy wind. The broken boat had moved a good deal
and already was well to the south of me; showing me that there was
motion in that apparent stillness, and compelling me to believe that
my hulk--though less rapidly than the boat--was moving southward too.
And what that meant for me I knew. The fair weather might continue
almost indefinitely. Days and weeks, even months, might pass, and I
still might live on there in bodily safety; but so far as the world
was concerned I was dead already--being fairly caught in the slow
eddying current which was carrying my hulk steadily and hopelessly
into the dense wreck-filled centre of the Sargasso Sea.



Because I had felt hungry and thirsty, and the cold chicken and beer
had tasted good, I had eaten and drunk a great deal more heartily than
was wholesome for me--being so weakened by loss of blood, and by the
strain put upon me by the danger that I had passed through, and by
living only on slops and some scraps of biscuit since my rescue, that
my insides were in no condition to deal with such a lot of strong
food. And then, within an hour after I so unwisely had stuffed myself,
came the blow--in itself hard enough to upset a strong digestion in
good working order--of discovering that I could do nothing to save
myself, and that my hulk was drifting steadily deeper and deeper into
that ocean mystery out of which no man ever yet had come alive.

The first sign that I had that something was going wrong with me was a
swimming in my head--so sudden and so violent that I lurched forward
and was close to pitching over the rail of the bridge into the sea.
For a moment I fancied that the ship had taken a quick plunge; and
then a sick feeling in my own stomach, and a blurring of my eyes that
made everything seem misty and shadowy, settled for me the fact that
it was I who was reeling about and that the ship was still--and I had
sense enough to lie down at full length on the bridge, between the
wheel-house and the rail, where I was safe against rolling off. And
then the shadows about me got deeper and blacker, and a horrible sense

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