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In the Sargasso Sea by Thomas A. Janvier

Part 3 out of 4

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blackness, with here and there a gleam of bright upon them where there
still clung fast in some protected recess of their carving a little of
the heavy gilding with which it all had been overlaid. Guns of some
sort were on every one of them--ranging upward from little swivels
mounted on the rail (mere pop-guns they looked like) to long bronze
pieces of which the delicate ornamentation was lost in a thick coat of
verdigris that had been gathering slowly through years and years. But
as to the strange rig that they had worn in their days of active
sea-faring, I could only guess at it; for such of them as had come
into this death-haven with any of their top-hamper still standing, as
some of them no doubt had come, long since had lost it--first the
standing-rigging and later the masts rotting, and so all together
falling in a heap anyway upon the decks or over the side. And such a
company of withered old sea-corpses as these ancient wrecks made
there, all huddled together with the weed thick about them, was as
hopeless and as dismal a sight as ever was seen by the eyes of man.
But a matter that to me was more instantly dismal, as I pressed on
among them, came when I found that I was getting so close to the end
of my stock of provisions--while yet apparently no nearer to the end
of my journey--that there was no shirking the necessity of returning
to the distant barque for a fresh supply: a journey involving such
desperate toil, and so much of it, that the mere thought of it sent
aches through all my bones.

It was about noon one day, while I was trying to nerve myself to make
this hard expedition, that I called a halt in order to eat my
dinner--which I knew would be a very little one--being just then come
aboard of a great ungainly galleon that from the look of her I thought
could not be less than two centuries and a half old: she being more
curiously ancient in her build than any vessel that I had got upon,
and her timbers so rotten that I had ticklish climbing as I worked my
way up her high quarter--and, indeed, one of her galleries giving way
under me, was near to spilling down her tall side to my death beneath
the tangled weed. And when at last I got to her deck I found it so
soft, partly with rottenness and partly with a sort of moss growing
over it, that I was fearful at each step that it would give way under
me and let me down with a crash into her hold.

I would have been glad of a better place to eat my dinner in--she
being sodden wet everywhere, and with a chill about her for all the
warmth of the misty air shimmering with dull sunshine, and with a rank
unwholesome smell rising from her rotting mass. But all the hulks
thereabouts were in so much the same condition that by going on I was
not likely greatly to better myself; and I was so tired and so hungry
that I had no heart to attempt any more hard scrambling until I had
had both rest and food. And so I hunted out a spot on her deck where
the moss was thinnest and least oozy with moisture--being a place a
little sheltered by a sort of porch above her cabin doorway--and there
I seated myself and with a good deal of satisfaction fell to upon my
very scanty ration of beans.

For a while I was busied wholly with my eating, being mighty sharp set
after my morning's walk; but when my short meal was ended I began to
look about me, and especially to peer into the deep old cabin--that
was pretty well lighted through the stern-windows and through the
doorway at my shoulder, of which the door had rotted away.

From where I was seated I could see nearly the whole of it; and what I
first noted was that a little hatch in the middle of the floor was
open, and that dangling down into it from one of the roof-beams was a
double-purchase--as though an attempt to haul up some heavy thing from
that place had come to a short end. For the rest, there was little to
see: only a clumsy table set fast between fixed benches close under
the stern windows; a locker in which I found, when I looked into it, a
sodden thing that very likely had been the ship's log-book along with
a queer old Jacob's staff (as they were called) such as mariners took
their observations with before quadrants were known; and against the
wall were hanging a couple of long old rusty swords and a rusty thing
that I took at first to be a wash-basin, but made out was a
deep-curved breast-plate that must have belonged to a very
round-bellied little man.

The floor of the cabin, as I found when I went in there, was so firm
and solid--being laid in teak, very likely, and having been sheltered
by the roof over it from the rains--that I had no fear, as I had on
the open deck, that the planks would give way under me and let me
through. And when I was come inside I found resting on a wooden rack
set against the front wall a couple of old bell-mouthed brass
fire-locks, coated thick with verdigris, and with them three smaller
bell-mouthed pieces which were neither guns nor pistols but something
between the two. As for the log-book, if it were the log-book, I could
make nothing of it. It was so soaked and swelled by the dampness, and
so rotten, that my fingers sank into it when I tried to pick it up as
they would have sunk into porridge; and the slimy stuff left a horrid
smell upon my hand. Therefore I cannot tell what was the name of this
old ship, nor to what country she belonged, nor whither she was
sailing on her last voyage; but that she was Spanish--or perhaps
Portuguese--and was wrecked while on her way homeward from some port
in the Indies, I do not doubt at all.

When I had made my round of the cabin, finding so little, I came to
the open hatch in the middle of it and gazed down into the dusky depth
curiously: wondering a good deal that in what must have been almost
the moment when death was setting its clutch upon the galleon, and
when all aboard of her assuredly were in peril of their lives, her
people should have tried to rouse out a part of her cargo--as I had
proof that they had tried to do in the tackle still hanging there from
the beam. And the only reasonable way to account for this strange
endeavor, it seemed to me--since provisions were not likely to be
carried in that part of the vessel--was that something so precious was
down there in the blackness as to make the risk of death worth taking
in order to try to save it from the sea.

With that there came over me an itching curiosity to find out what the
treasure was which the crew of the galleon--in such stress of some
sort that they had been forced to give up the job suddenly--had tried
to get out of their ship and carry off with them; and along with my
curiosity came an eager pounding of my heart as I thought to
myself--without ever stopping to think also how useless riches of any
sort were to me--that by right of discovery their treasure, whatever
it might be, had become mine.

With my breath coming and going quickly, I got down upon my hands and
knees and stooped my head well into the opening that I might get rid
of the light in my eyes from the cabin windows; and being that way I
made out dimly that the lower block of the purchase was whipped fast
to a little wooden box, and that other small boxes were stowed in
regular tiers under it so that they filled snugly a little chamber
about a dozen feet square. That there were several layers of these
boxes seemed probable, for those in sight were only six feet or so
below the level of the cabin floor, and that they held either gold or
silver I considered to be beyond a doubt; and as I raised my head up
out of the hatch, my eyes blinking as the light struck them, and
thought of the wealth that must be stored there in that little
chamber, and that it was mine because I had found it, I gave a long
great sigh.

For a minute or two I was quite dazed by my discovery; and then as I
got steadier--or got crazier, perhaps I ought to say--nothing would
serve me but that I must get down to where my treasure was, so that my
eyes might see it and that I might touch it with my hands. And with
that I caught at the tackle and gave a tug on the ropes to test them,
and as they held I swung to them to slide down--and the moment that my
full weight was on them they snapped like punk, and down I went feet
foremost and struck on the tiers of boxes with a bang. As I fell only
a little way, and upon a level surface--for I went clear of the box
to which the tackle was made fast--no harm came to me; but under my
feet I felt the rotten wood going squashily, and then beneath it
something firm and hard. And when I got back my balance and looked
down eagerly my eyes caught a dull gleam in the semi-darkness, and
then made out beneath my feet a mass of yellow ingots: and I gave a
great shout--that seemed to be forced out of me to keep my heart from
bursting--for I knew that I was standing on bars of gold!



For a while, down in that black little place, I was quite a crazy
creature; being so stirred by my finding this great store of riches
that I went to dancing and singing there--and was not a bit bothered
by the vile stench rising from the rotten wood that my feet sent
flying, nor by the still viler stench rising from the reeking mass of
rottenness below me in the galleon's hold.

And then, that I might see my treasure the more clearly, I fell to
tossing the ingots up through the hatch into the cabin--where I could
have a good light upon them, and could gloat upon the yellow gleam of
them, and could make some sort of a guess at how much each of them
represented in golden coin. From that I went on to calculating how
much the whole of them were worth together; and when I got to the end
of my figuring I fairly was dazed.

In a rough way I estimated that each ingot weighed at least five
pounds, and as each of the little boxes contained ten of them the
value of every single box stored there was not less than fifteen
thousand dollars. As well as I could make out, the boxes were in rows
of ten and there were ten rows of them--which gave over a million and
a half of dollars for the top tier alone; and as there certainly was
an under-tier the value of my treasure at the least was three
millions. But actually, as I found by digging down through the ingots
until I came to the solid flooring, there were in all five tiers of
boxes; and what made the whole of them worth close upon eight millions
of our American money, or well on toward two millions of English
pounds. My brain reeled as I thought about it. The treasure that I had
possession of was a fortune fit for a king!

I had swung myself up from the little chamber and was standing in the
cabin while I made these calculations, and when at last I got to my
sum total I felt so light-headed that it seemed as though I were
walking on air. Indeed, I fairly was stunned by my tremendous good
fortune and could not think clearly: and it was because my mind thus
was turned all topsy-turvy, I suppose, that the odd thought popped
into it that in the matter of weight my gold ingots were pretty much
the same as the tins of beans to get which I was about to return to
the barque--a foolish notion which so tickled my fancy that I burst
out into a loud laugh.

The jarring sound of my laughter, which rang out with a ghastly
impropriety in that deathly place, brought me to my senses a little
and made me calmer. But my mind ran on for a moment or so upon the odd
notion that had provoked it, and in that time certain other thoughts
flashed into my head which had only to get there to spill out of me
every bit of my crazy joy. For first I realized that since I could
carry only the same weight of gold that I could carry of food my
actual wealth was but a single back-load, which brought my millions
down to a few beggarly thousands; and on top of that I realized--and
this came like a douse of ice-water--that for every ingot that I
carried away with me I must leave a like weight of food behind: which
meant neither more nor less than that my great treasure, for all the
good that ever it would be to me--so little could I venture to take of
it on these terms--might as well be already at the bottom of the sea.

And then, being utterly dispirited and broken, I fell to thinking how
little difference it made one way or the other--how even a single
ingot would be a vain lading--since I had no ground for hoping that
ever again would I get to a region where I would have use for gold.
And with that--though I kept on staring in a dull way at the ingots
scattered over the floor of the cabin--I thought of the treasure no
longer: my heart being filled with a great sorrowing pity for myself,
because of the doom upon me to live out whatever life might be left
me in the most horrid solitude into which ever a man was cast.

For a long while I stood despairing there; and then at last the hope
of life began to rise in me again--as it always must rise, no matter
how desperate are the odds against it, in the mind of a sound and
vigorous man. And with this saner feeling came again my desire to push
on in the direction that offered me a chance of deliverance--leaving
all my treasure behind me, since it was worth less to me than food;
and presently came the farther hope that when I had succeeded in
finding a way out of my sea-prison, and so was sure of my life once
more, I might be able to return to the galleon and take away with me
at least some portion of the great riches that I had found.

Because of this foolish hope, and the very human comfort that I found
in knowing myself to be the possessor of such prodigious wealth, I
needs must jump down again to where it was and take another survey of
it before I left it behind. And then, being cooler and looking more
carefully, I noticed that the box to which the tackle had been made
fast was not like the other boxes--though about the same size with
them--but was a little coffer that seemed once to have been locked and
that still had around it the rusty remnants of iron bands. This
difference in the make of it put into my head the notion that its
contents were more precious than the contents of the other
boxes--though how that could be I did not well see; and my notion
seemed the more reasonable as I reflected that if the coffer really
were of an extraordinary value there would have been sense in trying
to save it even in a time of great peril--which was more than could be
said of trying to load down boats launched in the midst of some final
disaster with any of those heavy boxes of gold.

My mind became excited by another mirage of riches as these thoughts
went through it, and to settle the matter I stooped down and got a
grip on the coffer--which was made of a tougher wood than the boxes
and held together--and managed by a good deal of straining to lift it
up through the hatch into the cabin, where I could examine it at
my ease.

When it was new an axe would not have made much impression upon it, so
strongly had it been put together; but there were left only black
stains to show where the iron had bound it, and the wood had rotted
until it was softer than the softest bit of pine. Indeed, I had only
to give a little jerk to the lid to open it: both the lock and the
hinges being gone with rust, and the lid held in place only by a sort
of sticky slime.

But when I did get it open the first thing that came out of it was a
stench so vile that I had to jump up in a hurry and rush to the open
deck until the worst of it had ebbed away; and this exceeding evil
odor was given off by a slimy ooze of rotted leather--as I knew a
little later by finding still unmelted some bits of small leather bags
in which what was stored there had been tied. But even as I jumped up
and left the cabin my eyes caught a gleam of brightness in the horrid
slimy mess that set my heart to beating hard again; and it pounded
away in my breast still harder when I came back and made out clearly
what I had found.

For there in the rotten ooze, strewn thickly, was such a collection of
glittering jewels that my eyes fairly were dazzled by them; and when I
had turned the coffer upside down on the deck so that the slime flowed
away stickily--giving off the most dreadful stench that ever I have
encountered--I saw a heap of precious stones such as for size and
beauty has not been gathered into one place, I suppose--unless it may
have been in the treasury of some Eastern sovereign--since the very
beginning of the world. At a single glance I knew that the great
treasure of gold, which had seemed to me overwhelming because of its
immensity, was as nothing in comparison with this other treasure
wherein riches were so concentrate and sublimate that I had the very
essence of them: and I reeled and trembled again as I hugged the
thought to me that by my finding of it I was made master of it all.



I was pretty much mooning mad for a while, I suppose: sometimes
walking about the cabin and thrusting with my feet contemptuously at
the gold ingots strewn over the floor of it, and sometimes standing
still in a sort of rapt wonder over my heap of jewels--and anything
like sensible thinking was quite beyond the power of my unbalanced
mind. But at last I was aroused, and so brought to myself a little, by
the daylight waning suddenly: as it did in that region when the sun
dropped down into the thick layer of mist lying close upon the
water--making at first a strange purplish dusk, and then a rich
crimson after-glow that deepened into purple again, and so turning
slowly into blackness as night came on.

When I had come aboard the galleon, about noon-time, and had found her
so sodden with wet and so reeking with foul odors--as, indeed, were
all of the very ancient ships which made the mid-part of that sea
graveyard--I had made my mind up to a forced march in the afternoon
that I hoped would carry me through the worst of all that rottenness,
and so to a ship partly dry and less ill-smelling for the night. But
when I came out from the cabin and looked about me, and saw how thick
and black were the shadows in the clefts between the wrecks, I knew
that I could not venture onward, but must pass the night where I was.
And this was a prospect not at all to my mind.

The cabin, of course, was the only place for me, the soaked deck with
the soaked moss on top of it being quite out of the question; but even
the cabin was not fit for a dog to lie in, so chill and damp was it
and so foul with the stench rising and spreading from the slime of
rotted leather that I had emptied from the coffer and that made a
little vile pool upon the floor. And through the open hatch there came
up a dismal heavy odor of all the rotten stuff down there that almost
turned my stomach, and that made the air laden with it hard to
breathe--though in my hot excitement I had not noticed it at all. But
this last I got the better of in part by covering again the opening,
though I had to move the hatch very gently and carefully to keep it
from falling into rotten fragments in my hands. Yet because it was so
dense with moisture, when I did get it set in place, it pretty well
kept the stench down. And then I kicked away some of the ingots into a
corner, and so cleared a space on the floor where I could stretch
myself just within the cabin door.

These matters being attended to, I seated myself in the same place
where I had eaten my dinner--just outside the door, under the little
sort of porch overhanging it--and ate the short ration that I allowed
myself for my supper, and found it very much less than my lively
hunger required. When I had finished I sat on there for a good while
longer, being very loath to go into the cabin; but at last, by finding
myself nodding with weary drowsiness, I knew that sleep would come
quickly, and so went inside and laid myself down upon the floor. There
still was a faint glimmer of dying daylight outside, and this little
glow somehow comforted me as I lay there facing the doorway and
blinking now and then before my eyes were tight closed; but I did not
lie long that way half-waking, being so utterly fagged in both mind
and body that I dropped off into deep slumber before the
darkness fell.

I suppose that even in my sleep I had an uneasy sense of my bleak
surroundings; and that this, in the course of three or four hours--by
which time I was a good deal rested and so slept less soundly--got the
better of my weariness and roused me awake again. But when I first
woke I was sure that I had slept the night through and that early
morning was come--for there was so much light in the cabin that I
never thought to account for it save by the return of day. Yet the
light was not like daylight, as I realized when I had a little more
shaken off my sleepiness, being curiously white and soft.

I turned over--for I had rolled in my uneasy sleep and got my back
toward the doorway--and raised myself a little on my elbow so that I
might see out clearly; and what I saw was so unearthly strange, and in
a way so awe-compelling, that in another moment I was on my feet and
staring with all my eyes. Over the whole deck of the galleon a soft
lambent light was playing, and this went along her bulwarks and up
over her high fore-castle so that all the lines of her structure were
defined sharply by it; and pale through the mist against the
blackness, out over her low waist, I could catch glimpses of the other
tall old ships lying near her all likewise shining everywhere with the
same soft flames--which yet were not flames exactly, but rather a
flickering glow.

In a moment or so I realized that this luminous wonder, which at the
first look had so strong a touch of the supernatural in it, was no
more than the manifestation of a natural phenomenon: being the shimmer
of phosphorescent light upon the soaking rotten woodwork of the
galleon and of the ships about her, as rotten and as old. But making
this explanation to myself did not lessen the frightening strangeness
of the spectacle, nor do much to stop the cold creeps which ran over
me as I looked at it: I being there solitary in that marvellous
brightness--that I knew was in a way a death-glow--the one
thing alive.

But presently my unreasoning shivering dread began to yield a little,
as my curiosity bred in me an eager desire to see the whole of this
wondrous soft splendor; for I made sure from my glimpses over the
galleon's bulwarks that it was about me on every side. And so I
stepped out from the cabin upon the deck, where my feet sank into the
short mossy growth that coated the rotten planks and I was fairly
walking in what seemed like a lake of wavering pale flame; and from
there, that I might see the better, I climbed cautiously up the rotten
stair leading to the roof of the cabin, and thence to the little
over-topping gallery where the stern-lantern was. And from that height
I could gaze about me as far as ever the mist would let me see.

Everywhere within the circle that my eyes covered--which was not a
very big one, for in the night the mist was thick and low-lying--the
old wrecks wedged together there were lighted with the same lambent
flames: which came and went over their dead carcasses as though they
all suddenly were lighted and then as suddenly were put out again; and
farther away the glow of them in the mist was like a silvery
shimmering haze. By this ebbing and flowing light--which seemed to
me, for all that I knew the natural cause of it, so outside of nature
that I thrilled with a creeping fear as I looked at it--I could see
clearly the shapes of the strange ancient ships around me: their great
poops and fore-castles rising high above their shallow waists, and
here and there among them the remnant of a mast making a line of light
rising higher still--like a huge corpse-candle shining against the
blackness beyond. And the ruin of them--the breaks in their lines, and
the black gaps where bits of their frames had rotted away
completely--gave to them all a ghastly death-like look; while their
wild tangling together made strange ragged lines of brightness
wavering under the veil of mist, as though a desolate sea-city were
lying there dead before me lit up with lanterns of despair.

Yet that which most keenly thrilled me with a cold dread was my strong
conviction that I could see living men moving hither and thither over
those pale-lit decks, where my reason told me that only ancient death
could be; for the play of the flickering light made such a commotion
of fleeting flames and dancing shadows, going and coming in all manner
of fantastic shapes, that every shattered hulk around me seemed to
have her old crew alive and on board of her again--all hurrying in
bustling crowds fore and aft, and up and down the heights of her, as
though under orderly command. And at times these shapes were so real
and so distinct to me that I was for crying out to them--and would
check myself suddenly, shivering with a fright which I knew was out of
all reason but which for the life of me I could not keep down.

And so the night wore away: while I stood there on the galleon's poop
with the soft pale flames flickering around me in the mist, and my
fears rising and falling as I lost and regained control of myself; and
I think that it is a wonder that I did not go mad.



At last, after what seemed to me an age of waiting for it, a little
pinkish tone began to glow in the mist to the eastward; and as that
honest light got stronger the death-fires on the old galleon and on
the wrecks around her paled quickly until they were snuffed out
altogether--and then came the customary morning down-pour of rain.

With the return of the blessed daylight, and with the enlivening douse
of cool fresh water upon me, I got to be myself again: my fanciful
fears of the night-time leaving me, and my mind coming back soberly to
a consideration of my actual needs. Of these the most pressing, as my
stomach told me, was to get my breakfast; and when that matter, in a
very poor way, had been attended to, and I had drunk what water I
needed--without much relishing it--from a pool that had formed on the
deck where the timbers sagged down a little, I was in better heart to
lay out for myself a plan of campaign.

In one way planning was not necessary. By holding to a northerly
course I believed that I had got at least half way across my
continent, and my determination was fixed to keep on by the
north--rather than risk a fresh departure that might only carry me by
a fresh way again into the depths of the tangle--until I should come
once more to the open sea: if I may call open sea that far outlying
expanse of ocean covered with thick-grown weed. But it was needful
that I should plan for my supply of food as I went onward, that was to
be got only by returning to the far-away barque; and also I felt an
itching desire--as strong as at first blush it was unreasonable--to
carry away with me some part of the treasure that I had found. That I
ever should get out into the world again, and so have the good of my
riches, seemed likely to me only in my most sanguine moments; but even
on the slimmest chance of accomplishing my own deliverance I had a
very natural human objection to leaving behind me the wealth that I
had found through such peril--only to lie there for a while longer
idly, and then to be lost forever when the galleon sank to the bottom
of the sea.

As to the gold, it was plain that I could carry off so little of it
that I might as well resign myself--having that which was better worth
working for--to losing it all. But my treasure of jewels was another
matter. This was so very much more valuable than the gold--for the
stones for the most part were of a prodigious size and a rare
fineness--that between the two there really was no comparison; and at
the same time it was so compact in bulk and so petty in weight that I
might easily carry the whole of it with me and a good store of food
too. And so, to make a beginning, I picked the stones out of the slimy
and stinking ooze in which they were lying and washed them clean in
the pool of water on the deck; and then I packed them snugly into the
shirt-sleeve in which my beans had been stored--and tickled myself the
while with the fancy that most men would be willing for the sake of
stuffing a shirt-sleeve that way to cut off the arm to which
it belonged.

My packing being finished, and my precious bag laid away in a corner
of the cabin until I should come to fetch it again, I was in a better
mood for facing my long march back to the barque: for I had come to
have fortune as well as life to work for, and those two strong
stimulants to endeavor working together gave my spirits a great upward
pull. And, fortunately, my cheerfulness staid by me through my long
scrambling struggle backward along my blazed path; nor was it, in
reality, as hard a journey as I had expected it to be--for I had but a
light load of food to carry, barely enough to last me through, and the
marks which I had left upon the wrecks in passing made my way plain.
And so, at last, I got back to the barque one evening about sunset,
and had almost a feeling of homecoming in boarding her again; and I
was thankful enough to be able to eat all the supper I wanted, and
then to lie down comfortably in her clean cabin and to rest myself in
sound slumber after my many restless nights on rotten old ships
reeking with a chill dampness that struck into my very bones.

I slept soundly and woke refreshed; and for that I was thankful, since
the work cut out for me--to get back to the galleon with enough
provisions to last me until I could cross the rest of the
wreck-pack--was about as much as a strong man in good condition could
do. However, I had thought of something that would make this hard job
less difficult; for the ease with which I had carried a part of my
food in long narrow bags, sausage-fashion--thereby getting rid of
both the weight and the awkwardness of the tins--had put into my head
the notion of carrying in that way the whole of my fresh supply, and
so carrying at least twice as much of it. And I calculated--since I
could go rapidly along my blazed path--that by cutting myself down to
very short rations I could get back to the galleon with a bigger stock
of provisions than that with which I left the barque when I made my
first start toward the north--and if the galleon lay, as I believed
that she did, about in the centre of the pack, this would give me
enough food to last me until I got across to the other side. So I
rummaged out some more of the linen shirts that I had found--taking a
fresh one for my own wear to begin with--and set myself to my
sausage-making with the sleeves of them; packing each sleeve with
beans as tight as I could ram it, and working over each a netting of
light line that I finished off with loops at the ends. Ten of my big
sausages I made into a bundle to be carried on my shoulders like a
knapsack; and the rest I arranged to swing by their loops from a rope
collar about my neck, with another rope run through the lower loops to
be made fast about my waist and so hold them steady--and this
arrangement, as I found when I tried it, answered very well. And
finally, that I might carry my jewels the more securely, I cut off a
sleeve from the oil-skin jacket to serve for an outer casing for them,
and took along also some of the light line to net over the bundle and
make it solid and strong; in that way guarding against the chance of
their rubbing a hole in their linen covering--by which I might have
lost them all.

I worked fast over my packing, and got it all finished and was ready
to start away by not a great while after sunrise; yet when the time
for my start came I hesitated a little, so darkly uncertain seemed the
issue of the adventure that I had in hand. Indeed, the whole of my
project was a wild one, such as no man not fairly driven into it
would have entertained at all. Its one certainty was that only by
excessive toil could I even hope to carry it through. All else was
doubtful: for I knew not how distant were the farther bounds of the
desolate dead region into which I was bent upon penetrating; nor had I
ground for believing--since I had food in plenty where I was--that I
would gain anything by traversing it; and back of all that was the
gloomy chance of some accident befalling me that would end in my dying
miserably by the way. While I was busily employed in making ready for
my march I had grown quite cheerful; but suddenly my little crop of
good spirits withered within me, and when at last I did go forward it
was with a very heavy heart.



Could I have foreseen all that was ahead of me I doubt if I should
have had the courage to go on: choosing rather to stay there on the
barque until I had eaten what food I had by me, and then to die
slowly--and finding that way easier than the one I chose to follow,
with its many days of struggle and its many chill nights of sorrow and
I throughout the whole of it rubbing shoulders with despair.

As I think of it now, that long, long march seems to me like a
horrible nightmare; and sometimes it comes back to me as a real
nightmare in my dreams. Again, always heavy laden, I am climbing and
scrambling and jumping, endlessly and hopelessly, among old rotten
hulks; each morning trying to comfort myself with the belief that by
night I may see some sign of ships less ancient, and so know that I am
winning my way a little toward where I would be; and each night
finding myself still surrounded by tall antique craft such as have not
for two centuries and more held the seas, with the feeling coming down
crushingly upon me that I have not advanced at all; and even then no
good rest for me--as I lie down wearily in some foul-smelling old
cabin, chill with heavy night-mist and with the reeking damp of oozy
rotten timbers, and perhaps find in it for my sleeping-mates little
heaps of fungus outgrowing from dead men's bones. And the mere dream
of all this so bitterly hurts me that I wonder how I ever came through
the reality of it alive.

At the start, as I have said, I had calculated that the treasure-laden
galleon lay about in the centre of the wreck-pack, and therefore that
I would get across from her to the other side of the pack in about the
same time that I had taken to reach her in my first journey from the
barque; and on the basis of that assumption, when I was come to her
again, I shaped my course hopefully for the north. But my calculation,
though on its face a reasonable enough one, proved to be most woefully
wrong: and I have come to the conclusion, after a good deal of
thinking about it, that this was because the whole vast mass of
wreckage had a circular motion--the great current that created it
giving at the same time a swirl to it--which made the seemingly
straight line that I followed in reality a constantly extended curve.
But whatever the cause may have been, the fact remains that when by my
calculation I should have been on the outer edge of the wreck-pack I
still was wandering in its depths. In one way my march was easier the
longer that it lasted, my load growing a little lighter daily as my
store of food was transferred to my stomach from my back. At first
this steady decrease of my burden was a comfort to me; but after a
while--when more than half of it was gone, and I still seemed to be no
nearer to the end of my journey than when I left the galleon--I had a
very different feeling about it: for I realized that unless I came
speedily to ships whereon I would find food--of which there seemed
little probability, so ancient were the craft surrounding me--I either
must go back to the barque and wait on her until death came to me
slowly, or else die quickly where I was. And so I had for my
comforting the option of a tardy death or a speedy one--with the
certainty of the latter if I hesitated long in choosing between
the two.

I suppose that the two great motive powers in the world are hope and
despair. It was hope that started me on that dismal march, but if
despair had not at last come in to help me I never should have got to
its end: for I took Death by both shoulders and looked straight into
the eyes of him when I decided, having by me only food for three days
longer--and at that but as little as would keep the life in me--to
give over all thought of returning to the barque and to make a dash
forward as fast as I could go. I had little enough to carry, but
that I might have still less I left my hatchet behind me--having,
indeed, no farther use for it since if my dash miscarried I was done
for and there was no use in marking a path over which I never could
return; and I was half-minded to leave my bag of jewels behind me too.
But in the end I decided to carry the jewels along with me--my fancy
being caught by the grim notion that if I did die miserably in that
vile solitude at least I would die one of the richest men in all the
world. As to my water-bottles, one of them I had thrown away when I
found that I could count on the morning showers certainly, and the
other had been broken in one of my many tumbles: yet without much
troubling me--as I found that I could manage fairly well, eating but
little, if I filled myself pretty full of water at the beginning of
each day. And so, with only the bag of food and the bag of jewels upon
my back, and with the compass on top of them, I was ready to press
onward to try conclusions with despair.

The very hopelessness of my effort, and the fact that at last I was
dealing with what in one way was a certainty--for I knew that if my
plan miscarried I had only a very little while longer to live--gave me
a sort of stolid recklessness which amazingly helped me: stimulating
me to taking risks in climbing which before I should have shrunk
from, and so getting me on faster; and at the same time dulling my
mind to the dreads besetting it and my body to its ceaseless pains
begot of weariness and thirst and scanty food. So little, indeed, did
I care what became of me that even when by the middle of my second
day's march I saw no change in my surroundings I did not mind it much:
but, to be sure, at the outset of this last stage of my journey I had
thrown hope overboard, and a man once become desperate can feel no
farther ills.

But what does surprise me--as I think of it now, though it did not in
any way touch me then--was the slowness with which, when there was
reason for it, my dead hope got alive again: as it did, and for cause,
at the end of that same second day--for by the evening I came out,
with a sharp suddenness, from among the strange old craft which for so
long on every side had beset me and found myself among ships which by
comparison with the others--though they too, in all conscience, were
old enough--seemed to be quite of a modern build. What is likely, I
think--and this would help to account for my long wanderings over
those ancient rotten hulks--is that some stormy commotion of the whole
mass of wreckage, such as had thrust the barque whereon I had found
food deep into the thick of it, had squeezed a part of the centre of
the pack outward; in that way making a sort of promontory--along
which by mere bad mischance I had been journeying--among the wrecks of
a later time. But this notion did not then occur to me; nor did I, as
I have said, at first feel any very thrilling hope coming back to me
when I found myself among modern ships again--so worn had my long
tussle with difficulties left my body and so sodden was my mind.

At first I had just a dull feeling of satisfaction that I had got once
more--after my many nights passed on hulks soaked with wet to
rottenness--on good honest dry planks: where I could sleep with no
deadly chill striking into me, and where in my restless wakings I
should not see the pale gleam of death-fires, and where foul stenches
would not half stifle me the whole night long. And it was not until I
had eaten my scant supper, and because of the comfort that even that
little food gave me felt more disposed to cheerfulness, that in a weak
faint-hearted way I began to hope again that perhaps the run of luck
against me had come to an end.

In truth, though, there was not much to be hopeful about. For my
supper I had eaten the half of what food was left me, and it was so
little that I still had a mighty hungry feeling in my belly after it
was down. For my breakfast I should eat what was left; and after that,
unless I found fresh supplies quickly, I was in a fair way to lie down
beside my bag of jewels and die of starvation--like the veriest
beggar that ever was. But I did hope a little all the same; and when I
went on again the next morning, though my last scrap of food was
eaten, my spirits kept up pretty well--for I was sure from the look of
the wrecks which I traversed that the dead ancient centre of my
continent at last was behind me, and that its living outer fringe
could not be very far away.

All that day I pressed forward steadily, helped by my little
flickering flame of hope--which burned low because sanguine
expectation does not consort well with an empty stomach, yet which
kept alive because the wreck-pack had more and more of a modern look
about it as I went on. But the faintness that I felt coming over me as
the day waned gave me warning that the rope by which I held my life
was a short one; and as the sun dropped down into the mist--at once
thinning it, so that I could see farther, and giving it a ruddy tone
which sent red streams of brightness gleaming over the tangle of
wreckage far down into the west--I felt that the rope must come to an
end altogether, and that I must stop still and let death overtake me,
by the sunset of one day more.

And then it was, just as the sun was sinking, that I saw clearly--far
away to the westward--the funnel of a steamer standing out black and
sharp against the blood-red ball that in another minute went down
into the sea. And with that glimpse--which made me sure that I was
close to the edge of the wreck-pack, and so close to food again--a
strong warm rush of hope swept through me that outcast finally my



That I should get to the steamer that night I knew was clean
impossible, for she lay a long way off from me, and that I had seen
her funnel at all was due to the mere happy accident of its standing
for that single minute directly between me and the setting sun. I did
hope, though, that by pressing hard toward her I might fetch aboard of
some vessel not long wrecked on which I would find eatable food; yet
in this I was disappointed, the shadows coming down on me so fast that
I was forced in a little while to pull up short--stopping while still
a little daylight remained so that I might stow myself the more
comfortably for the night.

As to looking for provender on the little old ship that I settled to
camp on, I knew that it was useless. From her build I fixed her as
belonging to the beginning of the present century, and from her depth
in the wreck-pack she probably had met her death-storm not less than
threescore years before; and so what provisions she had carried long
since had wasted away. Yet there was a chance that I might find some
spirits aboard of her--which would be a poor substitute for food, but
better than nothing--and I hurried to have a look in her cabin before
darkness settled down.

The cabin hatch was closed, and as it was both locked and swelled with
moisture I could not budge it; but two or three kicks sent the doors
beneath the hatch flying and so opened an entrance for me--that I was
slow to make use of because of a heavy musty stench which poured out
from that shut up place and made me turn a little sick, as I got my
first strong whiff of it. Indeed, I was so faint and so hungry that I
was in no condition to stand up against that curiously vile smell. To
lessen it, by getting a current of air into the cabin, I smashed in
the little skylight--over which some ropes were stretched and still
held the remnant of a tarpaulin, that must have been set in place
while the storm was blowing which sent the ship to her account; and
this so far improved matters that presently I was able to go down the
companion-way, though the stench still was horridly strong.

At the bottom of the stair, the light being faint, I tripped over
something; and looking down saw bones lying there with a sort of
fungus partly covering them, and to the skull there still clung a mat
of woolly hair plaited here and there into little braids: by which,
and by the size of the bones, it seemed that a negro woman must have
been left fastened into the cabin to die there after the crew had
been washed overboard or had taken to the boats. But even then the
business in which the ship had been engaged did not occur to me; and
after hesitating for a moment I went on into the cabin, and looked
about me as well as I could in the twilight for the case of bottles
that I hoped to find.

The case was there, as I was pretty certain that it would be, such
provision rarely being absent from old-time vessels, but all the
bottles had been taken from it except an empty one--which looked as
though the cabin had been opened at the last moment to fetch out
supplies for the boats, and then deliberately locked fast again with
the poor woman inside: an act so barbarous that it did not seem
possible unless a crew of out and out devils had been in charge of the
ancient craft. However, the matter which just then most concerned me
was the liquor that I was in search of, that I might a little stay my
stomach with it against the hunger that was tormenting me; and so I
ransacked the lockers that ran across the stern of the ship and across
a part of the bulkhead forward, in the faint hope that I might come
upon another supply--but my search was a vain one, two of the lockers
having only some mouldy clothing in them, and all the rest being
filled with arms. The stock of muskets and pistols and cutlasses was
so large, so far beyond any honest traders needs, that I could not at
all account for it: until the thought occurred to me that the vessel
I had come aboard of had been a pirate--and that notion seemed to fit
in pretty well with her crew having gone off and left the poor woman
locked up in the cabin to starve. However, as I found out a little
later, while my guess was a close one it still was wrong.

The four bunks, two on each side, were not enclosed, and the only door
opening from the cabin was in the bulkhead forward--and worth trying
because it might lead to a store-room, I thought. It was a very
stout-looking door, and across it, resting in strong iron catches,
were two heavy wooden bars. These puzzled me a good deal, there being
no sense in barring the outside of a store-room door in that fashion,
since the door did not seem to be locked and anybody could lift the
bars away. However, I got them out of their sockets without much
difficulty; and after a good deal of tugging at a ring made fast in it
I got the door open too--and instantly I was thrust back from the
opening by an outpouring of the same vile heavy musty stench that had
come up from the cabin when I staved in the hatch, only this was still
ranker and more vile. And I found that the door did not lead into a
little store-room, as I had fancied, but right through from the cabin
to the ship's main-deck--that stretched away forward in a gloomy
tunnel, as black as a cellar on a rainy night, into which I could
see only for four or five yards. Indeed, but for the way that the ship
chanced to be lying--with her stern toward the west, so that a good
deal of light came in through the broken skylight from the ruddy
sunset--I could not have seen into it at all.

But I saw far enough, and more than far enough--and the sight that I
looked on sent all over me a creeping chill. Wherever the light went,
skeletons were lying--with a fungus growth on the bones that gave a
horrid effect of scraps of flesh still clinging to them, and the
loose-lying skulls (of which a couple were close by the doorway) were
covered still with a matting of woolly hair. And I could tell from the
tangle that the skeletons were in--though also lying in some sort of
orderly rows, because of the chains which held them fast--that the
poor wretches to whom they had belonged had writhed and struggled over
each other in their agony: and I could fancy what a hell that black
place must have been while death was doing his work among them, they
all squirming together like worms in a pot; and it seemed to me that I
could hear their yells and howls--at first loud and terrible, and then
growing fainter and fainter until they came to be but low groans of
misery that at last ended softly in dying sighs.

The horror of it all came home to me so sharply, after I had stood
there at the doorway for a moment or two held fast by a sort of
ghastly fascination, that I gave a yell myself as keen and as loud as
any which the poor blacks had uttered; and with that I turned about
and dashed up the companionway to the deck as hard as I could go. Nor
could I bear to abide on the slave-ship, nor even near her, for the
night. Very little light was left to me, but I made the most of it and
went scrambling from hulk to hulk until I had put a good distance
behind me--so that I not only could not see her but could not tell
certainly, having twisted and turned a dozen times in my scurrying
flight, in which direction she lay. And being thus rid of her, I
fairly dropped--so weak and so wearied was I--on the deck of the
vessel that I had come to, and lay there for a while resting, with my
breath coming and going in panting sobs.

What sort of a craft I had fetched aboard of I did not dare to try to
find out. Going any farther then was impossible, the twilight having
slipped away almost into darkness, and whatever she might be I had to
make the best of her for the night. And so I settled myself into a
corner well up in her bows--that I might be as far away as possible
from any grisly things that might be hid in her cabin--and did my best
to go to sleep. But it was a long while, utterly weary though I was,
before sleep would come to me. My stomach, being pretty well
reconciled by that time to emptiness, did not bother me much; but my
frightened rush away from that sickening charnel-house had left me
greatly tormented by thirst, and my mind was so fevered by the horror
of what I had seen that for a long while I could not stop making
pictures to myself of the black wretches, chained and imprisoned,
writhing under the torture of starvation and at last dying desperate
in the dark. And when sleep did come to me I still had the same
loathsome horrors with me in my dreams.



The morning shower that waked me gave me the water that I so longed
for; but it only a little refreshed me, because my chief need was
food. Being past the first sharp pangs of hunger, I was in no great
bodily pain; but a heavy languor was upon me that dulled me in both
flesh and spirit and disposed me to give up struggling for a while,
that I might enjoy what seemed to me just then to be the supreme
delight of sitting still. Yet I had sense enough to know that if I
surrendered to this feeling it would be the end of me; and after a
little I found energy enough to throw it off.

I was helped thus to rouse myself by finding, as I looked around me
with dull eyes, that the hulk I had come aboard of in such a hurry in
the twilight certainly had not been wrecked for any great length of
time. She was a good-sized schooner, quite modern in her build; and,
although she had weathered everywhere to a pale gray, her timbers were
not rotten and what was left of her cordage still was fairly sound:
all of which, as I took it in slowly, gave me hope of finding aboard
of her some sort of eatable food.

But while this hope was slow to shape itself in my heavy mind, I was
quick enough to act upon it when once it had taken form. With a
briskness that quite astonished me I got on my feet and walked aft to
the cabin--the cabin pantry being the most likely place in which to
look for food put up in tins; and I was farther encouraged by finding
the hatch open and the cabin itself fresh-smelling and clean. And, to
my joy, the food that I hoped to find in the pantry really was there;
and such a plenty of it that I could not have eaten it in a
whole year.

I had the good sense to go slowly--and that was not easy, for at sight
of something that would satisfy it my hunger all of a sudden woke up
ragingly; but I knew that I stood a good chance of killing myself
after my long fast unless I held my appetite well in hand, and so I
began with a tin of peaches--opening it with a knife that I found
there--and it seemed to me that those peaches were the most delicious
thing that I had tasted since I was born. After they were down I went
on deck again--to be out of reach of temptation--and staid there
resolutely for an hour; getting at this time, and also keeping myself
a little quiet, by counting six thousand slowly--and it did seem to me
as though I never should get to the end! Then I had another of those
delicious tins; and after a trying half hour of waiting I had a third;
and then--being no longer ravenous, and no longer having the feeling
of infinite emptiness--I laid down on the deck just outside the cabin
scuttle and slept like a tree in winter until well along in the

I woke as hungry as a hound, but with a comfortable and natural sort
of hunger that I set myself to satisfying with good strong food:
eating a tin of meat with a lively relish and without any following
stomach-ache, and drinking the juice of a tin of peaches after
it--there being no water fit to drink on board. My meal began to set
me on my feet again; but I still felt so tired and so shaky that I
decided to stay where I was until the next morning--having at last a
comforting sense of security that took away my desire to hurry and
made me wholly easy in my mind. And this feeling got stronger as the
sun fell away westward and made a crimson bank of mist along the
horizon, against which I saw the funnels of more than a dozen
steamers--and so knew that the coast of my continent surely was close
by. What I would do when I got to the steamers was a matter that I did
not bother about. For the moment I was satisfied with the certainty
that I would find aboard of them food in plenty and a comfortable
place to sleep in, and that was enough. And so I did not make any
plans, or even think much; but just ate as much supper as I could
stow away in my carcase, and then settled myself in the schooner's
cabin for the night.

In the morning I was so well rested, and felt so fresh again, that I
was eager to get on; and I was so light-hearted that I fell to singing
as I pushed forward briskly, being full of hope once more and of airy
fancies that I had only to reach the edge of the wreck-pack in order
to hit upon some easy way of getting off from it out over the open
sea. A little thinking would have shown me, of course, that my fancies
had nothing to rest on, and that coming once more to the coast of my
continent was only to be where I was when my long journey through that
death-stricken mass of rottenness began; but the reaction of my
spirits was natural enough after the gloom that for so long had held
them, and so was the castle-building that I took to as I went onward
as to what I would do with my great treasure when at last I had it
safe out in the living world.

Although I did not doubt that food of some sort was to be found on
board of all the vessels which I should cross that day, I guarded
against losing time in looking for it by carrying along with me a
couple of tins of meat--slung on my shoulders in a wrapping of
canvas--and on one of these, about noon-time, I made a good meal. When
I had finished it I was sorry enough that I had not brought a tin of
peaches too, for the meat was pretty well salted and made me as
thirsty as a fish very soon after I got it down.

But my thirst was not severe enough to trouble me greatly; and,
indeed, I partly forgot it in my steadily growing excitement as I
pressed forward and more and more distinctly saw the funnels of a
whole fleet of steamers looming up through the golden mist ahead of me
like chimneys in a sun-shot London fog. And so the afternoon went by,
and my crooked rough path slipped away behind me so rapidly that by a
good hour before sunset I was near enough to the steamers to see not
only their funnels but their hulls.

The look of one of them, and she was one of the nearest, was so
familiar as I began to make her out clearly that I was sure that I had
got back again to the _Hurst Castle_; for she was just about the size
of the _Hurst Castle_, and was lying with her bow down in the water
and her stern high in the air--and the delight of this discovery threw
me into such a ferment that I quite forgot how tired I was and fairly
ran across the last half dozen vessels that I had to traverse before I
came under her tall side. However, when I got close to her I saw that
she was not the _Hurst Castle_ after all, but only another unlucky
vessel that had broken her nose in collision and so had filled forward
and gone sagging down by the bows.

As it happened, the wreck from which I had to board her was a little
water-logged brig, close under her quarter, so low-lying that the
tilted-up stern of the steamer fairly towered above the brig like a
three-story house; and at first it seemed to me that I was about as
likely to climb up a house-front as I was to climb up that high smooth
wall of iron. But a part of the brig's foremast still was standing,
and from it a yard jutted out to within jumping distance of the
steamer's rail; and while that was not a way that I fancied--nor a way
that ever I should have dared to take, I suppose, had there been any
choice in the matter--up it I had to go. Hot as I was though with
eagerness, I was a badly scared man as I slowly got to my feet and
steadied myself for a moment on the end of the yard and then jumped
for it; and a very thankful man, an instant later, when I struck the
steamer's rail and fell floundering inboard on her deck--though I
bruised myself in my fall pretty badly, and got an unexpected crack on
the back of my head as my bag of jewels flew up and hit me with
a bang.

However, no real harm was done; and I was so keen to look about me
that in a moment I was on my legs again and went forward, limping a
little, that I might get up on the bridge: for my strongest
desire--stronger even than my longing to go in search, of the water
that I did not doubt I would find in the steamer's tanks--was to gaze
out over the open ocean, across which I had to go in some way if ever
again I was to be free.

The sun was close down on the horizon, a red ball of fire glowing
through the mist, and in the mist above and over the surface of the
sea below a red light shone. But as I stood on the bridge looking at
this strange splendor all my hope died away slowly within me and a
chill settled upon my heart. As far as ever I could see the water was
covered thickly with tangled and matted weed, broken only here and
there by hummocks of wreckage and by a few hulks drifting in slowly to
take their places in the ranks of the dead. The almost imperceptible
progress of these hulks showed how dense was the mass through which
they were drifting; and showed, too, how utterly impossible it would
be for me to force my way in a boat driven by oars or sails to the
clear water lying far, far off. Even a steamer scarcely could have
pushed through that tangle; and could not have gone twice her own
length without hopelessly fouling her screw. And it seemed to me that
I might better have died on one of the old rotten hulks among which I
had been for so long a time wandering--where hope was not, and where I
was well in the mood for dying--rather than thus to have got clear of
them, and have hope come back to me, only to bring up short against
the wall of my sea-prison and so find myself held fast there for all
the remainder of my days. And I was the more savagely bitter because I
had no right whatever to be disappointed. What I saw was not new to
me, and I had known what I was coming to--though I had kept down my
thoughts about it--all along.



The steamer that I had come aboard of proved to be French; and that
she had not long been abandoned I knew by finding an abundance of ice
in her cold-room and a great deal of fresh meat there too. Had she
been manned by a stiff-necked crew she would not have been abandoned
at all. She had been in collision, and her bow-compartment was full of
water; but the water had not got aft of her foremast, and except that
she was down by the head a little she was not much the worse for her
bang. That her captain had tried to carry on after the accident was
shown by the sail that had been set in place very snugly over her
smashed bows; and I greatly wondered why he had given up the fight,
until I found--getting a look at her stern from one of the wrecks
lying near her--that her screw was gone. This second accident
evidently had been too much for her people and they had taken to the
boats and left her. But I think that an English or an American crew
would have stood by her, and would have succeeded in getting her
towed into port--or even would have brought her in under her own
sails. She was called the _Ville de Saint Remy_, and was a fine boat
of about five thousand tons.

All that I had hoped to find aboard of her in the way of comforts and
luxuries was there, and more too. Indeed, if a good bed, and the best
of food, and excellent wines and tobacco, had been all that I wanted I
very well might have settled myself on the _Ville de Saint Remy_ for
the balance of my days. But I almost resented the luck which had
brought me all these things--for which I had been longing so keenly
but a few hours before--because I did not find with them what I
desired still more earnestly: the means that would enable me to get
away seaward and leave them all behind. What such means would be, it
is only fair to add, I could not imagine; at least, I could not
imagine anything at all reasonable--for the only thing I could think
of that would carry me out across that weed-covered ocean to open
water was a balloon.

And so, although I fed daintily and drank of the best, and had good
tobacco to cheer me after my meals, my first day aboard the _Ville de
Saint Remy_ was as sad a one as any that I had passed since I had come
into my sea-prison; for while the daylight lasted, and I wandered
about her decks looking always at the barrier of weed which held me
there, I had clearly before me the impossibility of ever getting
away. Only when darkness came, hiding my prison walls from me, did I
become a little more cheerful--as the very human disposition to make
light of difficulties when they no longer are visible began to assert
itself in my mind.

Down in the comfortable cabin, well lighted and airy, I had a capital
dinner--and a bottle of sound Bordeaux with it that no doubt added a
good deal to my sanguine cheerfulness; and to end with I made myself
some delicious coffee--over a spirit-lamp that I found in the
pantry--and had with it a glass of Benedictine and a very choice
cigar. And all of these luxurious refreshments of the flesh--which set
me to smiling a little as I thought of the contrast that they made to
my surroundings--so comforted my spirit that my gloomy thoughts left
me, and I began to plan airily how I would start off in a boat well
loaded with provisions and somehow or another push my way through the
weed. I even got along to details: deciding that it would be quite an
easy matter to open a way through the tangle over the bows of my boat
with an oar--or with an axe, if need be--and then press forward by
poling against the weed on each side; which seemed so feasible a
method that I concluded I could accomplish readily at least a mile a
day. And so, with these fine fancies dancing in my brain, I settled
myself into a delightful bed; and as I drowsed off deliciously I had
the comforting conviction that in a little while longer all my
difficulties would be conquered and all my troubles at an end.

With the return of daylight, giving me an outlook over the
weed-covered water again, most of my hopefulness left me along with
most of my faith in my airily-made plan; but even in this colder mood
it did seem to me that there was at least a chance of my pulling
through--and my slim courage was strengthened by the feeling within me
that unless I threw myself with all my energy into work of some sort I
presently would find myself going melancholy mad. And so, but only
half-heartedly, I mustered up resolution to make a trial of my poor
project for getting away.

On board the _Ville de Saint Remy_ there was nothing to be done. The
corner-stone of my undertaking was finding a boat and launching it,
and the Frenchmen--in their panic-stricken scamper from a danger that
was mainly in their own lively imaginations--had carried all their
boats away. It was necessary, therefore, that I should go on a cruise
among the other wrecks lying around me in search of a boat still in a
condition to swim; but I was very careful this time--profiting by my
rough experience--to make sure before I started of my safe return.
Fortunately the stern of the steamer was so high out of the water
that it rose conspicuously above the wrecks lying thereabouts; but to
make her still more conspicuous I roused out a couple of French flags
and an American flag from her signal-chest and set them at her three
mastheads--giving to our own colors the place of honor on the
mainmast--and so made her quite unmistakable from as far off as I
could see her through the haze. And as a still farther precaution
against losing myself I hunted up a hatchet to take along with me to
blaze my way. All of which matters being attended to, I made a rope
fast to the rail--knotting it at intervals, so that I could climb it
again easily--and so slipped down the steamer's side.

My business was only with the wrecks lying along the extreme outer
edge of the pack--from which alone it would be possible for me to
launch a boat in the event of my finding one--but in order to get from
one to the other of them I had to make so many long detours that my
progress was very slow. Indeed, by the time that noon came, and I
stopped to eat my dinner--which I had brought along with me, that I
need not have to hunt for it--I had made less than half a mile in a
straight line. And in none of the vessels that I had crossed--except
on one lying so far in the pack as to be of no use to me--had I found
a single boat that would swim. Nor had I any better luck when I went
on with my search again in the afternoon. As it had been in the case
of the _Hurst Castle_ so it had been, I suppose, in the case of all
the wrecks which I examined that day: either their boats had been
staved-in or washed overboard by tempest, or else had served to carry
away their crews. But what had become of them, so far as I was
concerned, made no difference--the essential matter was that they were
gone. And so, toward evening, I turned backward from my fruitless
journey and headed for the _Ville de Saint Remy_ again--for I had
found no other ship so comfortable in the course of my explorations--and
got safe aboard of her just as the sun was going down.

That night I had not much comfort in the good dinner that I set out
for myself--though I was glad enough to get it, being both hungry and
tired--and I only half plucked up my spirits over my coffee and cigar.
But still, as the needs of my body were gratified, my mind got so far
soothed and refreshed that I held to my purpose--which had been pretty
much given over when I came back tired and hungry after my vain
search--and I went to bed resolute to begin again my explorations on
the following day.

But when the morning came and I set off--though I had a good breakfast
inside of me, and such a store of food by me as fairly would have set
me dancing with delight only a week before--I was in low spirits and
went at my work rather because I was resolved to push through with it
than because I had any strong hope that it would give me what
I desired.

This time--having already examined the wrecks for near a mile
northward along the edge of the pack--I set my course for the south;
and again, until late in the afternoon, I worked my way from ship to
ship--with long detours inland from time to time in order to get
around some break in the coast-line--and on all of them the result was
the same: not a boat did I find anywhere that was not so riven and
shattered as to be beyond all hope of repair. And at nightfall I came
back once more to the _Ville de Saint Remy_ wearied out in body and
utterly dispirited in mind.

Even after I had eaten my dinner and was smoking at my ease in the
cheerfully lighted cabin, sitting restfully in a big arm-chair and
with every sort of material comfort at hand, I could not whip myself
up to hoping again. It was true that I had not exhausted the
possibilities of finding the boat that I desired so eagerly, for my
search along the coast-line had extended for only about a mile each
way; but in my down-hearted state it seemed to me that my search had
gone far enough to settle definitely that what I wanted was not to be
found. And this brought down on me heavily the conviction that my
prison--though it was the biggest, I suppose, that ever a man was shut
up in--must hold me fast always: and with that feeling in it there no
longer was room for hope also in my heart.



When I had finished my breakfast the next morning I faced the worst
thing which I had been forced to face since I had been cast prisoner
into the Sargasso Sea: a whole day of idleness without hope. Until
then there had not been an hour--save when I was asleep--that I had
not been doing something which in some way I had hoped would better my
condition temporarily, or would tend toward my deliverance. But that
morning I was without such spurs to effort and there was absolutely
nothing for me to do. My condition could not be improved by making my
home on another vessel; it was doubtful, indeed, if in all the
wreck-pack I could find a home so comfortable and so abundantly
stocked with the best provisions as I had found aboard of the _Ville
de Saint Remy_. As for working farther for my deliverance, I had set
that behind me after my experience during the two preceding days. And
so I brought a steamer-chair out on the deck and sat in it smoking,
idle and hopeless, gazing straight out before me with a dull
steadfastness over the very gently undulating surface of the
weed-covered sea.

After a while, tiring of sitting still, I began to pace the deck
slowly; and I was so heavy with my sorrow that I could not think
clearly, but had only in my mind a confused feeling that I was taking
the first of a series of walks such as wild animals imprisoned take
endlessly back and forth behind the bars that shut them in. And from
this I went on to thinking, still in the same confused way, that the
wild animals at least were not outcast in their captivity--having
living people and living beasts around them, and the pleasure of
hearing living sounds--while one of the worst things about my prison
was the absolute dead silence that hung over it like a dismal cloud.
And perhaps it was because my thoughts happened at that moment to be
set to take notice of such matters that I fancied I heard a very faint
sound of scratching and an instant later a still fainter little cry.

I was standing just then close to the water-line on the deck forward,
beside a covered hatch that seemed to lead to what had been the
quarters of the crew; and it was from beneath this hatch, I was
certain, that the sounds came. Slight though the noise was, it greatly
startled me; and at the same time it aroused in me the
strangely-thrilling hope that there possibly might be a living man
still aboard of the steamer and that I would be no longer horribly
alone. Yet I would not suffer myself too much to give room to this
happy hope, for the little faint scratching--which I heard again
presently--was not the sort of noise that a man shut in would be
likely to make; nor did the little plaintive sound seem like a human
cry. But the matter was one to be investigated in a hurry, and with an
energy quite astonishing, in comparison with my lassitude of a moment
before, I got the hatch open and leaned down it, listening; and then I
heard the scratching so plainly that I hurried down the stair.

The between-decks was well enough lighted by a good-sized skylight,
and the place that I had got into had fixed tables set in it and
seemed to be the mess-room of the crew. Doors opened out from it both
fore and aft; and from behind the after door--so plainly that I had no
difficulty in placing it--came the scratching sound that I was
pursuing: and with it came the cries again, and this time so
distinctly as to shatter my hope of finding a human being there, but
at the same time to make me, for all my sorrow, almost smile. For the
cry was a very long and plaintive m-i-i-a-a-u! And the next moment,
when I had the door open, a great black cat came out upon me--so
overcome with delight at meeting a human being again that he was
almost choking with his gurgling purr. Indeed the extravagant joy of
the poor lonely creature was as great as mine would have been had I
found a man there--and he manifested it by lunging sidewise against my
legs, and by standing up on his hind paws and reaching his fore paws
up to my knees and clutching them, and then with a spring he climbed
right up me--all the while choking with his great gurgling
purring--and was not satisfied until he found himself bundled close
against my breast as I held him tight in my arms. And on my
side--after I had gulped down my first disappointment because it was
only a cat who was my fellow-prisoner--I was as glad to meet him as he
was to meet me; and I am not ashamed to say that I fairly cried over
him--as a warm rush of joy went over me at finding myself at last,
after being for so long a time surrounded only by the dead, in the
company of a living creature; and a creature which showed toward me by
every means that a brute beast could compass its gratitude and
its love.

And I must add without delay that my cat's affection for me was wholly
disinterested; at least, I am sure that he loved me--from the first
moment of our encounter--not because he wanted me to do something for
him, but because he longed, as I did, for human companionship and was
filled up with happiness because he had found again a human friend. As
I discovered upon investigation, his prison had been the galley in
which food for the crew had been cooked; and upon the odds and ends
left there he had fared very well indeed--not overeating himself by
gobbling down all his food in a hurry, and then dying of starvation,
as a dog would have done, but temperately eating for his daily rations
only what his sustenance required; and for drink he had had a pot
partly full of what had been hot water that stood upon the galley
stove. But I also must add that this coarse fare was not at all to his
liking; and that thereafter he ordered me around pretty sharply, in
his own way, and insisted always upon my providing him with
dainty food.

It was a good thing for the cat, certainly, that I had found him; for
his stock of provisions was pretty nearly exhausted, and in a little
while longer he would have come to a dismal end. But my finding him
was a still better thing for me. When I first heard his faint little
scratching, and his still fainter plaintive little call for help, I
was so deep in my despairing melancholy that my reason was in a fair
way to go, and with it all farther effort on my part to set myself
free. From that desperate state my small adventure with him roused me,
which was a good deal to thank him for; but I had more to thank him
for still.

In the little time that I had been aboard of the _Ville de Saint
Remy_--my days having been passed away from her--I had made no
exploration of her interior beyond her cabin and the region in which
were carried her cabin stores; which latter were so abundant as to set
me at my ease for an indefinite period in regard to food. But this
meeting with my fellow-prisoner so stirred me up, and put such fresh
spirit into me, that I began to think of having a general look all
over her: that I might in a way take stock of my belongings and at the
same time have something to occupy my mind--for I knew that to sit
down idly again would be only again to fall back into despair. And so,
my cat going with me--and, indeed, making a good deal of a convenience
of me, for he by no means would walk on his own legs but insisted upon
jumping up on my shoulder and going that way as a passenger--I set off
on my round.

As well as I could make out from what I found on board of her--for her
papers either had been carried away or were stowed in some place which
I did not discover--the _Ville de Saint Remy_ had been bound outward
to some colonial port and carried a cargo of general stores. When I
got her hatches off--though that came later--I saw in one place a lot
of wheelbarrows, and some heavy wagons stowed with their wheels inside
of them, and some machinery for threshing along with a portable
steam-engine; and in another place were boxes which seemed to have
dry-goods in them, and a great many cases of wines, and some very big
cases that evidently contained pianos--and so on with a great lot of
stuff such as the people of a flourishing colony would be likely
to need.

But in my round that morning with the cat on my shoulders--for he was
not content to remain perched on one of them quietly, but kept passing
from one to the other with affectionate rubs against the back of my
head, and all the while purring as hard as he could purr--I did not
get below the main-deck except into the engine-room, my attention
being given to finding out fully what the steamer had on board of her
in the way of work-shops and tools: for already, with my renewed
cheerfulness, the notion was beginning to take hold of me that I might
set to work and build a boat for myself--and so make what I could not
find. And, indeed, I don't doubt that I should have set myself to this
big undertaking--for the appointments of the vessel were admirably
complete and everything that I wanted for my work was there--had not a
bigger, but a more promising, undertaking presented itself to me and
so turned my efforts into another way.



It was directly to my cat that I owed the great piece of good fortune
that then came to me: but I must confess that he was an unwilling
agent in the matter, and probably wished himself well out of it, the
immediate result in his case being rather a bad squeeze to one of his
fore paws.

We had been examining the machine-shop, the cat and I, and whatever
his views about it may have been mine were of great satisfaction; for
when I had got the dead-lights unscrewed so that I could see well
about me I had been delighted by finding there everything that my
boat-building project required. Indeed, I almost fancied myself back
again in one of the work-shops of the Stevens Institute, so well was
the place fitted and supplied--a completeness probably due to the fact
that the _Ville de Saint Remy_ was intended for long voyages to
out-of-the-way ports, and very well might have to depend upon her own
resources for important repairs.

It was as we were leaving the machine-shop to continue our round of
investigations that my cat suddenly took it into his head to jump down
from my shoulders and stretch his own legs a little; and away he
scampered--being much given to such frisking dashes, as I later
discovered, though for the next week or so after that one he went
limping on three legs mighty soberly--first down the deck aft, and
then past me and up a dark passage leading toward the bows; and I,
being pretty well accustomed to cat habits, stood waiting until he
should have his fun out and so come back again with a miau by way of
"if you please" to be taken up into my arms. But he did not come back
in any great hurry, and off in the darkness I could hear his paws
padding about briskly; and then there was silence for a moment; and
then he broke out into a loud miauling which showed that he was in
trouble of some sort and also in pain.

As there was no helping him until I could see what was the matter with
him, I hurried first into the machine-shop for a wrench, and then went
forward into that dark place cautiously--until by a glint of light on
the ship's side I made out where a port was, and so got loose the
deadlight and could look around. What I saw was my poor cat in such a
pickle that I did not in the least blame him for crying out about it;
he having, as it seemed, made an unlucky jump upon some small bars of
iron which were lying loose and disorderly, with the one on which he
landed balanced so nicely that it had turned suddenly and jammed fast
his paw. And so he was anchored there very painfully, and was telling
what he thought about it in the most piercing yowls.

Fortunately it was an easy matter to let him loose from the trap that
he had got into; but even while I was doing it--and before I picked
him up to look at his hurt and to comfort him--I gave a shout of
delight on my own account that was a good deal louder than any of my
poor cat's yells of pain. For there before me was a very stout-looking
and large steam-launch--thirty-two feet over all, as I found when I
came to measure her--stowed snugly in a cradle set athwart-ship and
looking all ready to be put overboard into the sea. And at finding in
this unexpected fashion what I had been so long looking for, and had
quite done with hoping for, it is no wonder that I shouted with joy.

My cat coming limping to me to be pitied and cared for, holding up his
pinched paw and with little miaus asking for my sympathy quite like a
Christian, I had first of all to give him my attention. But his hurt
was not a very serious one--the flesh not being cut, and no bones
broken--and when I had comforted him as well as I could, until I got
him soothed a little, I put him down out of my arms that I might
examine carefully my great prize; but first of all opening all the
ports so that I might have plenty of light for what I wanted to do.

Coming to this deliberate survey, I found that the launch truly enough
was complete, but that she was very far from being ready to take the
water; for while all her parts were there--and even duplicates of her
more important pieces, in readiness against a break-down--most of her
fittings and all of her machinery was lying inside of her boxed for
transportation; being arranged that way, I suppose, because she would
have been far too heavy to swing into the snug place where I found her
and out again with everything bolted fast. She was a very beautiful
little boat, evidently intended for a pleasure craft--but very strong
and seaworthy, too; and it no doubt was to keep her in good order for
delivery that she had been stowed between-decks for the long voyage.
Indeed, only with a steam-winch and a good many men to handle her,
could she have been got down there; and the first of my uncomfortable
thoughts about her, of the many that I had first and last, came while
I was taking stock of her equipment--as I fell to wondering how in the
world I should manage, with only a cat to help me, ever to get her
overboard into the sea.

As to assembling her parts, and so making her ready for cruising, I
had no doubts whatever. That piece of work was directly in the line
of my training and I felt entirely secure about it; but even on that
score I quaked a good deal at the size of the contract to be taken by
a single pair of hands, and at thought of the long, long while that
would be required to carry it through. Yet the hope that came with
finding this boat put such heart into me that my spirits did not go
down far. Working on her--aside from the pleasure that any man with a
natural love for mechanics finds in serious and difficult labor with
his hands--would be a constant delight to me because of what it would
be leading to; and in every moment of my work I would have to sustain
me the thought that each rivet set in place and each bolt fastened
brought me appreciably nearer to being set free.

Having cursorily finished with the boat, I continued my survey to her
surroundings; that I might plan roughly my scheme of work upon her,
and that I might plan also for getting her launched when my work upon
her should be done. She was stowed on the main-deck--in a place that
probably was intended for the use of third-class passengers, when such
were carried--and the machine-shop was so close to her that in the
matter of fetching tools and so on my steps would be well saved.
Directly over her was the forward hatch; through which she had been
lowered and set in place in the cradle previously made ready for her,
and there fixed firm and fast. For a moment I had the fancy that I
might get up steam to work the donkey-engine and so hoist her out
again by that same way, and overboard too. But a very little
reflection showed me that this airily formed plan must be abandoned,
as all my work on her then would have to be done far away from the
machine-shop and with the additional disadvantage that through the
long time that certainly must pass before I could get her finished she
would lie open to the daily heavy rains. And then I had the much more
reasonable notion--though the amount of extra labor that it involved
was not encouraging to contemplate--that I would do my work on her
where she lay; and when I had finished her that I would cut loose a
sufficient number of plates from the side of the steamer to make a
hole big enough to get her overboard that way.

But having the hatch directly over where she was lying, though I could
not get her up through it, made my undertaking a good deal easier and
more comfortable for me. Even with all the ports open I would have had
but little light to work by; and, what was of even more importance in
that hot misty region, I would have had little fresh air--and still
less when I had set a-going my forge. But with the hatch off I could
have all the light that I needed and as much fresh air as was to be
had--with the advantage that the hatch could be set in place every
night when I went off duty and not opened again in the morning until
the rain was at an end: so preserving my machinery against the rust
that pretty much would have ruined it--for all that it was well
tallowed--had my slow building gone on in the open air.

My preliminary investigations being thus well ended, and the morning
ended too, I piped all hands to dinner; that is to say, I whistled to
my cat--who had been sitting still and watching me pretty solemnly,
his friskiness being for the time taken out of him by the pain in his
paw--and when he perceived that I was paying some attention to him
again he came limping to me on his three good legs and said with a
miau that if I pleased he would prefer going to his dinner in my arms.
And when I picked him up--as, indeed, I had to, for he positively
insisted upon my carrying him--he forgot about his hurt and fell to
purring to me at a great rate and to making little gentle thrusts
against my arm with the fore paw that was sound. And so we went aft in
great friendship and contentment and had a gay dinner together: the
cat sitting on the table opposite to me with all possible decorum--but
manifesting his daintiness by refusing to eat anything but tinned
chicken, and only the white meat at that!



When my meal was finished I set myself first of all to getting off the
hatch beneath which my boat lay; and this proved to be a bigger job
than I had counted upon--each of its sections being so heavy that I
could not manage it without tackle, and even with tackle the work took
me a good hour. My plan of operations had included removing the hatch
every morning and setting it back again every night, but when I found
how much energy and time would be wasted in that way I changed my
front a little and got at the same result along another line. All that
I needed was a covering for the hatch that would keep the rain out;
and what I did, therefore, was to knock together a light grating of
wood to fit over it--sloping the grating downward on each side from a
sort of a ridge pole--on which a tarpaulin could be stretched; and in
that way I got shortly to a water-tight covering for my hatch that I
could shift back and forth quickly and without any trouble at all. But
the whole of what remained of the afternoon was spent in getting
that piece of preliminary work finished to my mind.

The next morning I set myself to the examination of the stuff stowed
in the boat--the several parts which I would have to put together in
order to make my craft ready for the sea--and for this job also a
great deal of preliminary arrangement was required. Many of the
pieces--as the boiler, the cylinder, the shaft, the screw, and the
sections of the cabin--were too heavy for me to lift without tackle;
and as they all had to be got out and arranged in order ready for use,
and then in due course put aboard the boat one at a time in their
proper places, I first of all had to set up some sort of lifting
apparatus to take the place of a crane.

In this matter the open hatch directly over the boat again was a help
to me. Across it, running fore and aft, I stretched a heavy wire rope
on which I had placed a big block for a traveller, and carrying the
end of the rope forward to the capstan I fell to work with the
hand-bars and got it strained so taut that it was like a bar of iron.
Then to the traveller block I made fast my hoisting tackle--and so was
able to swing up the heavy pieces from where they were stowed, and to
run them along the taut rope until they were clear of the boat on
either side, and then to let them down upon the deck: where they would
remain until a reversal of this process would lift them up again and
set them in place as they were required. But even with my tackle--and
double tackle in the case of the heavier pieces--this was a
back-breaking job that took up the whole of three days.

However, I finished it at last, and had the boat clear and all the
pieces so arranged that as I needed them they would be ready to my
hand; and the examination that I was able to make of them, and of the
boat too after I had her empty, gave very satisfactory results. All
the parts were there, and all numbered so carefully that they could
have been assembled by much less skilful hands than mine; while the
hull of the boat was completely finished, and the sockets and
rivet-holes for attaching her fittings were all as they should be in
her frame. Farther, I could see by the little scratches here and there
on her iron-work that she had been set up and then taken apart again;
and so was sure that all was smooth for her coming together in the
right way. But, for all that I had such plain sailing before me in the
actual work of refitting her, my courage went down a little as I
perceived what a big contract I had taken, and what a very long time
must pass before I could pull it through.

Moreover, I saw that while the boat was well built for pleasure
cruising in smooth water--and, indeed, was so stout in her frame that
she would stand a great deal of knocking about without being the
worse for it--she by no means was prepared for the chances of an ocean
voyage. Except where her little cabin and engine-room would be--the
two filling about half of her length amidships--she was entirely open;
and while the frame of her cabin was stoutly built, that part of it
intended to rise above the rail was arranged for sliding glass
windows--which would be smashed in a moment by a heavy dash of sea. It
was clear, therefore, that in addition to setting her up on the lines
planned for her--a big job and a long job to start with--there was a
lot more for me to do. To fit her for my purposes it would be
necessary to cover her cabin windows with planking; to deck her over
forward in order to have my stores under cover as well as to guard
against shipping enough water to swamp her in rough weather; and
finally to rig her with a mast and sail upon which to fall back for
motive-power in the event of my running out of coal. This additional
work would not, in one way, present any difficulties--it being in
itself simple and easy of accomplishment; but in another way it was
not pleasant to contemplate, since the doing of it all single-handed
would increase very greatly the time which must pass before I could
start upon my voyage. However, as consideration of that phase of the
matter only tended to discourage me, I put it out of sight as well as
I was able and set myself with a will to finishing my preliminary
work--of which there still was a good deal to do.

The steamer's machine-shop, as I have said, was unusually well fitted
and supplied; but even in the short time that the vessel had been
lying abandoned in that reeking atmosphere rust had so coated
everything not shut up in lockers that all the tools in the racks and
the fittings of the lathe--although the lathe had an oil-cloth hood
over it--had to be cleaned before they could be used: a job that kept
me busy with the grind-stone, and emery-cloth, and oiled cotton-waste,
for a good long while. And after that I had to get the forge in order,
and to bring up fuel for it from the coal bunkers. And in attending to
all these various matters the time slipped away so quickly that a
whole week had passed before I had done.

But I must say that as the cat and I labored together--though his
labors were confined to cheering me by following me about on three
legs whereever I went, and pretty much all the while talking to me in
his way so that I should not fail to take notice of him--I got more
and more light-hearted; which was natural enough, seeing that what I
was doing in itself interested me and so made the time pass quickly,
and that I had also a great swelling undercurrent of hope as I
thought of what my slow-going work would bring me to in the end.

When at last I fairly got started at my building I was in a still
more cheerful mood--there being such a sense of definite
accomplishment as I set each piece in its place, and such a comfort in
the tangible advance that I was making, that half the time I was
singing as I made my bolts and rivets fast. But for all my
cheerfulness I had a plenty of trouble over what I was doing; and I
was sorry enough that I had not somebody beside my cat to help me, or
that I myself had not another pair or two of hands.

Almost at the start, when I began to swing the pieces of machinery
inboard, I found that I had still another bit of preliminary work to
attend to before I could go on. My travelling tackle crossing the boat
amidships had worked well enough in getting the stuff out of her, but
when I came to hoisting the parts aboard and setting them exactly in
their places, and holding them steady while I made fast the rivets, it
would not in any way serve my turn. What I had to do was to stretch
another wire rope across the hatch--at right angles with and a couple
of feet above the first one, and parallel with the boat's keel--and to
rig on this two travellers, to one or the other of which I could
transfer each piece as I got it inboard and so run it along until I
had it exactly over the place where it was to be made fast. But I was
a whole day in attending to this matter--and it was only one of the
many makeshifts to which I had to resort to accomplish what was too
much for my unaided strength; and in meeting such like side
difficulties I lost in all a good many days.

But though my work went very slowly, and now and then was stopped
short for a while by some obstacle that had to be overcome in any
rough and ready way that I could think of, I did get on; and at last I
had my boat together on the lines that her builders had planned. Yet
while, in a way, she was finished, there still was a weary lot to do
to her to fit her for my purposes; and in decking her over, and in
making her cabin solid, and in fitting a mast and sail to her, I spent
almost two months more.

All this work went slowly because I had to spend nearly as much time
in making ready for what I wanted to do as in doing it. Before I began
my planking I had to rip up from the steamer's deck the material for
it; and this was a hard job in itself and did not give me what I
wanted when it was done--for while the stuff served well enough for my
beams and braces it was clumsily heavy for the decking of my little
launch. But it had to answer, and in the end I got it well in place
and the joints so tightly caulked that I was sure of having a dry
hold. And that my deck might the more easily turn the water in a sea
way I made it flush with the rail; and I had no hatch in
it--arranging to get to the hold by a scuttle that I set in the
forward end of the cabin--and that gave me a still better chance of
keeping dry below.

For my mast I got down one of the top-gallant masts--and I had a close
shave to coming down with it and so ending my adventures right there.
The best way that I could think of to manage this piece of work--and I
have not since thought of any way better--was to make fast a line to
the lower end of the top-gallant mast just above the cap of the
topmast and to carry this line through the top-block and so down to
the deck, and there to pass it through another block to the capstan
and haul it taut and stop it; and when all that was in order, and the
stays cut, to get up into the cross-trees and saw through the spar
just below where I had whipped it with my line. My expectation was
that as the spar parted and fell it would be held hanging by my tackle
until I could get down to the deck again and lower it away; and that
really was what did happen--only as it fell there was a bit of slack
line to take up, and this gave such a tremendous jerk to the
cross-trees that I was within an ace of being shaken out of them and
of going down to the deck with a bang. But I didn't--which is the main
thing--and I did get my mast. It was a good deal heavier than my boat
could stand, and I had to spend a couple of days in taking it down
with a broad-axe and in finishing it with a plane until I got it as it
should be; and from the flag-staff at the steamer's stern I got out
with very little trouble a good boom and gaff.

After that I had only my sail to fit; and as I did not trouble myself
to make a very neat job of it this did not take me long. Indeed, I
grudged the time that I spent on my mast and sail--close upon a
fortnight, altogether--more than any like amount of time that I gave
to my task; for my hope was strong that I would not need a sail at
all, but would be able to manage--by a way that I had thought of--to
carry enough coal with me to make my voyage under steam. But I was not
leaving anything to chance--so far as chances could be foreseen--in
the adventure that I was about to make, and so I got my sail-power all
ready to fall back upon in case my steam-power failed. And when that
bit of work was finished I was full of a joyful light-heartedness; for
my boat in every way was ready for the water, and I was come at last
to the good ending of my long job.

That night I made a feast in celebration of what I had accomplished,
and in hope of my greater good fortune that I believed was soon to
come--with a place duly set on the opposite side of the table for my
only guest, and with a champagne-glass beside his plate to hold his
unsweetened condensed milk (for which, when I found it among the
ship's stores, he manifested a strong partiality) that he might lap
properly his responses to the toasts which I pledged him in
champagne. And I don't suppose that a man and a cat ever had a merrier
meal anywhere than we had in that queer place for it that evening; nor
that any two friends ever were happier together than we were when, our
feast being ended, he went through his various tricks--of which he had
learned a great many, and with a wonderful quickness, after his paw
got well--and then settled himself for a snooze on my lap while I sat
smoking my cigar and thinking that at last I had sawn through
my prison bars.

And it was while I was sitting in that state of placid happiness that
suddenly I was brought up all standing by the reflection--and why it
had not come sooner to me is a mystery--that a dozen turns of the
screw of my launch in that weed-covered ocean would be enough to foul
it hopelessly, and so at the very start to cut short the voyage under
steam that I had planned.



For a while after this black thought came to me I was pretty much
beaten by it; but when I got steadier--and had finished kicking myself
for a fool because I had not foreseen it all along--I perceived that
the odds were not wholly against me, after all. I had, at least, a
sea-worthy boat in which to make my venture, and therefore was as well
off as I had hoped to be when I had set about looking for one; and if
the plan that I had formed worked out in practice--if I could manage
to force a passage through the tangle by alternately working over the
bow of my boat to break up the weed, and over the sides to pole my
boat forward--I was a great deal better off than I had hoped to be:
for should I win my way to open water I would have steam as well as
sail power at my command.

But while this more reasonable view of the situation comforted me, it
did not satisfy me. The difficulty of working myself along in that
slow fashion I foresaw would be so enormous that I very well might die
of sheer exhaustion before I got clear of the weed-tangle--which
must extend outward, as I knew from my guess at the time that I had
taken in drifting in through it, for a very long way. What I had been
counting upon ever since I had found the launch was in having part of
the work, and the heaviest part, done by her engine; my part to be the
breaking of a passage, while the motive power was to be supplied by
the screw. But of course if the screw fouled, as it certainly would
foul with the loose weed all around it, that would be the end of my
hopeful plan.

This consideration of the matter reduced it to a definite problem.
What was needed was some sort of protection for the screw that would
keep the weed away from it and yet would allow it to work freely: and,
having the case thus clearly stated, the thought presently occurred to
me that I could secure this protection by building out from the stern
of the boat, so that the screw would be enclosed in it, some sort of
an iron cage. That arrangement, I conceived, would meet the
requirements of the case fully; and being come to my conclusion I
resigned myself to still another long delay while I carried my plan
into execution, and so went to bed at last hopefully--but well knowing
that this fresh piece of work that I had cut out for myself would be
hard to do.

I certainly did not overestimate the amount of labor involved in my
cage-building. I was a good three weeks over it. But I was kept up to
the collar by my conviction that without the cage I had no chance of
succeeding in my project; and so I got it finished at last. And then I
considered that my boat really was ready to take the water; and the
cat and I had another banquet in celebration of the long step that we
had taken toward our deliverance--only this time I did not give an
altogether free rein to my rejoicing, being fearful that some other
difficulty might present itself suddenly and bring me up again with a
round turn.

The boat being ready--for I could think of nothing more to do to
her--I had still to launch her, and the first step toward that end was
breaking out a section in the steamer's side. Luckily the stock of
cold-chisels aboard the _Ville de Saint Remy_ was a good one; but I
dulled them all twice over--and weary work at the grindstone I had
sharpening them again--before I had chipped away the bindings of those
endless rivets and had the satisfaction of seeing the big section of
iron plate between two of her iron ribs pitch outboard and splash down
through the weed into the sea.

As I have said, the bow compartment of the steamer was full of water,
and this brought her main-deck so low down forward that the boat had
only to be slid out almost on a level through the hole that I had
made. But to slide her that way--which seems easy, because I have
happened to put it glibly--was quite a different thing. With steam
power to work the capstan I could have got the boat overboard in no
time; but without steam power the launching went desperately slowly,
and was altogether the hardest piece of work that I had to do in the
whole of my long hard job.

The boat had stood all along in the cradle that had been built to hold
her steady for the voyage. This was a very stout wooden framework
built up from two heavy beams joined by cross-pieces, and all so well
bolted together that it was very solid and firm. In this the boat
rested snugly and was held fast by rope lashings; and the cradle
itself--resting on the lower hatch and projecting on each side of
it--was lashed to the hatch ringbolts so as to be safe against
shifting in a heavy sea. I could have removed the cradle by taking it
to pieces, but that would not have helped matters; and the plan that I
decided upon--liking it better because all this wood-work around and
under the boat would protect her from harm as she went overboard--was
to weight the cradle with iron bars that would cause it to sink away
from beneath the boat when they took the water, and then to work it up
with jack-screws until I could get rollers under it and so send them
both together over the side.

How long I worked over this job I really do not know; but I do know
that at the time it seemed as though it never would come to an end.
First of all I had the rollers to make from another topgallant mast
that I got down, and when these were finished I had to go at the frame
of the cradle with a pair of jack-screws and raise it, by fractions of
an inch, until I could get my rollers under it one at a time. I think
that it was the deadly dullness of this jack-screw work that I most
resented--the stupid monotony of doing precisely the same sort of
utterly wearying work all day long and for day after day. But in the
end I got it finished: all my rollers properly in place, and the
cradle made fast to hold it from starting before I was ready to have
it go--although of that there was not much danger, for while the
steamer had a decided pitch forward she lay on an even keel.

At first I was for sending my boat overboard the minute that I got the
last roller under her; but I had the sense, luckily, to take a reef in
this brisk intention as the thought struck me that I must have open
water to launch her in or else very likely have boat and cradle
together stuck fast in the weed. And so I set myself to clearing a
little pool into which I could launch her; and as I carried this work
on I came quickly to a realizing sense of what was before me when I
should begin to break a way through the weed for my boat's passage,
and to the conviction that had I tried to make my voyage without steam
to help me I never should have got through at all.

In point of fact, the weed was so thick and so firmly matted together
that I almost could walk on it; and when I had knocked loose a couple
of doors from their hinges and had thrown them overboard--taking two,
so that I might move one ahead of the other as my cutting advanced--I
had firm enough standing place from which I could slash away. So tough
was the mass that I was a whole day in uncovering a space less than
forty feet long by twenty broad; and when my launching-pool was
finished it had the look of a little pond in a meadow surrounded by
solid banks.

All this showed me that even with the screw to push while I cleared a
way for the boat's passage I should have my hands full; but it also
put into my head a notion that helped me a good deal in the end. This
was to rig on the straight stem of my boat a set of guide-bars
projecting forward in which I could work perpendicularly a cross-cut
saw, and in that way to cut a slit in the weed--which would be widened
by the boat's nose thrusting into it as the screw shoved her onward,
and so would enable me to squeeze along. And as this was a matter easy
of accomplishment--being only to double over a couple of iron bars so
that there would be a slit a half inch wide for the saw to travel in,
and to bolt them fast to the top and bottom of the boat's stem--I did
it immediately; and it worked so well when I came to try it that I was
glad enough that I had had so lucky a thought. Indeed, had I known
how well it would turn out I should have gone a step farther and
rigged my saw to run by steam power--setting up a frame in the bows to
hold a wheel carrying a pin on which the saw could play and to which I
could make fast a bar from my piston-rod--and in that way saved myself
from the longest bit of back-breaking work that ever I had to do. But
that was a piece of foresight that came afterward, and so did me
no good.

When my guide-bars were in place, and the saw made ready to slip into
them by taking off one of its handles--and I had still a spare saw to
fall back upon in the event of the first one breaking--my boat was
ready to go overboard into the open water, where she would lie while I
put aboard of her my coal and stores. But the work that was before me,
as I thus came close to it, loomed up very large; and so did the
doubts which beset me as to how my voyage would end. Indeed, it was in
a spirit far from exultant that at last I cut the lashings which held
the cradle; and then with the tackle that I had ready got the heavy
mass started--and in a couple of minutes had my boat safely overboard
and floating free, as the cradle sunk away from under her, carried
down by its lading of iron bars.

But, whatever was to come of it, the launching of my boat started me
definitely along a fresh line of adventure, and whether I liked it or
not I had to make the best of it: and so I stated the case to my
cat--who had got scared and run off into a corner while the launching
was in progress--when he came marching up to me and seated himself
beside me gravely, as I stood in the break in the steamer's side
looking down at the boat that I hoped would set us free.



What would have been most useful to me as foresight, but was only
aggravating to me as hindsight--which happened to be the way that I
got it--was the very sensible notion that I might have put all of my
stores, and even a good part of my coal, aboard the boat before she
was decked over and launched. A few tons more or less would have made
no difference in moving her; but having to put those extra tons aboard
of her over the side of the steamer, and then to drag them through the
cabin and through the awkward little hatch, and at last to stow them
by the light of a lantern in her stillingly close hot hold--all that
made a lot of difference to me. However, I could not foresee
everything; and I think, on the whole, that I really did foresee most
of what I wanted pretty well.

Of provisions I took along enough to last me, by a rough calculation,
for three months; being pretty well satisfied that unless within that
time I got through the weed-tangle to open water--over which I could
make my way to land, or on which I might fall in with a passing
vessel--I never would get free at all. And I was the more disposed to
keep down my lading of provisions because I wanted every scrap of room
that I could save for my cargo of coal. But my stores were plentiful
for the term that I had fixed upon, and the best and the most
nourishing--save that I could not take fresh meat with me--that the
_Ville de Saint Reiny_ had on board; and I did not forget to take a
good supply of the tinned chicken and the condensed milk of which my
dainty cat was so fond. As for water--beside having my condenser to
fall back upon--I felt pretty sure that until I got well out toward
the open sea I could trust to the morning rains. But for all that I
carried two barrels with me--filled fresh the last thing before I
started--stowed in the well of the boat aft of the cabin; and there
too I carried a couple of ten-gallon tins of oil for my lanterns
and lamps.

My bone-breaking job was getting my coal aboard. For ease in handling
and in stowing it--though I lost a little room that way--I put it in
canvas sacks, of which I luckily found some bales in the steamer's
cargo. These I swung up from the engine-room by the cinder-tackle to
the main deck; and having got them that far I packed them on my back
to the break in the steamer's side where my boat was lying and tumbled
them aboard of her, and then dragged them along to where I stowed
them in her hold. On my coal holding out at least until I got through
the weed--for on open water I could lay a course under sail--the
success of my adventure wholly depended; and knowing that, I filled my
boat with all that I dared to put into her--loading the last twenty
bags on her deck and on the roof of her cabin, to be used before I
drew on my main supply.

But while this lading was a big one it did not satisfy me; and the
only way that I could think of to better it was to build a long and
narrow raft that I could stow as much more on and tow after me in the
boat's wake. This was a big undertaking, but I had to face it and to
carry it through: lowering down three spars (in managing which I used
a treble-purchase to swing them clear, and eased them down with a
couple of turns of the rope still around the capstan), and when I had
them over the side in a pool that I had cleared for them I lashed them
strongly together and decked them over with some of the state-room
doors. This gave me a raft sixty feet long, or thereabouts, but
narrower than my boat; and to make it follow the boat still more
easily I set a V-shaped cut-water at its bows to turn the weed. To be
sure, it was a clumsy thing, but it well enough served my turn.

On this structure I was able to carry a prodigious quantity of
coal--more than I had on the boat, by a good deal; but by a little
planning in advance I arranged matters so that the lading of it was
not so hard a piece of work--though in all conscience it was hard
enough--as the lading of my boat had been. What I did was to clear a
pool in the weed for it and to build it directly beneath the outhang
of the cinder-tackle; and having that apparatus ready to my hand I
swung my bags of coal up from the engine-room, and then out along the
traveller, and then lowered them away--and so had only to stow them on
the raft when they were down. But there was only one of me to do all
this--to fill each bag in the bunkers and to bring it to the
engine-room, to make it fast there to the tackle, to come on deck and
haul it up and set it overboard, to go down the side and set it in
place, and then back to the bunkers again for the next round--and so I
spent a week in doing what three men could have done in a day. And I
was a tired man and a grimy man when I got this piece of work
finished; but I was comforted by knowing that I had as much coal in my
sea-stock as I possibly could have use for--and so I scrubbed myself
clean in the steamers bath-room and was easy in my mind. But it was a
good long while before I got the aches out of my bones.

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