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 work.
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 monotonous.
M. Letourneur, our French fellow-passenger, often has a chat with me. He is a fine tall man, about fifty years of age, with white hair and a grizzly beard. To say the truth, he looks older than he really is: his drooping head, his 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 own sorrow.”
“But I never let him see it,” he broke in hastily. “My sole thought is how to divert him. I have discovered, that in spite of his physical weakness, he delights in 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 slight acquaintance.
Mr. Kear, the American, who is accompanied by his wife, has made a large fortune in the petroleum springs in the United States. He is a man of about fifty, a most 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 his designs.
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 altogether inapplicable.
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 captain, sir.”
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 comparative oblivion.”
“But let me tell you, M. Andre,” interposed Curtis, who had as usual joined our party, “that although poets may rave, and be as enthusiastic as they like about these islands, sailors will tell a different tale. The hidden reefs that lie in a semicircle about two or three leagues from shore make the attempt to land a very dangerous piece of business. And another thing, I know. Let the natives boast as they will about their splendid climate, they, are visited by the most frightful hurricanes. They get the fag-end of the storms that rage over the Antilles; and the fag- end of a storm is like the tail of a whale; it’s just the strongest bit of it. I don’t think you’ll find a sailor listening much to your poets,–your Moores, and your Wallers.”
“No, doubt you are right, Mr. Curtis,” said Andre, 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 Tempest.'”
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?” I inquired.
“Think; why they think just the same as I do,” replied the mate; “but if the captain chooses to take the ship to China we should obey his orders.”
“But surely,” I exclaimed, “there must be some limit to your obedience! Suppose the man is actually mad, what 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 ocean.
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 “Chancellor.”
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 heard nothing.
“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 island.
At the breakfast hour M. Letourneur and Andre went below for a cup of tea, and I remained on the poop alone. As I expected, Curtis appeared, that he might relieve 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 away.
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 at all.”
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 air.
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 flowing water.
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 are explained.
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 avert.
“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?” I asked.
“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 are placed.”
“None of them,” he said; “not in the least; and I hope you will not enlighten them. We don’t want terrified women and cowardly men to add to our embarrassment; the crew are under orders to keep a strict silence on the subject. Silence is indispensable.”
I promised to keep the matter a profound secret, as I fully entered into Curtis’s views as to the absolute necessity for concealment.
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 favourable current.
To-day, the 21st, all has gone on as usual; and as far as the observation of the passengers has reached, the ordinary routine has been undisturbed. Curtis indulges the hope even yet that by excluding the air, the fire may be stifled 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 more imprudent.”
“Pooh! pooh!” replied Ruby; “it’s all right; it is not the first time I have done it.”
“But don’t you know that any shock at any time might cause an explosion?”
“Oh, it’s all properly secured,” said Ruby, “tight enough; I have no fears on that score, Mr, Falsten.”
“But why,” asked Falsten, “did you not inform the 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 up.”
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 insured.”
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 come.
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 secret.
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 situation.
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 predicament.
“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 inflammability.”
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 highest admiration.
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 firmly.
“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 cordially joined.
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 Lesser Antilles.
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 every aperture.”
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 cabin.
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 deck.
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 this?”
A few of them, with Owen at their head, give no heed to what he says. Rushing to the poop, and seizing a cutlass, Curtis shouts again,–
“Touch the tackling of the davit, one of you; only touch it, and I’ll cleave your skull.”
Awed by his determined manner, the men retire, some clambering into the shrouds, whilst others mount to the very top of the masts.
At eleven o’clock, several loud reports are heard, caused by the bursting asunder of the partitions of the hold. Clouds of smoke issue from the front, followed by a long tongue of lambent flame that seems to encircle the 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 below.
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 import.
“Breakers to starboard!” is the cry.
Curtis leaps on to the netting, casts a rapid glance at the snow- white billows, and turning to the helmsman shouts with all his might “Starboard the helm!”
But it is too late. There is a sudden shock; the ship is caught up by an enormous wave; she rises upon her beam ends; several times she strikes the ground; the mizen-mast snaps short off level with the deck, falls into the sea, and the “Chancellor” is motionless.
THE NIGHT OF THE 29th CONTINUED.–It was not yet 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 poop.
“Heaven be praised!” he said, “the water is coming in, and perhaps may get the better of the fire.”
“True,” said I, “but what then?”
“That,” he replied, “is a question for 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 the poop.
Here they held a consultation, to which I was admitted. They were all of opinion that nothing could be done until daylight should give us something of an idea of our actual position. If we then found that we were near the shore, we would, weather permitting, 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 groundless.
At six o’clock some violent blows were felt against the ship’s side, and at the same time a voice was distinguished, shouting loudly, “Curtis! Curtis!” Following the 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 the stern.
By this time it was light enough to see for a distance of three miles round; but as yet nothing could be discerned to make us think that we were near a coast. The line of breakers ran for about a mile from 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 inquiry.
At this point Mr. Kear interposed, and in a gruff, ill-tempered tone, asked Curtis where we were. Curtis replied that he did not know.
“You don’t know, sir? Then all I can say is that you ought to know!” exclaimed the petroleum merchant.
“That may be, sir; but at present I am as ignorant of our whereabouts as you are yourself,” said Curtis.
“Well,” said Mr. Kear, “just please to know that I don’t want to stay 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 absolutely uninhabitable.
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 troubles.
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 prospects.
“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 Robert Curtis?
“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 dilemma.”
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 prolonged calm.
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 substructure.
“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 afloat.”