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In the Sargasso Sea by Thomas A. Janvier

Part 4 out of 4

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During my last week aboard the _Ville de Saint Remy_ I had steam up in
my boat and my engine at work during the greater part of each day: as
was necessary, the engine being new, in order to get the machinery
to running smoothly, and to set right anything that might be wrong
while I still had the steamer's machine-shop to turn to for repairs.
However, the engine proved to be a well-made one, and except that I
had to tighten a joint here and there and to repack the piston I had
nothing to rectify; and what still more pleased me was to find that my
cage answered to keep the screw from fouling, and that my plan for
sawing a way through the weed--which I tested by running a little
distance from the steamer through the thick of it--worked well too.
But because of the great friction to be overcome as the boat opened a
way for itself in the dense soft mass my progress was desperately
slow; and I had to comfort me the reflection that it would be still
slower when I got regularly under way and had in addition to the dead
thrust forward of the boat the dead drag after it of the raft.

Slow or fast, though, I had no choice in the matter. With the means at
my command, I had done all that I could do to enable me to climb the
walls of my prison--if I may put it that way--and there remained only
to muster what pluck I had to help me and to abide by the result. This
was the view of the situation that I presented to my cat--for I had
got into the habit of talking to him quite as much as he talked to
me--while we sat at supper together on the last evening that we were
to pass on board of the _Ville de Saint Remy_; and while he did not
make much of a reply to me he did mumble some sort of a purring answer
that I took to mean he was willing, if I were, to make the trial.

Early that morning, while the rain still was falling, I had filled my
two casks with fresh water; and after my breakfast I got them aboard
the boat and then went to work at setting up my mast--using one of the
davits in place of sheers and so managing the job very well. After
that I had rigged the sail, and had set it to make sure that all was
right; and then had furled it and lashed the boom fast on the roof of
the cabin among the bags of coal--and with rather a heavy heart, too,
for I knew that the chances were more than even against my ever
getting to open water and fresh breezes, and so loosing again the
knots which I had just tied. In the afternoon I had set my engine to
going again for an hour, and then had banked my fires against the
morning; and after that, until the shadows began to fall, I had spent
my time in going over the list that I had made of my sea-stock to be
sure that nothing that I needed was forgotten, and in taking a final
general survey of my boat and its stores. And when darkness came the
cat and I had our supper together--which was as good a one as the ship
could provide us with--and when we had finished I told him, as I have
said, what the chances were for and against our succeeding in our
undertaking and in return asked him for an expression of his
own views.

That he fully understood what I told him I am not prepared to say; but
he certainly did answer me: jumping up on my lap and shoving his paws
alternately against my stomach, and purring in so cheerful a fashion,
and altogether making such a show of good spirits as to satisfy me
that he was trying to tell me that we certainly would pull through.
And my cat's promise of good luck fell in so exactly with my own
confident hopes--which were rising strongly as the time for testing
them got close at hand--that I hugged him tight to me very lovingly,
and on my side promised that within another month or two he should
stretch his legs in a mouse-hunt on dry land! And with that I put the
lamp out and we turned in for the night.



It was in the grey of early morning, while the rain still was falling,
that the cat and I had our breakfast; and as soon as the rain was over
I was down in the boat, and had off the tarpaulin that covered her
stern-sheets, and was busy bringing up my banked fires. One thing that
I had learned how to do during the week that I had been testing my
engine was to bank my fires well; and that was a matter of a good deal
of importance to me--since every night during my voyage the fires
would have to be kept that way, on the double score of my inability to
hold my course in the darkness and of my need for sleep.

Presently I had steam up; and then I went back to the ship for the
last and most important piece of my cargo--my bag of jewels. It was
with a queer feeling, half of doubt and half of exultation, that I
fetched out this little bundle--still done up in the sleeve of the
oilskin jacket--and stowed it in one of the lockers in the cabin of my
boat. If my voyage went well, then all the rest of my life--so far as
wealth makes for happiness--would go well too: for in that rough and
dirty little bag was such a treasure--that I had won away from the
dead ship holding it--as would make me one of the richest men in the
world. But against this exultant hope stood up a doubt so dark that
there was no great room in my mind for cheerfulness: for as I stowed
away the jewels in the boat I could not but think of those others who
had stowed them away two hundred years and more before aboard the
galleon; and who had started in their great ship well manned on a
voyage in which the risk of disaster was as nothing in comparison with
the risk that I had to face in the voyage that I was undertaking in my
little boat alone. Yet their venture had ended miserably; and I,
trying singly to accomplish what their whole company had failed in,
very well might surrender the treasure again, as they had surrendered
it, to the storm-power of the sea.

But thinking these dismal thoughts was no help to me, and so I choked
them down and went once more aboard the steamer to make sure that I
had forgotten nothing that I needed by taking a final look around.
This being ended without my seeing anything that was necessary to me,
I said goodbye to the _Ville de Saint Remy_ and got down into my boat
again; and my cat--who usually sat in the break of the side of the
steamer while I was at work in the boat, though sometimes asking
with a miau to be lifted down into her--of his own accord jumped
aboard ahead of me: and that I took for a good sign.

Certainly, the cat and I made as queer a ship's company as ever went
afloat together; and our little craft--with its cargo that would have
bought a whole fleet's lading--was such an argosy as never before had
sailed the seas. Nor did even Columbus, when he struck out across the
black ocean westward, start upon a voyage so blind and so seemingly
hopeless as was ours. The Admiral, at least, had with him such aids to
navigation as his times afforded, and went cruising in open water;
failing in his quest, the chance was free to him to put about again
and so come once more to his home among living men. But I had not even
his poor equipment; and as to turning again and so coming back to the
point whence I started--even supposing that I could manage it--that
ending to my voyage would be so miserable that it would be better for
me to die by the way.

In none of the vessels through which I had searched had I found a
sextant; nor would it have been of any use to me, had I found one,
unless I had found also a chronometer still keeping time. Charts I did
find; but as I had to know my position to get any good from them, and
as I would run straight for any land that I sighted without in the
least caring on what coast I made my landfall, I left them behind. My
only aid to navigation was a compass, that I got from the binnacle of
a ship lying near the _Ville de Saint Remy_; and aboard the same
vessel I found a very good spyglass, and gladly brought it along with
me because it would add to my chances--should I reach open water--not
only of sighting a distant ship but of making out how she was standing
in time to head her off.

But for all practical purposes the compass was enough for me. I knew
that to the westward lay the American continent, and that between it
and where I then was--for it was certain that I was not far south of
the latitude of the Azores--was that section of the Atlantic which is
more thickly crowded with ships than any other like-sized bit of ocean
in the world. My chance of escape, therefore, and my only chance, lay
in holding to a due west course: hoping first that, being clear of the
weed, I might fall in with some passing vessel; and second that I
might make the coast before a storm came on me by which my little boat
would be swamped. And so I opened the throttle of my engine: and as
the screw began to revolve I headed my boat for the cut in the weed
which I had made when I was testing her--while my tow-rope drew taut
and after me came slowly my long raft.

No doubt it was only because the hiss of the escaping steam startled
him; but at the first turn of the engine my cat scampered forward and
seated himself in the very bows of the boat--a little black
figure-head--and thence gazed out steadfastly westward as though he
were the pilot charged with the duty of setting our vessel's course.
He had to give place to me in a moment--when I went to the bows to
begin my sawing through the weed--but I was cheered by his planting
himself that way pointing our course with his nose for me: and again I
took his bit of freakishness for a good sign.



What I did on that first day of my voyage was what I did on every
succeeding day during so long a time that it seemed to me the end of
it never would come.

When my craft fairly was started, with the fire well fed and a light
enough weight on the safety-valve to guard against any sudden chance
rise in the steam pressure, I went forward to the bows with the
compass and set myself to my sawing. The wheel being lashed with the
rudder amidships, all the steering was managed from the bows--any
deviation from the straight line westward being corrected by my taking
the saw out from the guide-bars and cutting to the right or to the
left with it until I had the boat's nose pointing again the right way.
But there was not often need for cutting of this sort. Held by the
guide-bars, the saw cut a straight path for the boat to follow; while,
conversely, the boat held the saw true. And so, for the most part, I
had only to stand like a machine there--endlessly hauling the saw up
and endlessly thrusting it down. Behind me my little engine puffed
and snorted; over the bows, below me, was the soft crunching sound of
the weed opening as the boat thrust her nose into it; and on each side
of me was the soft hissing rustling of the weed against the boat's
sides. From time to time I would stop for sheer weariness--for
anything more back-breaking than the steady working of that saw I
never came across; and from time to time I had to stop my
engine--which I managed, and also the starting of it, by means of a
pair of lines brought forward into the bows from the lever-bar--while
I attended to feeding the fire.

The only breaks in this deadly monotonous round were when I ate my
meals--and at first these were as pleasant as they were restful, with
the cat sitting beside me and eating very contentedly too--and when I
fell in with a bit of wreckage that I had to steer clear of or to move
out of my way. Interruptions of this latter sort--even though they
gave me a change from my wearying sawing--were hard to put up with;
for they not only held me back woefully, but they kept me in continual
alarm lest I should break my saw. When the obstacle was a derelict, or
anything so large that I could see it well ahead of me and so could
have plenty of time in which to swing the boat to one side of it by
slicing a diagonal way for her, I could get along without much
difficulty; but when it was only a spar or a mast, so bedded in the
weed that my first knowledge of it was finding it close under my bows,
there was no chance to make a detour and I had to thrust it aside with
a boat-hook or go to hacking at it with an axe until I had cut it
through. And often it happened that I knew nothing at all of the
obstacle, the weed covering it completely, until my saw struck against
it; and that would send a cold shiver through me, as I whipped my saw
out of the water--for I had only two saws with me, and I knew that to
break one of them cut down my chances of escape by a half. Indeed, my
first saw did get broken while I still was in the thick of the tangle;
and after that I was in a constant tremor, which became almost agony
when I felt the least jar in my cutting, for fear that the other
would go too.

But with it all I managed to make pretty fair progress, and better
than I had counted upon; for I succeeded in covering, as nearly as I
could reckon it, close upon three miles a day. After I fairly got out
upon my course I had no means whatever of judging distances; but my
estimate of my advance was made at the end of my first day's run, when
the wreck-pack still was in sight behind me and enabled me to make a
close guess at how far I had come. As the sun went down that night
over my bows--making a long path of crimson along the weed ahead of
me, and filling the mist with a crimson glow--I still could make out,
though very faintly, the continent of wrecks from which I had started;
and with my glass I could distinguish the _Ville de Saint Remy_ by the
three flags which I had left flying on her masts. And the sight of
her, and the thought of how comfortable and how safe I had been aboard
of her, and of how I was done with her forever and was tying to as
slim a chance of life as ever a man tied to, for a while put a great
heaviness upon my heart. Not until darkness came and shut her out from
me, and I was resting in my brightly lighted comfortable little
cabin--with my supper to cheer me, and with my cat to cheer me
too--did my spirits rise again; and I was glad, when I got under way
once more in the morning, that the heavy mist cut her off from me--and
that by the time the sun had thinned the mist a little I had made such
progress as to put her out of sight of me for good and all.

Through my second day I still could make out the loom of the
wreck-pack behind me--a dark line low down in the mist that I should
have taken for a rain-cloud had I not known what it was; but that also
was pretty well gone by evening, and from my third day onward I was
encompassed wholly by the soft veil of golden mist hanging low around
me over the weed-covered sea. Only about noon time, when this veil
grew thinner and had in it a brighter golden tone--or at sunset, when
it was shot through with streams of crimson light which filled it
with a ruddy glow--was it possible for me to see for more than a mile
or so in any direction; and even when my horizon thus was enlarged a
little my view still was the same: always the weed spread out over the
water so thickly that nowhere was there the slightest break in it, and
so dense and solid that it would have seemed like land around me but
for its very gentle undulating motion--which made me giddy if I looked
at it for long at a time. The only relief to this dull flat surface
was when I came upon a wrecked ship, or upon a hummock of wreckage,
rising a little up from it--also swaying very gently with a wearying
motion that seemed as slow as time. And the silent despairing
desolateness of it all sunk down into my very soul.

Even my cat seemed to feel the misery of that great loneliness and
lost so much of his cheerfulness that he got to be but a dull
companion for me; though likely enough what ailed him was the reflex
of my own poor spirits, made low by my constant bodily weariness, and
had I shown any liveliness he would have been lively too. But I was
too tired to think much about him--or about anything else--as day
after day I stood in the bow of the boat working my saw up and down
with a deadly dull monotony: that had no break save when I stopped to
rest a little my aching body, or to have a tussle with a bit of
wreckage that barred my passage, or to stoke myself with food, or to
put coal beneath my boiler, or to lie down at night with every one of
my bones and muscles heavy with a dull pain.

And all the sound that there was in that still misty solitude was the
puffing of my engine, and the wheel churning in the water, and the
sharp hiss of the saw as it severed the matted fibres, and the
crunching and rustling that the boat made as it went onward with a
leaden slowness through the weed.



I had thought that I had struck the bed-rock of misery when I was
wandering in the dead depths of the wreck-pack, with the conviction
strong upon me that in a little while I would be dead there too. But
as I look back upon that long suffering of lonely sorrow I think now
that the worst of it came to me after I had left the wreck-pack
behind. In that last round that I fought with misfortune the strength
of my body was exhausted so completely that it could give no support
to my spirit; and as the days went on and on--always with the same
weed-covered sea around me and the same soft golden mist over me, and
I always working wearily but with the stolid steadiness of a
machine--so deadening a numbness took hold of me that I seemed to
myself like some far-away strange person--yet one with whom I had a
direct connection, and must needs sorrow for and sympathize
with--struggling interminably through the dull jading mazes of a
night-mare dream.

Once only was I aroused from this stupor of spirit that went with my
vigorous yet apathetic bodily action. Just at sunset one evening I
sighted a vessel of some sort far ahead of me--a black mass looming
uncertainly against the rich glow of crimson that filled the west--and
for some reason or another I took into my head the fancy that I was
nearing open water and that this was not a wreck but a living ship on
board of which I would find living men: and at the thought of meeting
with live men again I fairly cried with joy. Then darkness fell and
shut her out from me; leaving me so eager that I could not sleep for
thinking of her, and almost tempting me to press on through the night
that I might be close up to her by dawn. But when in the first faint
grey light of early morning I made her out again, and saw that she was
in just the same position and at just the same distance ahead of me, I
was almost as sorry as I would have been had she vanished; for I knew
that had she been a living ship in that long night-time she would have
sailed away. And by noon, being then close upon her, I could see that
she was floating bottom upwards: and so knew certainly that she was
only a dead wreck drifting in slowly to take her place among the dead
wrecks which I had left behind me; and beyond her, instead of open
water, I saw only the weed--covered ocean stretching onward unbroken
until it was lost in the golden haze.

Even then, though, I had a foolish hope that there might be living men
clinging to her, and I edged my boat off its course a little so that I
might run close under her stern. But no one showed on her hull as I
neared her, and only my own voice broke the heavy silence as I crazily
hailed her again and again. And then I fell into a dull rage with her,
so weary was I of my loneliness and so bitter was my disappointment at
finding her deserted--until suddenly a very different train of
emotions was aroused in me as I made out slowly the weathered inverted
lettering on her up-tilting stern, and so read her name there:
_Golden Hind_!

Like a flash I had before me clearly all the details of my last
moments aboard of her: my quick sharp words with Captain Luke, my step
backward with my arms up as he and the mate pressed upon me, the
smasher that I got in on the mate's jaw, the crack on my own head that
stunned me--and then my revival of consciousness as I found myself
adrift in the ocean and saw the brig sailing away. And while these
thoughts crowded upon me my boat went onward through the weed
slowly--and presently I had again parted company with the _Golden
Hind_, and this time for good and all.

After that break in it my dull despairing weariness settled down upon
me again--as the heavy days drifted past me and I pressed steadily on,
and on, and on. How time went I do not know. I could keep no track of
days which always were the same. But I must have been on my voyage for
nearly a month when I fell in with the _Golden Hind_: as I know
because a little while after passing her I used the last of the coal
that was on the raft and cast it off--and my calculation at starting
had been that the coal aboard the raft would last me for about
thirty days.

Getting rid of the raft was a good thing for me in one way, for when
the boat was relieved from that heavy mass dragging through the weed
after her she went almost twice as fast. But in another way it was a
bad thing for me, for it left me with only what coal I had on the boat
herself and, so far as I could judge from my surroundings, I was no
nearer to being over the wall of my prison than I was on that first
morning when I put off from the _Ville de Saint Remy_. Still the weed
stretched away endlessly on all sides of me, and still the golden mist
ceaselessly hung over me--only it did seem to me, though I did not
trust myself to play much with this hopeful fancy, that the mist was a
good deal thinner than it had been during the earlier part of
my voyage.

But I was too broken to take much notice of my surroundings. Still I
worked on and on, with the steadfastness and the hopelessness of a
machine: up and down over the bows with my saw interminably, with
only little breaks for rest and eating and to keep my fires up or for
a struggle with a bit of wreckage that barred my way; and at night to
weary sleep that did not rest me; and then up before sunrise to begin
it all again with a fresh day that had no freshness in it--and was
like all the many days of desperate toil which had gone before it, and
like the others which still were to come.

Even when I saw ahead of me one morning a long lane of open water, a
wide break in the weed, I was too dull to think much about it beyond
steering my way into it thankfully--and then feeling a slow wonder as
the boat slid along with no rustling noise on each side of her at what
seemed to me an almost breathless speed. But as that day went on and
the mist grew lighter and lighter about me and I came to more and more
of these open spaces, and at the same time found that the weed between
them was so much thinner that the boat almost could push through it
without having a path cut for her, I began faintly to realize that
perhaps I had got to the beginning of the end. And then, for the first
time since I had lapsed into my stolid insensibility, a little weak
thrill of hope went through me and I seemed to be waking from my
despairing dream.

With the next day, however, hope full and strong fairly got hold of
me: for I was out of the mist completely, and the weed was so thin
that I brought my saw inboard and finally had done with it, and the
stretches of open water were so many and so large that I knew that the
blessed free ocean must be very near at hand. And I think that my cat
knew as well as I did that our troubles were close to a good ending;
for all of a sudden he gave over his moping and fell to frisking about
me and to going through all the tricks which I had taught him of his
own accord; and thence onward he spent most of his time on the roof of
the cabin--looking about him with a curious intentness, for all the
world as though I had stationed him there to watch out for a ship
bearing down on us, or for land. Even when I found that day that only
a dozen bags of coal were left to me--for I had fed my furnace while
my heaviness was upon me without paying any attention to how things
were going with my stock of fuel--my spirits were none the worse for
my discovery; for with every mile that I went onward the weed was
growing thinner and I felt safe enough about continuing my voyage
under sail.

Because my rousing out of my lethargy had been so slow, this change in
my chances seemed to come upon me with a startling suddenness--when in
reality, I suppose, I might have seen signs of it a good while sooner
than I did see them had my mind been clear. But the actual end of my
adventure, the resolving of my hopes into a glad certainty of rescue,
really did come upon me with a rush at last.

We fairly were in open water, and the cat and I were dining in the
cabin together very cheerfully--with the helm lashed and the boat
going on her course at half speed. I was disposed to linger over my
meal a little, for I was beginning to enjoy once more the luxury of
getting rest when I rested, and when my cat suddenly left me and went
on deck by himself--a thing that he never before had done--I took his
desertion of me in ill part. A moment later I heard the padding of his
feet on the roof of the cabin over me, and smiled to myself as I
thought of him going on watch there; and then, presently, I heard him
calling me--for I had come to understand a good many of his turns of
language--with a lively "Miau!" But it was not until he called me
again, and more urgently, that the oddness of his conduct came home to
me and made me hurry on deck after him; and my first glance at him
made me look in the direction in which he was looking eagerly: and
there I saw the smoke of a steamer trailing black to the horizon, and
beneath it her long black hull--and she was heading straight for me,
and coming along at such a ripping rate that within twenty minutes she
would be across my bows.

Half an hour more brought matters to a finish. I had only to wait
where I was until the steamer was close down upon me, and then to run
in under her counter so that her people might throw me a line. Her
whole side was crowded with faces as she stopped her way and I came up
with her, and on her rail a tall officer was standing--holding fast
with one hand to the rigging and having in the other a coil of rope
all ready to cast.

One face among the many clustered there, and a mighty friendly one,
was familiar to me; but I could not place it until a jolly voice
hailed me that I recognized with a warm thrill--and the sound of it
filled me with joy as I thought of my bag of jewels in the cabin
locker, and of how at last my doctor's bill would be paid.

"And so it's yourself, my fine big young man, and at your old tricks
again. But it's this time that you have the good luck of a black cat
for company in your cruising all alone by yourself over the open sea!"

And then the tall officer with the coil of rope sung out "Catch!"--and
sent the line whizzing down to me, and I caught the end of it in
my hand.



THE AZTEC TREASURE-HOUSE. A Romance of Contemporaneous Antiquity.
Illustrated by FREDERIC REMINGTON. Post 8vo, Cloth, $1 50.

This powerful story may well be ranked among the wonder books. No
story-reader should miss it, for it is different from anything he has
ever read.--_Christian at Work_, N.Y.

THE UNCLE OF AN ANGEL, and Other Stories. Post 8vo, Cloth, $1 25;
Paper, 50 cents.

Janvier stands in the first rank as a writer of short stories, and a new
volume coming from him is sure to meet with success. In the present
instance it well deserves to, for the stories it contains, from the one
which gives it its title to the last between the covers, are among his
best.--_Christian at Work_, N.Y.

IN OLD NEW YORK. With 13 Maps and 58 Illustrations. Post 8vo, Cloth,
$1 75.

Overflows with all sorts of minute and curious information concerning both
the old and the recent town.... Mr. Janvier has long been a zealous and
sympathetic student of this subject. His text is supplemented with
numerous maps and illustrations, instructive and interesting.--_N.Y. Sun_.

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