Part 1 out of 4
THE SURVIVORS OF THE CHANCELLOR.
DIARY OF J.R.KAZALLON, PASSENGER.
By JULES VERNE.
CHARLESTON, SEPTEMBER 27th, 1869.--It is high tide, and three
o'clock in the afternoon when we leave the Battery-quay; the ebb
carries us off shore, and as Captain Huntly has hoisted both main
and top sails, the northerly breeze drives the "Chancellor"
briskly across the bay. Fort Sumter ere long is doubled, the
sweeping batteries of the mainland on our left are soon passed,
and by four o'clock the rapid current of the ebbing tide has
carried us through the harbour-mouth.
But as yet we have not reached the open sea; we have still to
thread our way through the narrow channels which the surge has
hollowed out amongst the sand-banks. The captain takes a south-
west course, rounding the lighthouse at the corner of the fort;
the sails are closely trimmed; the last sandy point is safely
coasted, and at length, at seven o'clock in the evening; we are
out free upon the wide Atlantic.
The "Chancellor" is a fine square-rigged three-master, of 900
tons burden, and belongs to the wealthy Liverpool firm of Laird
Brothers. She is two years old, is sheathed and secured with
copper, her decks being of teak, and the base of all her masts,
except the mizen, with all their fittings, being of iron. She is
registered first class A I, and is now on her third voyage
between Charleston and Liverpool. As she wended her way through
the channels of Charleston harbour, it was the British flag that
was lowered from her mast-head; but without colours at all, no
sailor could have hesitated for a moment in telling her
nationality,--for English she was, and nothing but English from
her water-line upwards to the truck of her masts.
I must now relate how it happens that I have taken my passage on
board the "Chancellor" on her return voyage to England.
At present there is no direct steamship service between South
Carolina and Great Britain, and all who wish to cross must go
either northwards to New York or southwards to New Orleans. It
is quite true that if I had chosen to start from New York I might
have found plenty of vessels belonging to English, French, or
Hamburg lines, any of which would have conveyed me by a rapid
voyage to my destination; and it is equally true that if I had
selected New Orleans for my embarkation I could readily have
reached Europe by one of the vessels of the National Steam
Navigation Company, which join the French Transatlantic line of
Colon and Aspinwall. But it was fated to be otherwise.
One day, as I was loitering about the Charleston quays, my eye
lighted upon this vessel. There was something about the
"Chancellor" that pleased me, and a kind of involuntary impulse
took me on board, where I found the internal arrangements
perfectly comfortable. Yielding to the idea that a voyage in a
sailing vessel had certain charms beyond the transit in a
steamer, and reckoning that with wind and wave in my favour there
would be little material difference in time; considering,
moreover, that in these low latitudes the weather in early autumn
is fine and unbroken, I came to my decision, and proceeded
forthwith to secure my passage by this route to Europe.
Have I done right or wrong? Whether I shall have reason to
regret my determination is a problem to be solved in the future.
However, I will begin to record the incidents of our daily
experience, dubious as I feel whether the lines of my chronicle
will ever find a reader.
SEPTEMBER 28th.--John Silas Huntly, the captain of the
"Chancellor," has the reputation of being an experienced
navigator of the Atlantic. He is a Scotchman, a native of
Dundee, and is about fifty years of age. He is of middle height
and slight build, and has a small head, which he has a habit of
holding a little over his left shoulder. I do not pretend to be
much of a physiognomist, but I am inclined to believe that my few
hours' acquaintance with our captain has given me considerable
insight into his character. That he is a good seaman and
thoroughly understands his duties I could not for a moment
venture to deny; but that he is a man of resolute temperament, or
that he possesses the amount of courage that would render him,
physically or morally, capable of coping with any great
emergency, I confess I cannot believe. I observe a certain
heaviness and dejection about his whole carriage. His wavering
glances, the listless motions of his hands, and his slow,
unsteady gait, all seem to me to indicate a weak and sluggish
disposition. He does not appear as though he could be energetic
enough ever to be stubborn; he never frowns, sets his teeth, or
clenches his fist. There is something enigmatical about him;
however, I shall study him closely and do what I can to
understand the man who, as commander of a vessel, should be to
those around him "second only to God."
Unless I am greatly mistaken there is another man on board who,
if circumstances should require it, would take the more prominent
position--I mean the mate. I have hitherto, however, had such
little opportunity of observing his character, that I must defer
saying more about him at present.
Besides the captain and this mate, whose name is Robert Curtis,
our crew consists of Walter, the lieutenant, the boatswain, and
fourteen sailors, all English or Scotch, making eighteen
altogether, a number quite sufficient for working a vessel of 900
tons burden. Up to this time my sole experience of their
capabilities is, that under the command of the mate, they brought
us skilfully enough through the narrow channels of Charleston;
and I have no reason to doubt but that they are well up to their
My list of the ship's officials is incomplete unless I mention
Hobart, the steward, and Jynxstrop, the negro cook.
In addition to these, the "Chancellor" carries eight passengers,
including myself. Hitherto, the bustle of embarkation, the
arrangement of cabins, and all the variety of preparations
inseparable from starting on a voyage for at least twenty or
five-and-twenty days have precluded the formation of any
acquaintanceships; but the monotony of the voyage, the close
proximity into which we must be thrown, and the natural curiosity
to know something of each other's affairs, will doubtless lead us
in due time to an interchange of ideas. Two days have elapsed
and I have not even seen all the passengers. Probably sea-
sickness has prevented some of them from making their appearance
at the common table. One thing, however, I do know; namely, that
there are two ladies occupying the stern-cabins, the windows of
which are in the aft-board of the vessel.
I have seen the ship's list and subjoin a list of the passengers.
They are as follow:-- Mr. and Mrs. Kear, Americans, of Buffalo.
Miss Herbey, a young English lady, companion to Mrs. Kear. M.
Letourneur and his son Andre, Frenchmen, of Havre. William
Falsten, a Manchester engineer. John Ruby, a Cardiff merchant;
and myself, J. R. Kazallon, of London.
SEPTEMBER 29th.--Captain Huntly's bill of lading, that is to say,
the document that describes the "Chancellor's" cargo and the
conditions of transport, is couched in the following terms:--
"BRONSFIELD AND CO., AGENTS, CHARLESTON.
"I, John Silas Huntly, of Dundee, Scotland, commander of the ship
'Chancellor,' of about 900 tons burden, now at Charleston, do
purpose, by the blessing of God, at the earliest convenient
season, and by the direct route, to sail for the port of
Liverpool, where I shall obtain my discharge. I do hereby
acknowledge that I have received from you, Messrs. Bronsfield and
Co., Commission Agents, Charleston, and have placed the same
under the gun-deck of the aforesaid ship, seventeen hundred bales
of cotton, of the estimated value of 26,000l., all in good
condition, marked and numbered as in the margin; which goods I do
undertake to transport to Liverpool, and there to deliver, free
from injury (save only such injury as shall have been caused by
the chances of the sea), to Messrs. Laird Brothers, or to their
order, or to their representative, who shall on due delivery of
the said freight pay me the sum of 2000l. inclusive, according
to the charter-party and damages in addition, according to the
usages and customs of the sea.
"And for the fulfilment of the above covenant, I have pledged and
do pledge my person, my property, and my interest in the vessel
aforesaid, with all its appurtenances. In witness whereof, I
have signed three agreements, all of the same purport; on the
condition that when the terms of one are accomplished, the other
two shall be absolutely null and void.
"Given at Charleston, September 13th, 1869,
"J. S. HUNTLY."
From the foregoing document it will be understood that the
"Chancellor" is conveying 1700 bales of cotton to Liverpool; that
the shippers are Bronsfield, of Charleston, and the consignees
are Laird Brothers, of Liverpool. The ship was constructed with
the especial design of carrying cotton, and the entire hold, with
the exception of a very limited space reserved for passengers'
luggage, is closely packed with the bales, The lading was
performed with the utmost care, each bale being pressed into its
proper place by the aid of screw-jacks, so that the whole freight
forms one solid and compact mass; not an inch of space is wasted,
and the vessel is thus made capable of carrying her full
complement of cargo.
SEPTEMBER 30th to OCTOBER 6th.--The "Chancellor" is a rapid
sailer, and more than a match for many a vessel of the same
dimensions. She scuds along merrily in the freshening breeze,
leaving in her wake, far as the eye can reach, a long white line
of foam as well defined as a delicate strip of lace stretched
upon an azure ground.
The Atlantic is not visited by many gales, and I have every
reason to believe that the rolling and pitching of the vessel no
longer incommode any of the passengers, who are all more or less
accustomed to the sea. A vacant seat at our table is now very
rare; we are beginning to know something about each other, and
our daily life, in consequence, is becoming somewhat less
M. Letourneur, our French fellow-passenger, often has a chat with
me. He is a fine tall man, about fifty years of age, with white
hair and a grizzly beard. To say the truth, he looks older than
he really is: his drooping head, his dejected manner, and his
eye, ever and again suffused with tears, indicate that he is
haunted by some deep and abiding sorrow. He never laughs; he
rarely even smiles, and then only on his son: his countenance
ordinarily bearing a look of bitterness tempered by affection,
while his general expression is one of caressing tenderness. It
excites an involuntary commiseration to learn that M. Letourneur
is consuming himself by exaggerated reproaches on account of the
infirmity of an afflicted son.
Andre Letourneur is about twenty years of age, with a gentle,
interesting countenance, but, to the irrepressible grief of his
father, is a hopeless cripple. His left leg is miserably
deformed, and he is quite unable to walk without the assistance
of a stick. It is obvious that the father's life is bound up
with that of his son; his devotion is unceasing; every thought,
every glance is for Andre; he seems to anticipate his most
trifling wish, watches his slightest movement, and his arm is
ever ready to support or otherwise assist the child whose
sufferings he more than shares.
M. Letourneur seems to have taken a peculiar fancy to myself, and
constantly talks about Andre. This morning, in the course of
conversation, I said,--
"You have a good son, M. Letourneur. I have just been talking to
him. He is a most intelligent young man."
"Yes, Mr. Kazallon," replied M. Letourneur, brightening up into a
smile, "his afflicted frame contains a noble mind. He is like
his mother, who died at his birth."
"He is full of reverence and love for you, sir," I remarked.
"Dear boy!" muttered the father half to himself. "Ah, Mr.
Kazallon," he continued, "you do not know what it is to a father
to have a son a cripple, beyond hope of cure."
"M. Letourneur," I answered, "you take more than your share of
the affliction which has fallen upon you and your son. That M.
Andre is entitled to the very greatest commiseration no one can
deny; but you should remember, that after all a physical
infirmity is not so hard to bear as mental grief. Now, I have
watched your son pretty closely, and unless I am much mistaken
there is nothing, that troubles him so much as the sight of your
"But I never let him see it," he broke in hastily. "My sole
thought is how to divert him. I have discovered, that in spite
of his physical weakness, he delights in travelling; so for the
last few years we have been constantly on the move. We first
went all over Europe, and are now returning from visiting the
principal places in the United States. I never allowed my son to
go to college, but instructed him entirely myself, and these
travels, I hope, will serve to complete his education. He is
very intelligent, and has a lively imagination, and I am
sometimes tempted to hope that in contemplating the wonders of
nature he forgets his own infirmity."
"Yes, sir, of course he does," I assented.
"But," continued M. Letourneur, taking my hand, "although,
perhaps, HE may forget, I can never forget. Ah, sir, do you
suppose that Andre can ever forgive his parents for bringing him
into the world a cripple?"
The remorse of the unhappy father was very distressing, and I was
about to say a few kind words of sympathy when Andre himself made
his appearance. M. Letourneur hastened toward him and assisted
him up the few steep steps that led to the poop.
As soon as Andre was comfortably seated on one of the benches,
and his father had taken his place by his side, I joined them,
and we fell into conversation upon ordinary topics, discussing
the various points of the "Chancellor," the probable length of
the passage, and the different details of our life on board. I
find that M. Letourneur's estimate of Captain Huntly's character
very much coincided with my own, and that, like me, he is
impressed with the man's undecided manner and sluggish
appearance. Like me, too, he has formed a very favourable
opinion of Robert Curtis, the mate, a man of about thirty years
of age, of great muscular power, with a frame and a will that
seem ever ready for action.
Whilst we were still talking of him, Curtis himself came on deck,
and as I watched his movements I could not help being struck with
his physical development; his erect and easy carriage, his
fearless glance and slightly contracted brow all betokened a man
of energy, thoroughly endowed with the calmness and courage that
are indispensable to the true sailor. He seems a kind-hearted
fellow, too, and is always ready to assist and amuse young
Letourneur, who evidently enjoys his company. After he had
scanned the weather and examined the trim of the sails, he joined
our party and proceeded to give us some information about those
of our fellow-passengers with whom at present we have made but
Mr. Kear, the American, who is accompanied by his wife, has made
a large fortune in the petroleum springs in the United States.
He is a man of about fifty, a most uninteresting companion, being
overwhelmed with a sense of his own wealth and importance, and
consequently supremely indifferent to all around him. His hands
are always in his pockets, and the chink of money seems to follow
him wherever he goes. Vain and conceited, a fool as well as an
egotist, he struts about like a peacock showing its plumage, and
to borrow the words of the physiognomist Gratiolet, "il se
flaire, il se savoure, il se goute." Why he should have taken
his passage on board a mere merchant vessel instead of enjoying
the luxuries of a Transatlantic steamer, I am altogether at a
loss to explain.
The wife is an insignificant, insipid woman, of about forty years
of age. She never reads, never talks, and I believe I am not
wrong in saying, never thinks. She seems to look without seeing,
and listen without hearing, and her sole occupation consists in
giving her orders to her companion, Miss Herbey, a young English
girl of about twenty.
Miss Herbey is extremely pretty. Her complexion is fair and her
eyes deep blue, whilst her pleasing countenance is altogether
free from that insignificance of feature which is not
unfrequently alleged to be characteristic of English beauty. Her
mouth would be charming if she ever smiled, but exposed as she is
to the ridiculous whims and fancies of a capricious mistress, her
lips rarely relax from their ordinary grave expression. Yet
humiliating as her position must be, she never utters a word of
open complaint, but quietly and gracefully performs her duties
accepting without a murmur the paltry salary which the bumptious
petroleum-merchant condescends to allow her.
The Manchester engineer, William Falsten, looks like a thorough
Englishman. He has the management of some extensive hydraulic
works in South Carolina, and is now on his way to Europe to
obtain some improved apparatus, and more especially to visit the
mines worked by centrifugal force, belonging to the firm of
Messrs. Cail. He is forty-five years of age, with all his
interests so entirely absorbed by his machinery that he seems to
have neither a thought nor a care beyond his mechanical
calculations. Once let him engage you in conversation, and there
is no chance of escape; you have no help for it but to listen as
patiently as you can until he has completed the explanation of
The last of our fellow-passengers, Mr. Ruby, is the type of a
vulgar tradesman. Without any originality or magnanimity in his
composition, he has spent twenty years of his life in mere buying
and selling, and as he has generally contrived to do business at
a profit, he has realized a considerable fortune. What he is
going to do with the money, be does not seem able to say: his
ideas do not go beyond retail trade, his mind having been so long
closed to all other impressions that it appears incapable of
thought or reflection on any subject besides. Pascal says,
"L'homme est visiblement fait pour penser. C'est toute sa
dignite et tout-son merite;" but to Mr. Ruby the phrase seems
OCTOBER 7th.--This is the tenth day since we left Charleston, and
I should think our progress has been very rapid. Robert Curtis,
the mate, with whom I continue to have many a friendly chat,
informed me that we could not be far off Cape Hatteras in the
Bermudas; the ship's bearings, he said were lat. 32deg. 20min. N.
and long. 64deg. 50min. W., so that he had every reason to
believe that we should sight St. George's Island before night.
"The Bermudas!" I exclaimed. "But how is it we are off the
Bermudas? I should have thought that a vessel sailing from
Charleston to Liverpool, would have kept northwards, and have
followed the track of the Gulf Stream."
"Yes, indeed; sir," replied Curtis, "that is the usual course;
but you see that this time the captain hasn't chosen to take it."
"But why not?" I persisted.
"That's not for me to say, sir; he ordered us eastwards, and
eastwards we go."
"Haven't you called his attention to it?" I inquired.
Curtis acknowledged that he had already pointed out what an
unusual route they were taking, but that the captain had said
that he was quite aware what he was about. The mate made no
further remark; but the knit of his brow, as he passed his hand
mechanically across his forehead, made me fancy that he was
inclined to speak out more strongly.
"All very well, Curtis," I said, "but I don't know what to think
about trying new routes. Here we are at the 7th of October, and
if we are to reach Europe before the bad weather sets in, I
should suppose there is not a day to be lost."
"Right, sir, quite right; there is not a day to be lost."
Struck by his manner, I ventured to add, "Do you mind, Mr. Curtis
giving me your honest opinion of Captain Huntly?"
He hesitated a moment, and then replied shortly, "He is my
This evasive answer of course put an end to any further
interrogation on my part, but it only set me thinking the more.
Curtis was not mistaken. At about three o'clock the lookout man
sung out that there was land to windward, and descried what
seemed as if it might be a line of smoke in the north-east
horizon. At six, I went on deck with M. Letourneur and his son,
and we could then distinctly make out the low group of the
Bermudas, encircled by their formidable chain of breakers.
"There," said Andre Letourneur to me, as we stood gazing at the
distant land, "there lies the enchanted Archipelago, sung by your
poet Moore. The exile Waller, too, as long ago as 1643, wrote an
enthusiastic panegyric on the islands, and I have been told that
at one time English ladies would wear no other bonnets than such
as were made of the leaves of the Bermuda palm."
"Yes," I replied, "the Bermudas were all the rage in the
seventeenth century, although laterly they have fallen into
"But let me tell you, M. Andre," interposed Curtis, who had as
usual joined our party, "that although poets may rave, and be as
enthusiastic as they like about these islands, sailors will tell
a different tale. The hidden reefs that lie in a semicircle
about two or three leagues from shore make the attempt to land a
very dangerous piece of business. And another thing, I know.
Let the natives boast as they will about their splendid climate,
they, are visited by the most frightful hurricanes. They get the
fag-end of the storms that rage over the Antilles; and the fag-
end of a storm is like the tail of a whale; it's just the
strongest bit of it. I don't think you'll find a sailor
listening much to your poets,--your Moores, and your Wallers."
"No, doubt you are right, Mr. Curtis," said Andre, smiling, "but
poets are like proverbs; you can always find one to contradict
another. Although Waller and Moore have chosen to sing the
praises of the Bermudas, it has been supposed that Shakspeare was
depicting them in the terrible scenes that are found in 'The
The whole vicinity of these islands is beyond a question
extremely perilous to mariners. Situated between the Antilles
and Nova Scotia, the Bermudas have ever since their discovery
belonged to the English, who have mainly used them for a military
station. But this little archipelago, comprising some hundred
and fifty different isles and islets, is destined to increase,
and that, perhaps, on a larger scale than has yet been
anticipated. Beneath the waves there are madrepores, in infinity
of number, silently but ceaselessly pursuing their labours; and
with time, that fundamental element in nature's workings, who
shall tell whether these may not gradually build up island after
island, which shall unite and form another continent?
I may mention that there was not another of our fellow-passengers
who took the trouble to come on deck and give a glance at this
strange cluster of islands. Miss Herbey, it is true, was making
an attempt to join us, but she had barely reached the poop, when
Mrs. Kear's languid voice was heard recalling her for some
trifling service to her side.
OCTOBER 8th to OCTOBER 13th.--The wind is blowing hard from the
north-east; and the "Chancellor" under low-reefed top-sail and
fore-sail, and labouring against a heavy sea, has been obliged to
be brought ahull. The joists and girders all creak again until
one's teeth are set on edge. I am the only passenger not
remaining below; but I prefer being on deck notwithstanding the
driving rain, fine as dust, which penetrates to my very skin. We
have been driven along in this fashion for the best part of two
days; the "stiffish breeze" has gradually freshened into "a
gale;" the top-gallants have been lowered, and, as I write, the
wind is blowing with a velocity of fifty or sixty miles an hour.
Although the "Chancellor" has many good points, her drift is
considerable, and we have been carried far to the south we can
only guess at our precise position, as the cloudy atmosphere
entirely precludes us from taking the sun's altitude.
All along throughout this period, my fellow-passengers are
totally ignorant of the extraordinary course that we are taking
England lies to the NORTH-EAST, yet we are sailing directly
SOUTH-EAST, and Robert Curtis owns that he is quite bewildered;
he cannot comprehend why the captain, ever since this north-
easterly gale has been blowing, should persist in allowing the
ship to drive to the south, instead of tacking to the north-west
until she gets into better quarters.
I was alone with Curtis to-day upon the poop, and could not help
saying to him "Curtis, is your captain mad?"
"Perhaps, sir, I might be allowed to ask what YOU think upon that
matter," was his cautious reply.
"Well to say the truth," I answered, "I can hardly tell; but I
confess there is every now and then a wandering in his eye, and
an odd look on his face that I do not like. Have you ever sailed
with him before?"
"No; this is our first voyage together. Again last night I spoke
to him about the route we were taking, but he only said he knew
all about it, and that it was all right."
"What do Lieutenant Walter and your boatswain think of it all?"
"Think; why they think just the same as I do," replied the mate;
"but if the captain chooses to take the ship to China we should
obey his orders."
"But surely," I exclaimed, "there must be some limit to your
obedience! Suppose the man is actually mad, what then?"
"If he should be mad enough, Mr. Kazallon, to bring the vessel
into any real danger, I shall know what to do."
With this assurance I am forced to be content. Matters, however,
have taken a different turn to what I bargained for when I took
my passage on board the "Chancellor." The weather has become
worse and worse. As I have already said, the ship under her
large low-reefed top-sail and fore stay-sail has been brought
ahull, that is to say, she copes directly with the wind, by
presenting her broad bows to the sea; and so we go on still
drift, drift, continually to the south.
How southerly our course has been is very apparent; for upon the
night of the 11th we fairly entered upon that portion of the
Atlantic which is known as the Sargassos Sea. An extensive tract
of water is this, enclosed by the warm current of the Gulf
Stream, and thickly covered with the wrack, called by the
Spaniards "sargasso," the abundance of which so seriously impeded
the progress of Columbus's vessels on his first voyage across the
Each morning at daybreak the Atlantic has presented an aspect so
remarkable, that at my solicitation, M. Letourneur and his son
have ventured upon deck to witness the unusual spectacle. The
squally gusts make the metal shrouds vibrate like harp-strings;
and unless we were on our guard to keep our clothes wrapped
tightly to us, they would have been torn off our backs in shreds.
The scene presented to our eyes is one of strangest interest.
The sea, carpeted thickly with masses of prolific fucus, is a
vast unbroken plain of vegetation, through which the vessel makes
her way as a plough. Long strips of seaweed caught up by the
wind become entangled in the rigging, and hang between the masts
in festoons of verdure; whilst others, varying from two to three
hundred feet in length, twine themselves up to the very mast-
heads, from whence they float like streaming pendants. For many
hours now, the "Chancellor" has been contending with this
formidable accumulation of algae; her masts are circled with
hydrophytes; her rigging is wreathed everywhere with creepers,
fantastic as the untrammelled tendrils of a vine, and as she
works her arduous course, there are times when I can only compare
her to an animated grove of verdure making its mysterious way
over some illimitable prairie.
OCTOBER 14th.--At last we are free from the sea of vegetation,
the boisterous gale has moderated into a steady breeze, the sun
is shining brightly, the weather is warm and genial, and thus,
two reefs in her top-sails, briskly and merrily sails the
Under conditions so favourable, we have been able to take the
ship's bearings: our latitude, we find, is 21deg. 33min. N., our
longitude 50deg. 17min. W.
Incomprehensible altogether is the conduct of Captain Huntly.
Here we are, already more than ten degrees south of the point
from which, we started, and yet still we are persistently
following a south-easterly course! I cannot bring myself to the
conclusion that the man is mad. I have had various conversations
with him: he has always spoken rationally and sensibly. He
shows no tokens of insanity. Perhaps his case is one of those in
which insanity is partial, and where the mania is of a character
which extends only to the matters connected with his profession.
Yet it is unaccountable.
I can get nothing out of Curtis; he listens coldly whenever I
allude to the subject, and only repeats what he has said before,
that nothing short of an overt act of madness on the part of the
captain could induce him to supersede the captain's authority and
that the imminent peril of the ship could alone justify him in
taking so decided a measure.
Last evening I went to my cabin about eight o'clock, and after an
hour's reading by the light of my cabin-lamp, I retired to my
berth and was soon asleep. Some hours later I was aroused by an
unaccustomed noise on deck. There were heavy footsteps hurrying
to and fro, and the voices of the men were loud and eager, as if
the crew were agitated by some strange disturbance. My first
impression was, that some tacking had been ordered which rendered
it needful to fathom the yards; but the vessel continuing to lie
to starboard convinced me that this was not the origin of the
commotion, I was curious to know the truth, and made all haste I
could to go on deck; but before I was ready, the noise had
ceased. I heard Captain Huntly return to his cabin, and
accordingly I retired again to my own berth. Whatever may have
been the meaning of the manoeuvre, I cannot tell; it did not seem
to have resulted in any improvement in the ship's pace; still it
must be owned there was not much wind to speed us along.
At six o'clock this morning I mounted the poop and made as keen a
scrutiny as I could of everything on board. Everything appeared
as usual. The "Chancellor" was running on the larboard tack, and
carried low-sails, top-sails, and gallant-sails. Well braced she
was; and under a fresh, but not uneasy breeze, was making no less
than eleven knots an hour.
Shortly afterwards M. Letourneur and Andre came an deck. The
young man enjoyed the early morning air, laden with its briny
fragrance, and I assisted him to mount the poop. In answer to my
inquiry as to whether they had been disturbed by any bustle in
the night, Andre replied that he did not wake at all, and had
"I am glad, my boy," said his father, that you have slept so
soundly. I heard the noise of which Mr. Kazallon speaks. It
must have; been about three o'clock this morning, and it seemed
to me as though they were shouting. I thought I heard them say,
'Here, quick, look to the hatches!' but as nobody was called up,
I presumed that nothing serious was the matter."
As he spoke I cast my eye at the panel-slides, which fore and aft
of the main-mast open into the hold. They seemed to be all close
as usual, but I now observed for the first time that they were
covered with heavy tarpauling. Wondering; in my own mind what
could be the reason for these extra precautions I did not say
anything to M. Letourneur, but determined to wait until the mate
should come on watch, when he would doubtless give me, I thought,
an explanation of the mystery.
The sun rose gloriously, with every promise of a fine dry day.
The waning moon was yet above the western horizon, for as it
still wants three days to her last quarter she does not set until
10.57 am. On consulting my almanac, I find that there will be a
new moon on the 24th, and that on that day, little as it may
affect us here in mid ocean, the phenomenon of the high sygyzian
tides will take place on the shores of every continent and
At the breakfast hour M. Letourneur and Andre went below for a
cup of tea, and I remained on the poop alone. As I expected,
Curtis appeared, that he might relieve Lieutenant Walter of the
watch. I advanced to meet him, but before he even wished me good
morning, I saw him cast a quick and searching glance upon the
deck, and then, with a slightly contracted brow, proceed to
examine the state of the weather and the trim of the sails.
"Where is Captain Huntly?" he said to Walter.
"I have seen nothing of him," answered the lieutenant "is there
anything fresh up?"
"Nothing, whatever," was the curt reply.
They then conversed for a few moments in an undertone, and I
could see that Walter by his gesture gave a negative answer to
some question which the mate had asked him. "Send me the
boatswain, Walter," said Curtis aloud as the lieutenant moved
The boatswain immediately appeared, and another conversation was
carried on in whispers. The man repeatedly shook his head as he
replied to Curtis's inquiries, and then, in obedience to orders,
called the men who were on watch, and made them plentifully water
the tarpauling that covered the great hatchway.
Curious to fathom the mystery I went up to Curtis and began to
talk to him upon ordinary topics, hoping that he would himself
introduce the subject that was uppermost in my mind; finding,
however, that he did not allude to it; I asked him point blank.
"What was the matter in the night, Curtis?"
He looked at me steadily, but made no reply.
"What was it?" I repeated. "M. Letourneur and myself were both
of us disturbed by a very unusual commotion overhead."
"Oh, a mere nothing," he said at length; "the man at the helm had
made a false move, and we had to pipe hands to brace the ship a
bit; but it was soon all put to rights. It was nothing, nothing
I said no more; but I cannot resist the impression that Robert
Curtis has not acted with me in his usual straightforward manner.
OCTOBER 15th to OCTOBER 18th.--The wind is still in the north-
east. There is no change in the "Chancellor's" course, and to an
unprejudiced eye all would appear to be going on as usual. But I
have an uneasy consciousness that something is not quite right.
Why should the hatchways be so hermetically closed as though a
mutinous crew was imprisoned between decks? I cannot help
thinking too that there is something in the sailors so constantly
standing in groups and breaking off their talk so suddenly
whenever we approach; and several times I have caught the word
"hatches" which arrested M. Letourneur's attention on the night
of the disturbance.
On the 15th, while I was walking on the forecastle, I overheard
one of the sailors, a man named Owen say to his mates,--
"Now I just give you all warning that I am not going to wait
until the last minute. Every one for himself, say I."
"Why, what do you mean to do?" asked Jynxstrop, the cook.
"Pshaw!" said Owen, "do you suppose that longboats were only
made for porpoises?"
Something at that moment occurred to interrupt the conversation,
and I heard no more. It occurred to me whether there was not
some conspiracy among the crew, of which probably Curtis had
already detected the symptoms. I am quite aware that some
sailors are most rebelliously disposed, and require to be ruled
with a rod of iron.
Yesterday and to-day I have observed Curtis remonstrating
somewhat vehemently with Captain Huntly, but there is no obvious
result arising from their interviews; the Captain apparently
being bent upon some purpose, of which it is only too manifest
that the mate decidedly disapproves.
Captain Huntly is undoubtedly labouring under strong nervous
excitement; and M. Letourneur has more than once remarked how
silent he has become at meal-times; for although Curtis
continually endeavours to start some subject of general interest,
yet neither Mr. Falsten, Mr. Kear, nor Mr. Ruby are the men to
take it up, and consequently the conversation flags hopelessly,
and soon drops. The passengers too are now, with good cause,
beginning to murmur at the length of the voyage, and Mr. Kear,
who considers that the very elements ought to yield to his
convenience, lets the captain know by his consequential and
haughty manner that he holds him responsible for the delay.
During the course of yesterday the mate gave repeated orders for
the deck to be watered again and again, and although as a general
rule this is a business which is done, once for all, in the early
morning, the crew did not utter a word of complaint at the
additional work thus imposed upon them. The tarpaulins on the
hatches have thus been kept continually wet, so that their close
and heavy texture is rendered quite impervious to the air, The
"Chancellor's" pumps afford a copious supply of water, so that I
should not suppose that even the daintiest and most luxurious
craft belonging to an aristocratic yacht-club was ever subject to
a more thorough scouring. I tried to reconcile myself to the
belief that it was the high temperature of the tropical regions
upon which we are entering, that rendered such extra sousings a
necessity, and recalled to my recollection how, during the night
of the 13th, I had found the atmosphere below deck so stifling
that in spite of the heavy swell I was obliged to open the
porthole of my cabin, on the starboard side, to get a breath of
This morning at daybreak I went on deck. The sun had scarcely
risen, and the air was fresh and cool, in strange contrast to the
heat which below the poop had been quite oppressive. The sailors
as usual were washing the deck, A great sheet of water, supplied
continuously by the pumps was rolling in tiny wavelets, and
escaping now to starboard, now to larboard through the scupper-
holes. After watching the men for a while as they ran about
bare-footed, I could not resist the desire to join them, so
taking off my shoes and stockings I proceeded to dabble in the
Great was my amazement to find the deck perfectly hot to my feet!
Curtis heard my exclamation of surprise, and before I could put
my thoughts into words, said,--
"Yes! there is fire on board!"
OCTOBER 19th.--Eveything, then, is clear. The uneasiness of the
crew, their frequent conferences, Owen's mysterious words, the
constant scourings of the deck and the oppressive heat of the
cabins which had been noticed even by my fellow-passengers, all
After his grave communication, Curtis remained silent. I
shivered with a thrill of horror; a calamity the most terrible
that can befall a voyager stared me in the face, and it was some
seconds before I could recover sufficient composure to inquire
when the fire was first discovered.
"Six days ago," replied the mate.
"Six days ago!" I exclaimed; "why, then, it was that night."
"Yes," he said, interrupting me; "it was the night you heard the
disturbance upon deck. The men on watch noticed a slight smoke
issuing from the large hatchway and immediately called Captain
Huntly and myself. We found beyond all doubt, that the cargo was
on fire, and what was worse,that there was no possibility of
getting at the seat of the combustion. What could we do? Why;
we took the only precaution that was practicable under the
circumstances, and resolved most carefully to exclude every
breath of air from penetrating into the hold, For some time I
hoped that we had been successful. I thought that the fire was
stifled; but during the last three days there is every reason to
make us know that it has been gaining strength. Do what we will,
the deck gets hotter and hotter, and unless it were kept
constantly wet, it would be unbearable to the feet. But I am
glad, Mr. Kazallon," he added; "that you have made the discovery.
It is better that you should know it."
I listened in silence, I was now fully aroused to the gravity of
the situation and thoroughly comprehended how we were in the very
face of a calamity which it seemed that no human power could
"Do you know what has caused the fire?" I presently inquired.
"It probably arose," he answered, "from the spontaneous
combustion of the cotton. The case is rare, but it is far from
unknown. Unless the cotton is perfectly dry when it is shipped,
its confinement in a damp or ill-ventilated hold will sometimes
cause it to ignite; and I have no doubt it is this that has
brought about our misfortune."
"But after all," I said, "the cause matters very little. Is
there no remedy? Is there nothing to be done?"
"Nothing; Mr. Kazallon," he said. "As I told you before, we have
adopted the only possible measure within our power to check the
fire. At one time I thought of knocking a hole in the ship's
timbers just on her waterline, and letting in just as much water
as the pumps could afterwards get rid of again; but we found the
combustion was right in the middle of the cargo and that we
should be obliged to flood the entire hold before we could get at
the right place. That scheme consequently was no good. During
the night, I had the deck bored in various places and water
poured down through the holes; but that again seemed all of no
use. There is only one thing that can be done; we must persevere
in excluding most carefully every breath of outer air, so that
perhaps the conflagration deprived of oxygen may smoulder itself
out. That is our only hope."
"But, you say the fire is increasing?"
"Yes; and that shows that in spite of all our care there is some
aperture which we have not beep able to discover, by which,
somehow or other, air gets into the hold."
"Have you ever heard of a vessel surviving such circumstances?"
"Yes, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis; "it is not at all an unusual
thing for ships laden with cotton to arrive at Liverpool or Havre
with a portion of their cargo consumed; and I have myself known
more than one captain run into port with his deck scorching his
very feet, and who, to save his vessel and the remainder of his
freight has been compelled to unload with the utmost expedition.
But, in such cases, of course the fire has been more or less
under control throughout the voyage; with us, it is increasing
day by day, and I tell you I am convinced there is an aperture
somewhere which has escaped our notice."
"But would it not be advisable for us to retrace our course, and
make for the nearest land?"
"Perhaps it would," he answered. "Walter and I, and the
boatswain, are going to talk the matter over seriously with the
captain to-day. But, between ourselves, I have taken the
responsibility upon myself; I have already changed the tack to
the south-west; we are now straight before the wind, and
consequently we are sailing towards the coast."
"I need hardly ask," I added; "whether any of the other
passengers are at all aware of the imminent danger in which we
"None of them," he said; "not in the least; and I hope you will
not enlighten them. We don't want terrified women and cowardly
men to add to our embarrassment; the crew are under orders to
keep a strict silence on the subject. Silence is indispensable."
I promised to keep the matter a profound secret, as I fully
entered into Curtis's views as to the absolute necessity for
OCTOBER 20th AND 21st.--The "Chancellor" is now crowded with all
the canvas she can carry, and at times her top-masts threaten to
snap with the pressure. But Curtis is ever on the alert; he
never leaves his post beside the man at the helm, and without
compromising the safety of the vessel, he contrives by tacking to
the breeze, to urge her on at her utmost speed.
All day long on the 20th, the passengers were assembled on the
poop. Evidently they found the heat of the cabins painfully
oppressive, and most of them lay stretched upon benches and
quietly enjoyed the gentle rolling of the vessel. The increasing
heat of the deck did not reveal itself to their well-shod feet
and the constant scouring of the boards did not excite any
suspicion in their torpid minds. M. Letourneur, it is true, did
express his surprise that the crew of an ordinary merchant vessel
should be distinguished by such extraordinary cleanliness, but as
I replied to him in a very casual tone, he passed no further
remark. I could not help regretting that I had given Curtis my
pledge of silence, and longed intensely to communicate the
melancholy secret to the energetic Frenchman; for at times when I
reflect upon the eight-and-twenty victims who may probably, only
too soon, be a prey to the relentless flames, my heart seems
ready to burst.
The important consultation between captain, mate, lieutenant, and
boatswain has taken place. Curtis has confided the result to me.
He says that Huntly, the captain, is completely demoralized; he
has lost all power and energy; and practically leaves the command
of the ship to him. It is now certain the fire is beyond
control, and that sooner or later it will burst out in full
violence The temperature of the crew's quarters has already
become almost unbearable. One solitary hope remained; it is that
we may reach the shore before the final catastrophe occurs. The
Lesser Antilles are the nearest land; and although they are some
five or six hundred miles away, if the wind remains north-east
there is yet a chance of reaching them in time.
Carrying royals and studding-sails, the "Chancellor" during the
last four-and-twenty hours has held a steady course. M.
Letourneur is the only one of all the passengers who has remarked
the change of tack; Curtis however, has set all speculation on
his part to rest by telling him that he wanted to get ahead of
the wind, and that he was tacking to the west to catch a
To-day, the 21st, all has gone on as usual; and as far as the
observation of the passengers has reached, the ordinary routine
has been undisturbed. Curtis indulges the hope even yet that by
excluding the air, the fire may be stifled before it ignites the
general cargo; he has hermetically closed every accessible
aperture, and has even taken the precaution of plugging the
orifices of the pumps, under the impression that their suction-
tubes, running as they do to the bottom of the hold, may possibly
be channels for conveying some molecules of air. Altogether, he
considers it a good sign that the combustion has not betrayed
itself by some external issue of smoke.
The day would have passed without any incident worth recording if
I had not chanced to overhear a fragment of a conversation which
demonstrated that our situation hitherto precarious enough, had
now become most appalling.
As I was sitting on the poop, two of my fellow-passengers,
Falsten, the engineer, and Ruby, the merchant whom I had observed
to be often in company, were engaged in conversation almost close
to me. What they said was evidently not intended for my hearing,
but my attention was directed towards them by some very emphatic
gestures of dissatisfaction on the part of Falsten, and I could
not forbear listening to what followed.
"Preposterous! shameful!" exclaimed Falsten; "nothing could be
"Pooh! pooh!" replied Ruby; "it's all right; it is not the
first time I have done it."
"But don't you know that any shock at any time might cause an
"Oh, it's all properly secured," said Ruby, "tight enough; I have
no fears on that score, Mr, Falsten."
"But why," asked Falsten, "did you not inform the captain?"
"Just because if I had informed him, he would not have taken the
case on board."
The wind dropped for a few seconds; and for a brief interval I
could not catch what passed; but I could see that Falsten
continued to remonstrate, whilst Ruby answered by shrugging his
shoulders. At length I heard Falsten say,--
"Well, at any rate the captain must be informed of this, and the
package shall be thrown overboard. I don't want, to be blown
I started. To what could the engineer be alluding? Evidently he
had not the remotest suspicion that the cargo was already on
fire. In another moment the words "picrate of potash" brought
me to my feet? and with an involuntary impulse I rushed up to
Ruby, and seized him by the shoulder.
"Is there picrate of potash on board?" I almost shieked.
"Yes," said Falsten, "a case containing thirty pounds."
"Where is it?" I cried.
"Down in the hold, with the cargo."
What my feelings were I cannot describe; but it was hardly in
terror so much as with a kind of resignation that I made my way
to Curtis on the forecastle, and made him aware that the alarming
character of our situation was now complete, as there was enough
explosive matter on board to blow up a mountain. Curtis received
the information as coolly as it was delivered, and after I had
made him acquainted with all the particulars said,--
"Not a word of this must be mentioned to any one else, Mr.
Kazallon, where is Ruby now?"
"On the poop," I said.
"Will you then come with me, sir?"
Ruby and Falsten were sitting just as I had left them. Curtis
walked straight up to Ruby, and asked him whether what he had
been told was true.
"Yes, quite true," said Ruby, complacently, thinking that the
worst that could befall him would be that he might be convicted
of a little smuggling.
I observed that Curtis was obliged for a moment or two to clasp
his hands tightly together behind his back to prevent himself
from seizing the unfortunate passenger by the throat; but
suppressing his indignation, he proceeded quietly, though
sternly, to interrogate him about the facts of the case. Ruby
only confirmed what I had already told him. With characteristic
Anglo-Saxon incautiousness he had brought on board with the rest
of his baggage, a case containing no less than thirty pounds of
picrate, and had allowed the explosive matter to be stowed in the
hold with as little compunction as a Frenchman would feel in
smuggling a single bottle of wine. He had not informed the
captain of the dangerous nature of the contents of the package,
because he was perfectly aware that he would have been refused
permission to bring the package on board.
"Any way," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders, "you can't
hang me for it; and if the package gives you so much concern, you
are quite at liberty to throw it into the sea. My luggage is
I was beside myself with fury, and not being endowed with
Curtis's reticence and self-control, before he could interfere to
stop me, I cried out,--
"You fool! don't you know that there is fire on board?"
In an instant I regretted my words. Most earnestly I wished them
unuttered, But it was too late: their effect upon Ruby was
electrical. He was paralyzed with terror his limbs stiffened
convulsively; his eye was dilated; he gasped for breath, and was
speechless. All of a sudden he threw up his arms and, as though
he momentarily expected an explosion, he darted down from the
poop, and paced franticly up and down the deck, gesticulating
like a madman, and shouting,--
"Fire on board! Fire! Fire!"
On hearing the outcry, all the crew, supposing that the fire had
now in reality broken out, rushed on deck; the rest of the
passengers soon joined them, and the scene that ensued was one of
the utmost confusion. Mrs. Kear fell down senseless on the deck,
and her husband, occupied in looking after himself, left her to
the tender mercies of Miss Herbey. Curtis endeavoured to silence
Ruby's ravings, whilst I, in as few words as I could, made M.
Letourneur aware of the extent to which the cargo was on fire.
The father's first thought was for Andre but the young man
preserved an admirable composure, and begged his father not to be
alarmed, as the danger was not immediate. Meanwhile the sailors
had loosened all the tacklings of the long-boat; and were
preparing to launch it, when Curtis's voice was heard
peremptorily bidding them to desist; he assured them that the
fire had made no further progress; that Mr. Ruby had been unduly
excited and not conscious of what he had said; and he pledged his
word that when the right moment should arrive he would allow them
all to leave the ship; but that moment, he said, had not yet
At the sound of a voice which they had learned to honour and
respect, the crew paused in their operations, and the long-boat
remained suspended in its place. Fortunately, even Ruby himself
in the midst of his ravings, had not dropped a word about the
picrate that had been deposited in the hold; for although the
mate had a power over the sailors that Captain Huntly had never
possessed, I feel certain that if the true state of the case had
been known, nothing on earth would have prevented some of them,
in their consternation, from effecting an escape. As it was,
only Curtis, Falsten, and myself were cognizant of the terrible
As soon as order was restored, the mate and, I joined Falsten on
the poop, where he had remained throughout the panic, and where
we found him with folded arms, deep in thought, as it might be,
solving some hard mechanical problem. He promised, at my
request, that he would reveal nothing of the new danger to which
we were exposed through Ruby's imprudence. Curtis himself took
the responsibility of informing Captain Huntly of our critical
In order to insure complete secrecy, it was necessary to secure
the person of the unhappy Ruby, who, quite beside himself,
continued to rave up and down the deck with the incessant cry of
"Fire! fire!" Accordingly Curtis gave orders to some of his men
to seize him and gag him; and before he could make any resistance
the miserable man was captured and safely lodged in confinement
in his own cabin.
OCTOBER 22nd.--Curtis has told the captain everything; for he
persists in ostensibly recognizing him as his superior officer,
and refuses to conceal from him our true situation. Captain
Huntly received the communication in perfect silence, and merely
passing his hand across his forehead as though to, banish some
distressing thought, re-entered his cabin without a word.
Curtis, Lieutenant Walter, Falsten, and myself have been
discussing the chances of our safety, and I am surprised to find
with how much composure we can all survey our anxious
"There is no doubt" said Curtis, "that we must abandon all hope
of arresting the fire; the heat towards the bow has already
become well-nigh unbearable, and the time must come when the
flames will find a vent through the deck. If the sea is calm
enough for us to make use of the boats, well and good; we shall
of course get quit of the ship as quietly as we can; if on the
other hand, the weather should be adverse, or the wind be
boisterous, we must stick to our place, and contend with the
flames to the very last; perhaps, after all, we shall fare better
with the fire as a declared enemy than as a hidden one."
Falsten and I agreed with what he said, but I pointed out to him
that he had quite overlooked the fact of there being thirty
pounds of combustible matter in the hold.
"No" he gravely replied, "I have not forgotten it, but it is a
circumstance of which I do not trust myself to think I dare not
run the risk of admitting air into the hold by going down to
search for the powder, and yet I know not at what moment it may
explode. No; it is a matter that I cannot take at all into my
reckoning, it must remain in higher hands than mine."
We bowed our heads in a silence which was solemn. In the present
state of the weather, immediate flight was, we knew, impossible.
After a considerable pause, Falsten, as calmly as though he were
delivering some philosophic dogma, observed,--
"The explosion, if I may use the formula of science, is not
necessary, but contingent."
"But tell me, Mr. Falsten," I asked, "is it possible for picrate
of potash to ignite without concussion?"
"Certainly it is," replied the engineer. "Under-ordinary
circumstances, picrate of potash although not MORE inflammable
than common powder, yet possesses the same degree of
We now prepared to go on deck. As we left the saloon, in which
we had been sitting, Curtis seized my hand.
"Oh, Mr. Kazallon," he exclaimed, "if you only knew the
bitterness of the agony I feel at seeing this fine vessel doomed
to be devoured by flames, and at being so powerless to save her."
Then quickly recovering himself, he continued, "But I am
forgetting myself; you, if no other, must know what I am
suffering. It is all over now," he said more cheerfully.
"Is our condition quite desperate?" I asked.
"It is just this," he answered deliberately "we are over a mine,
and already the match has been applied to the train. How long
that train may be, 'tis not for me to say." And with these words
he left me.
The other passengers, in common with the crew, are still in
entire ignorance of the extremity of peril to which we are
exposed, although they are all aware that there is fire in the
hold. As soon as the fact was announced, Mr. Kear, after
communicating to Curtis his instructions that he thought he
should have the fire immediately extinguished and intimating that
he held him responsible for all contingencies that might happen,
retired to his cabin, where he has remained ever since, fully
occupied in collecting and packing together the more cherished
articles of his property and without the semblance of a care or a
thought for his unfortunate wife, whose condition, in spite of
her ludicrous complaints, was truly pitiable. Miss Herbey,
however, is unrelaxing in her attentions, and the unremitted
diligence with which she fulfils her offices of duty, commands my
OCTOBER 23rd.--This morning, Captain Huntly sent for Curtis into
his cabin, and the mate has since made me acquainted with what
passed between them.
"Curtis," began the captain, his haggard eye betraying only too
plainly some mental derangement, "I am a sailor, am I not?"
"Certainly, captain," was the prompt acquiescence of the mate.
"I do not know how it is," continued the captain, "but I seem
bewildered; I cannot recollect anything. Are we not bound for
Liverpool? Ah! yes! of course. And have we kept a north-
easterly direction since we left?"
"No, sir, according to your orders we have been sailing south-
east, and here we are in the tropics."
"And what is the name of the ship?"
"The 'Chancellor,' sir."
"Yes, yes, the 'Chancellor,' so it is. Well, Curtis, I really
can't take her back to the north. I hate the sea, the very sight
of it makes me ill, I would much rather not leave my cabin."
Curtis went on to tell me how he had tried to persuade him that
with a little time and care he would soon recover his
indisposition, and feel himself again; but the captain had
interrupted him by saying,--
"Well, well; we shall see by-and-by; but for the present you must
take this for my positive order; you must, from this time, at
once take the command of the ship, and act just as if I were not
on board. Under present circumstances, I can do nothing. My
brain is all on a whirl, you cannot tell what I am suffering;"
and the unfortunate man pressed both his hands convulsively
against his forehead.
"I weighed the matter carefully for a moment," added Curtis, "and
seeing what his condition too truly was, I acquiesced in all that
he required and withdrew, promising him that all his orders
should be obeyed."
After hearing these particulars, I could not help remarking how
fortunate it was that the captain had resigned of his own accord,
for although he might not be actually insane, it was very evident
that his brain was in a very morbid condition.
"I succeed him at a very critical moment;" said Curtis
thoughtfully; "but I shall endeavour to do my duty."
A short time afterwards he sent for the boatswain, and ordered
him to assemble the crew at the foot of the main-mast. As soon
as the men were together, he addressed them very calmly, but very
"My men," he said, "I have to tell you that Captain Huntly, on
account of the dangerous situation in which circumstances have
placed us, and for other reasons known to myself, has thought
right to resign his command to me. From this time forward, I am
captain of this vessel."
Thus quietly and simply the change was effected, and we have the
satisfaction of knowing that the "Chancellor" is now under the
command of a conscientious, energetic man, who will shirk nothing
that he believes to be for our common good. M. Letourneur,
Andre, Mr. Falsten, and myself immediately offered him our best
wishes, in which Lieutenant Walter and the boatswain most
The ship still holds her course south-west and Curtis crowds on
all sail and makes as speedily as possible for the nearest of the
OCTOBER 24th to 29th.--For the last five days the sea has been
very heavy, and although the "Chancellor" sails with wind and
wave in her favour, yet her progress is considerably impeded.
Here on board this veritable fireship I cannot help contemplating
with a longing eye this vast ocean that surrounds us. The water
supply should be all we need.
"Why not bore the deck?" I said to Curtis. "Why not admit the
water by tons into the hold? What could be the harm? The fire
would be quenched; and what would be easier than to pump the
water out again?"
"I have already told you, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis, "that the
very moment we admit the air, the flames will rush forth to the
very top of the masts. No; we must have courage and patience; we
must wait. There is nothing whatever to be done, except to close
The fire continued to progress even more rapidly than we had
hitherto suspected. The heat gradually drove the passengers
nearly all, on deck, and the two stern cabins, lighted, as I
said, by their windows in the aft-board were the only quarters
below that were inhabitable. Of these Mrs. Kear occupied one,
and Curtis reserved the other for Ruby, who, a raving maniac, had
to be kept rigidly under restraint. I went down occasionally to
see him, but invariably found him in a state of abject terror,
uttering horrible shrieks, as though possessed with the idea that
he was being scorched by the most excruciating heat.
Once or twice, too, I looked in upon the ex-captain. He was
always calm and spoke quite rationally upon any subject except
his own profession; but in connexion with that he prated away the
merest nonsense. He suffered greatly, but steadily declined all
my offers of attention, and pertinaciously refused to leave his
To-day, an acrid, nauseating smoke made its way through the
panellings that partition off the quarters of the crew. At once
Curtis ordered the partition to be enveloped in wet tarpaulin,
but the fumes penetrated even this, and filled the whole
neighbourhood of the ship's bows with a reeking vapour that was
positively stifling. As we listened, too, we could hear a dull
rumbling sound, but we were as mystified as ever to comprehend
where the air could have entered that was evidently fanning the
flames. Only too certainly, it was now becoming a question not
of days nor even of hours before we must be prepared for the
final catastrophe. The sea was still running high, and escape by
the boats was plainly impossible. Fortunately, as I have said,
the main-mast and the mizen are of iron; otherwise the heat at
their base would long ago have brought them down and our chances
of safety would have been much imperilled; but by crowding on
sail the "Chancellor" in the full north-east wind continued to
make her way with undiminished speed.
It is now a fortnight since the fire was first discovered, and
the proper working of the ship has gradually become a more and
more difficult matter. Even with thick shoes any attempt to walk
upon deck up to the forecastle was soon impracticable, and the
poop, simply because its door is elevated somewhat above the
level of the hold, is now the only available standing-place.
Water began to lose its effect upon the scorched and shrivelling
planks; the resin oozed out from the knots in the wood, the seams
burst open, and the tar, melted by the heat, followed the
rollings of the vessel, and formed fantastic patterns about the
Then to complete our perplexity, the wind shifted suddenly round
to the north-west, whence it blew a perfect hurricane. To no
purpose did Curtis do everything in his power to bring the ship
ahull; every effort was vain; the "Chancellor" could not bear her
trysail, so there was nothing to be done but to let her go with
the wind, and drift further and further from the land for which
we are longing so eagerly.
To-day, the 29th, the tempest seemed to reach its height; the
waves appeared to us mountains high, and dashed the spray most
violently across the deck. A boat could not live for a moment in
such a sea.
Our situation is terrible. We all wait in silence, some few on
the forecastle, the great proportion of us on the poop. As for
the picrate, for the time we have quite forgotten its existence;
indeed it might almost seem as though its explosion would come as
a relief, for no catastrophe, however terrible, could far exceed
the torture of our suspense.
While he had still the remaining chance, Curtis rescued from the
store-room such few provisions as the heat of the compartment
allowed him to obtain; and a lot of cases of salt meat and
biscuits, a cask of brandy, some barrels of fresh water, together
with some sails and wraps, a compass and other instruments are
now lying packed in a mass all ready for prompt removal to the
boats whenever we shall be obliged to leave the ship.
About eight o'clock in the evening, a noise is heard, distinct
even above the raging of the hurricane. The panels of the deck
are upheaved, and volumes of black smoke issue upwards as if from
a safety-valve. An universal consternation seizes one and all:
we must leave the volcano which is about to burst beneath our
feet. The crew run to Curtis for orders. He hesitates; looks
first at the huge and threatening waves; looks then at the boats.
The long-boat is there, suspended right along the centre of the
deck; but it is impossible to approach it now; the yawl, however,
hoisted on the starboard side, and the whale-boat suspended aft,
are still available. The sailors make frantically for the yawl.
"Stop, stop," shouts Curtis; "do you mean to cut off our last and
only chance of safety? Would you launch a boat in such a sea as
A few of them, with Owen at their head, give no heed to what he
says. Rushing to the poop, and seizing a cutlass, Curtis shouts
"Touch the tackling of the davit, one of you; only touch it, and
I'll cleave your skull."
Awed by his determined manner, the men retire, some clambering
into the shrouds, whilst others mount to the very top of the
At eleven o'clock, several loud reports are heard, caused by the
bursting asunder of the partitions of the hold. Clouds of smoke
issue from the front, followed by a long tongue of lambent flame
that seems to encircle the mizen-mast. The fire now reaches to
the cabin occupied by Mrs. Kear, who, shrieking wildly, is
brought on deck by Miss Herbey. A moment more, and Silas Huntly
makes his appearance, his face all blackened with the grimy
smoke; he bows to Curtis, as he passes, and then proceeds in the
calmest manner to mount the aft-shrouds, and installs himself at
the very top of the mizen.
The sight of Huntly recalls to my recollection the prisoner still
below, and my first impulse is to rush to the staircase and do
what I can to set him free. But the maniac has already eluded
his confinement, and with singed hair and his clothes already
alight, rushes upon deck. Like a salamander he passes across the
burning deck with unscathed feet, and glides through the stifling
smoke with unchoked breath. Not a sound escapes his lips.
Another loud report; the long-boat is shivered into fragments;
the middle panel bursts the tarpaulin that covered it, and a
stream of fire, free at length from the restraint that had held
it, rises half-mast high.
"The picrate! the picrate!" shrieks the madman; "we shall all
be blown up! the picrate will blow us all up."
And in an instant, before we can get near him, he has hurled
himself, through the open hatchway, down into the fiery furnace
OCTOBER 29th:--NIGHT.--The scene, as night came on, was terrible
indeed. Notwithstanding the desperateness of our situation,
however, there was not one of us so paralyzed by fear, but that
we fully realized the horror of it all.
Poor Ruby, indeed, is lost and gone, but his last words were
productive of serious consequences. The sailors caught his cry
of "Picrate, picrate!" and being thus for the first time made
aware of the true nature of their peril, they resolved at every
hazard to accomplish their escape. Beside themselves with
terror, they either did not or would not, see that no boat could
brave the tremendous waves that were raging around, and
accordingly they made a frantic rush towards the yawl. Curtis
again made a vigorous endeavour to prevent them, but this time
all in vain; Owen urged them on, and already the tackling was
loosened, so that the boat was swung over to the ship's side, For
a moment it hung suspended in mid-air, and then, with a final
effort from the sailors, it was quickly lowered into the sea.
But scarcely had it touched the water, when it was caught by an
enormous wave which, recoiling with resistless violence, dashed
it to atoms against the "Chancellor's" side.
The men stood aghast; they were dumbfoundered. Long-boat and
yawl both gone, there was nothing now remaining to us but a small
whale-boat. Not a word was spoken; not a sound was heard but the
hoarse whistling of the wind, and the mournful roaring of the
flames. From the centre of the ship, which was hollowed out like
a furnace, there issued a column of sooty vapour that ascended to
the sky. All the passengers, and several of the crew, took
refuge in the aft-quarters of the poop. Mrs. Kear was lying
senseless on one of the hen-coops, with Miss Herbey sitting
passively at her side; M. Letourneur held his son tightly clasped
to his bosom. I saw Falsten calmly consult his watch, and note
down the time in his memorandum-book, but I was far from sharing
his, composure, for I was overcome by a nervous agitation that I
could not suppress.
As far as we knew, Lieutenant Walter, the boatswain, and such of
the crew as were not with us, were safe in the bow; but it was
impossible to tell how they were faring because the sheet of fire
intervened like a curtain, and cut off all communication between
stem and stern.
I broke the dismal silence, saying "All over now, Curtis."
"No, sir, not yet," he replied, "now that the panel is open we
will set to work, and pour water with all our might down into the
furnace, and may be, we shall put it out, even yet."
"But how can you work your pumps while the deck is burning? and
how can you get at your men beyond that sheet of flame?"
He made no answer to my impetuous questions, and finding that he
had nothing more to say, I repeated that it was all over now.
After a pause, he said, "As long as a plank of the ship remains
to stand on, Mr, Kazallon, I shall not give up my hope."
But the conflagration raged with redoubled fury, the sea around
us was lighted with a crimson glow, and the clouds above shone
with a lurid glare. Long jets of fire darted across the
hatchways, and we were forced to take refuge on the taffrail at
the extreme end of the poop. Mrs. Kear was laid in the whale-
boat that hung from the stern, Miss Herbey persisting to the last
in retaining her post by her side.
No pen could adequately portray the horrors of this fearful
night. The "Chancellor" under bare poles, was driven, like a
gigantic fire-ship with frightful velocity across the raging
ocean; her very speed as it were, making common cause with the
hurricane to fan the fire that was consuming her. Soon there
could be no alternative between throwing ourselves into the sea,
or perishing in the flames.
But where, all this time, was the picrate? perhaps, after all,
Ruby had deceived us and there was no volcano, such as we
dreaded, below our feet.
At half-past eleven, when the tempest seems at its very height
there is heard a peculiar roar distinguishable even above the
crash of the elements. The sailors in an instant recognize its
"Breakers to starboard!" is the cry.
Curtis leaps on to the netting, casts a rapid glance at the snow-
white billows, and turning to the helmsman shouts with all his
might "Starboard the helm!"
But it is too late. There is a sudden shock; the ship is caught
up by an enormous wave; she rises upon her beam ends; several
times she strikes the ground; the mizen-mast snaps short off
level with the deck, falls into the sea, and the "Chancellor" is
THE NIGHT OF THE 29th CONTINUED.--It was not yet midnight; the
darkness was most profound, and we could see nothing. But was it
probable that we had stranded on the coast of America?
Very shortly after the ship had thus come to a standstill a
clanking of chains was heard proceeding from her bows.
"That is well," said Curtis; "Walter and the boatswain have cast
both the anchors. Let us hope they will hold."
Then, clinging to the netting, he clambered along the starboard
side, on which the ship had heeled, as far as the flames would
allow him. He clung to the holdfasts of the shrouds, and in
spite of the heavy seas that dashed against the vessel he
maintained his position for a considerable time, evidently
listening to some sound that had caught his ear in the midst of
the tempest. In about a quarter of an hour he returned to the
"Heaven be praised!" he said, "the water is coming in, and
perhaps may get the better of the fire."
"True," said I, "but what then?"
"That," he replied, "is a question for by-and-by. We can now
only think of the present."
Already I fancied that the violence of the flames was somewhat
abated, and that the two opposing elements were in fierce
contention. Some plank in the ship's side was evidently stove
in, admitting free passage for the waves. But how, when the
water had mastered the fire, should we be able to master the
water? Our natural course would be to use the pumps, but these,
in the very midst of the conflagration, were quite unavailable.
For three long hours, in anxious suspense, we watched and
watched, and waited. Where we were we could not tell. One thing
alone was certain: the tide was ebbing beneath us, and the waves
were relaxing in their violence. Once let the fire be
extinguished, and then, perhaps, there would be room to hope that
the next high tide would set us afloat.
Towards half-past four in the morning the curtain of fire and
smoke, which had shut off communication between the two
extremities of the ship, became less dense, and we could faintly
distinguish that party of the crew who had taken refuge in the
forecastle; and before long, although it was impracticable to
step upon the deck, the lieutenant and the boatswain contrived to
clamber over the gunwale, along the rails, and joined Curtis on
Here they held a consultation, to which I was admitted. They
were all of opinion that nothing could be done until daylight
should give us something of an idea of our actual position. If
we then found that we were near the shore, we would, weather
permitting, endeavour to land, either in the boat or upon a raft.
If, on the other hand, no land were in sight, and the
"Chancellor" were ascertained to be stranded on some isolated
reef, all we could do would be to get her afloat, and put her
into condition for reaching the nearest coast. Curtis told us
that it was long since he had been able to take any observation
of altitude, but there was no doubt the north-west wind had
driven us far to the south; and he thought, as he was ignorant of
the existence of any reef in this part of the Atlantic, that it
was just possible that we had been driven on to the coast of some
portion of South America.
I reminded him that we were in momentary expectation of an
explosion, and suggested that it would be advisable to abandon
the ship and take refuge on the reef. But he would not hear of
such a proceeding, said that the reef would probably be covered
at high tide, and persisted in the original resolution, that no
decided action could be taken before the daylight appeared.
I immediately reported this decision of the captain to my fellow
passengers. None of them seem to realize the new danger to which
the "Chancellor" may be exposed by being cast upon an unknown
reef, hundreds of miles it may be from land. All are for the
time possessed with one idea, one hope; and that is, that the
fire may now be quenched and the explosion averted.
And certainly their hopes seem in a fair way of being fulfilled.
Already the raging flames that poured forth from the hatches have
given place to dense black smoke, and although occasionally some
fiery streaks dart across the dusky fumes, yet they are instantly
extinguished. The waves are doing what pumps and buckets could
never have effected; by their inundation they are steadily
stifling the fire which was as steadily spreading to the whole
bulk of the 1700 bales of cotton.
OCTOBER 30th.--At the first gleam of daylight we eagerly scanned
the southern and western horizons, but the morning mists limited
our view. Land was nowhere to be seen. The tide was now almost
at its lowest ebb, and the colour of the few peaks of rock that
jutted up around us showed that the reef on which we had stranded
was of basaltic formation. There were now only about six feet of
water around the "Chancellor," though with a full freight she
draws about fifteen. It was remarkable how far she had been
carried on to the shelf of rock, but the number of times that she
had touched the bottom before she finally ran aground left us no
doubt that she had been lifted up and borne along on the top of
an enormous wave. She now lies with her stern considerably
higher than her bows, a position which renders walking upon the
deck anything but an easy matter; moreover as the tide-receded
she heeled over so much to larboard that at one time Curtis
feared she would altogether capsize; that fear, however, since
the tide has reached its lowest mark, has happily proved
At six o'clock some violent blows were felt against the ship's
side, and at the same time a voice was distinguished, shouting
loudly, "Curtis! Curtis!" Following the direction of the cries
we saw that the broken mizen-mast was being washed against the
vessel, and in the dusky morning twilight we could make out the
figure of a man clinging to the rigging. Curtis, at the peril of
his life, hastened to bring the man on board, It proved to be
none other than Silas Huntly, who, after being carried overboard
with the mast, had thus, almost by a miracle, escaped a watery
grave. Without a word of thanks to his deliverer, the ex-
captain, passive, like an automaton, passed on and took his seat
in the most secluded corner of the poop. The broken mizen may,
perhaps, be of service to us at some future time, and with that
idea it has been rescued from the waves and lashed securely to
By this time it was light enough to see for a distance of three
miles round; but as yet nothing could be discerned to make us
think that we were near a coast. The line of breakers ran for
about a mile from south-west to north-east, and two hundred
fathoms to the north of the ship an irregular mass of rocks
formed a small islet. This islet rose about fifty feet above the
sea, and was consequently above the level of the highest tides;
whilst a sort of causeway, available at low water, would enable
us to reach the island, if necessity required. But there the
reef ended; beyond it the sea again resumed its sombre hue,
betokening deep water. In all probability, then, this was a
solitary shoal, unattached to a shore, and the gloom of a bitter
disappointment began to weigh upon our spirits.
In another hour the mists had totally disappeared, and it was
broad daylight. I and M. Letourneur stood watching Curtis as he
continued eagerly to scan the western horizon. Astonishment was
written on his countenance; to him it appeared perfectly
incredible that, after our course for so long had been due south
from the Bermudas, no land should be in sight. But not a speck,
however minute, broke the clearly-defined line that joined sea
and sky. After a time Curtis made his way along the netting to
the shrouds, and swung himself quickly up to the top of the
mainmast. For several minutes he remained there examining the
open space around, then seizing one of the backstays he glided
down and rejoined us on the poop.
"No land in sight," he said, in answer to our eager looks of
At this point Mr. Kear interposed, and in a gruff, ill-tempered
tone, asked Curtis where we were. Curtis replied that he did not
"You don't know, sir? Then all I can say is that you ought to
know!" exclaimed the petroleum merchant.
"That may be, sir; but at present I am as ignorant of our
whereabouts as you are yourself," said Curtis.
"Well," said Mr. Kear, "just please to know that I don't want to
stay for ever on your everlasting ship, so I beg you will make
haste and start off again."
Curtis condescended to make no other reply than a shrug of the
shoulders, and turning away he informed M. Letourneur and myself
that if the sun came out he intended to take its altitude and
find out to what part of the ocean we had been driven. His next
care was to distribute preserved meat and biscuit amongst the
passengers and crew already half fainting with hunger and
fatigue, and then he set to work to devise measures for setting
the ship afloat.
The conflagration was greatly abated; no flames now appeared, and
although some black smoke still issued from the interior, yet its
volume was far less than before. The first step was to discover
how much water had entered the hold. The deck was still too hot
to walk upon; but after two hours' irrigation the boards became
sufficiently cool for the boatswain to proceed to take some
soundings, and he shortly afterwards announced that there were
five feet of water below. This the captain determined should not
be pumped out at present, as he wanted it thoroughly to do its
duty before he got rid of it.
The next subject for consideration was whether it would be
advisable to abandon the vessel, and to take refuge on the reef.
Curtis thought not; and the lieutenant and the boatswain agreed
with him. The chances of an explosion were greatly diminished,
as it had been ascertained that the water had reached that part
of the hold in which Ruby's luggage had been deposited; while, on
the other hand, in the event of rough weather, our position even
upon the most elevated points of rock might be very critical. It
was accordingly resolved that both passengers and crew were
safest on board.
Acting upon this decision we proceeded to make a kind of
encampment on the poop, and the few mattresses that were rescued
uninjured have been given up for the use of the two ladies. Such
of the crew as had saved their hammocks have been told to place
them under the forecastle where they would have to stow
themselves as best they could, their ordinary quarters being
Fortunately, although the store-room has been considerably
exposed to the heat, its contents are not very seriously damaged,
and all the barrels of water and the greater part of the
provisions are quite intact. The stack of spare sails, which had
been packed away in front, is also free from injury. The wind
has dropped considerably since the early morning, and the swell
in the sea is far less heavy. On the whole our spirits are
reviving, and we begin to think we may yet find a way out of our
M. Letourneur, his son, and I, have just had a long conversation
about the ship's officers. We consider their conduct, under the
late trying circumstances, to have been most exemplary, and their
courage, energy, and endurance to have been beyond all praise.
Lieutenant Walter, the boatswain, and Dowlas the carpenter have
all alike distinguished themselves, and made us feel that they
are men to be relied on. As for Curtis, words can scarcely be
found to express our admiration of his character; he is the same
as he has ever been, the very life of his crew, cheering them on
by word or gesture; finding an expedient for every difficulty,
and always foremost in every action.
The tide turned at seven this morning, and by eleven all the
rocks were submerged, none of them being visible except the
cluster of those which formed the rim of a small and almost
circular basin from 250 to 300 feet in diameter, in the north
angle of which the ship is lying. As the tide rose the white
breakers disappeared, and the sea, fortunately for the
"Chancellor," was pretty calm; otherwise the dashing of the waves
against her sides, as she lies motionless, might have been
attended by serious consequences.
As might be supposed, the height of the water in the hold
increased with the tide from five feet to nine; but this was
rather a matter for congratulation, inasmuch as it sufficed to
inundate another layer of cotton.
At half-past eleven the sun, which had been behind the clouds
since ten o'clock, broke forth brightly. The captain, who had
already in the morning been able to calculate an horary angle,
now prepared to take the meridian altitude, and succeeded at
midday in making his observation most satisfactorily. After
retiring for a short time to calculate the result; he returned to
the poop and announced that we are in lat; 18deg. 5min. N. and
long. 45deg. 53min. W., but that the reef on which we are aground
is not marked upon the charts. The only explanation that can be
given for the omission is that the islet must be of recent
formation, and has been caused by some subterranean volcanic
disturbance. But whatever may be the solution of the mystery,
here we are 800 miles from land; for such, on consulting the map,
we find to be the actual distance to the coast of Guiana, which
is the nearest shore. Such is the position to which we have been
brought, in the first place, by Huntly's senseless obstinacy,
and, secondly, by the furious north-west gale.
Yet, after all, the captain's communication does not dishearten
us. As I said before, our spirits are reviving. We have escaped
the peril of fire; the fear of explosion is past and gone; and
oblivious of the fact that the ship with a hold full of water is
only too likely to founder when she puts out to sea, we feel a
confidence in the future that forbids us to despond.
Meanwhile Curtis prepares to do all that common sense demands.
He proposes, when the fire is quite extinguished, to throw
overboard the whole, or the greater portion of the cargo,
including of course, the picrate; he will next plug up the leak,
and then, with a lightened ship, he will take advantage of the
first high tide to quit the reef as speedily as possible.
OCTOBER 30th.--Once again I talked to M. Letourneur about our
situation, and endeavoured to animate him with the hope that we
should not be detained for long in our present predicament; but
he could not be brought to take a very sanguine view of our
"But surely," I protested, "it will not be difficult to throw
overboard a few hundred bales of cotton; two or three days at
most will suffice for that."
"Likely enough," he replied, "when the business is once begun;
but you must remember, Mr. Kazallon, that the very heart of the
cargo is still smouldering, and that it will still be several
days before any one will be able to venture into the hold. Then
the leak, too, that has to be caulked; and, unless it is stopped
up very effectually, we shall be only doomed most certainly to
perish at sea. Don't, then, be deceiving yourself; it must be
three weeks at least before you can expect to put out to sea. I
can only hope meanwhile that the weather will continue
propitious; it wouldn't take many storms to knock the
'Chancellor,' shattered as she is, completely into pieces."
Here, then, was the suggestion of a new danger to which we were
to be exposed; the fire might be extinguished, the water might be
got rid of by the pumps, but, after all, we must be at the mercy
of the wind and waves; and, although the rocky island might
afford a temporary refuge from the tempest, what was to become of
passengers and crew if the vessel should be reduced to a total
wreck? I made no remonstrance, however, to this view of our
case, but merely asked M. Letourneur if he had confidence in
"Perfect confidence," he answered; "and I acknowledge it most
gratefully, as a providential circumstance, that Captain Huntly
had given him the command in time. Whatever man can do I know
that Curtis will not leave undone to extricate us from our
Prompted by this conversation with M. Letourneur I took the first
opportunity of trying to ascertain from Curtis himself, how long
he reckoned we should be obliged to remain upon the reef; but he
merely replied, that it must depend upon circumstances, and that
he hoped the weather would continue favourable. Fortunately the
barometer is rising steadily, and there is every sign of a
Meantime Curtis is taking active measures for totally
extinguishing the fire. He is at no great pains to spare the
cargo, and as the bales that lie just above the level of the
water are still a-light he has resorted to the expedient of
thoroughly saturating the upper layers of the cotton, in order
that the combustion may be stifled between the moisture
descending from above and that ascending from below. This scheme
has brought the pumps once more into requisition. At present the
crew are adequate to the task of working them, but I and some of
our fellow passengers are ready to offer our assistance whenever
it shall be necessary.
With no immediate demand upon our labour, we are thrown upon our
own resources for passing our time. Letourneur, Andre and
myself, have frequent conversations; I also devote an hour or two
to my diary. Falsten holds little communication with any of us,
but remains absorbed in his calculations, and amuses himself by
tracing mechanical diagrams with ground-plan, section, elevation,
all complete. It would be a happy inspiration if he could invent
some mighty engine that could set us all afloat again. Mr. and
Mrs. Kear, too, hold themselves aloof from their fellow
passengers, and we are not sorry to be relieved from the
necessity of listening to their incessant grumbling;
unfortunately, however, they carry off Miss Herbey with them, so
that we enjoy little or nothing of the young lady's society. As
for Silas Huntly, he has become a complete nonentity; he exists,
it is true, but merely, it would seem, to vegetate.
Hobart, the steward, an obsequious, sly sort of fellow, goes
through his routine of duties just as though the vessel were
pursuing her ordinary course; and, as usual, is continually
falling out with Jynxtrop, the cook, an impudent, ill-favoured
negro, who interferes with the other sailors in a manner which, I
think, ought not to be allowed.
Since it appears likely that we shall have abundance of time on
our hands, I have proposed to M. Letourneur and his son that we
shall together explore the reef on which we are stranded. It is
not very probable that we shall be able to discover much about
the origin of this strange accumulation of rock, yet the attempt
will at least occupy us for some hours, and will relieve us from
the monotony of our confinement on board. Besides, as the reef
is not marked in any of the maps, I could not but believe that it
would be rendering a service to hydrography if we were to take an
accurate plan of the rocks, of which Curtis could afterwards
verify the true position by a second observation made with a
closer precision than the one he has already taken.
M. Letourneur agrees to my proposal, Curtis has promised to let
us have the boat and some sounding-lines, and to allow one of the
sailors to accompany us; so to-morrow morning, we hope to make
our little voyage of investigation.
OCTOBER 31st to NOVEMBER 5th.--Our first proceeding on the
morning of the 31st was to make the proposed tour of the reef,
which is about a quarter of a mile long. With the aid of our
sounding-lines we found that the water was deep, right up to the
very rocks, and that no shelving shores prevented us coasting
along them. There was not a shadow of doubt as to the rock being
of purely volcanic origin, upheaved by some mighty subterranean
convulsion. It is formed of blocks of basalt, arranged in
perfect order, of which the regular prisms give the whole mass
the effect of being one gigantic crystal; and the remarkable
transparency of the sea enabled us plainly to observe the curious
shafts of the prismatic columns that support the marvellous
"This is indeed a singular island," said M. Letourneur;
"evidently it is of quite a recent origin."
"Yes, father," said Andre, "and I should think it has been caused
by a phenomenon similar to those which produced the Julia Island,
off the coast of Sicily, or the group of the Santorini, in the
Grecian Archipelago. One could almost fancy that it had been
created expressly for the 'Chancellor' to stand upon."
"It is very certain," I observed, "that some upheaving has
lately taken place. This is by no means an unfrequented part of
the Atlantic, so that it is not at all likely that it could have
escaped the notice of sailors if it had been always in existence;
yet it is not marked even in the most modern charts. We must try
and explore it thoroughly and give future navigators the benefit
of our observations."
But, perhaps, it will disappear as it came," said Andre. "You
are no doubt aware, Mr. Kazallon, that these volcanic islands
sometimes have a very transitory existence. Not impossibly, by
the time it gets marked upon the maps it may no longer be here."
"Never mind, my boy," answered his father, "it is better to give
warning of a danger that does not exist than overlook one that
does. I daresay the sailors will not grumble much, if they don't
find a reef where we have marked one."
"No, I daresay not, father," said Andre "and after all this
island is very likely as firm as a continent. However, if it is
to disappear, I expect Captain Curtis would be glad to see it
take its departure as soon as possible after he has finished his
repairs; it would save him a world of trouble in getting his ship