She was in the middle of that immense Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any land, at the mercy of the winds and waves.
What fatality then had brought that whale in the "Pilgrim's" course? What still greater fatality had urged the unfortunate Captain Hull, generally so wise, to risk everything in order to complete his cargo? And what a catastrophe to count among the rarest of the annals of whale-fishing was this one, which did not allow of the saving of one of the whale-boat's sailors!
Yes, it was a terrible fatality! In fact, there was no longer a seaman on board the "Pilgrim." Yes, one--Dick Sand--and he was only a beginner, a young man of fifteen. Captain, boatswain, sailors, it may be said that the whole crew was now concentrated in him.
On board there was one lady passenger, a mother and her son, whose presence would render the situation much more difficult. Then there were also some blacks, honest men, courageous and zealous without a doubt, ready to obey whoever should undertake to command them, but ignorant of the simplest notions of the sailor's craft.
Dick Sand stood motionless, his arms crossed, looking at the place where Captain Hull had just been swallowed up--Captain Hull, his protector, for whom he felt a filial affection. Then his eyes searched the horizon, seeking to discover some ship, from which he would demand aid and assistance, to which he might be able at least to confide Mrs. Weldon. He would not abandon the "Pilgrim," no, indeed, without having tried his best to bring her into port. But Mrs. Weldon and her little boy would be in safety. He would have had nothing more to fear for those two beings, to whom he was devoted body and soul.
The ocean was deserted. Since the disappearance of the jubarte, not a speck came to alter the surface. All was sky and water around the "Pilgrim." The young novice knew only too well that he was beyond the routes followed by the ships of commerce, and that the other whalers were cruising still farther away at the fishing-grounds.
However, the question was, to look the situation in the face, to see things as they were. That is what Dick Sand did, asking God, from the depths of his heart, for aid and succor. What resolution was he going to take?
At that moment Negoro appeared on the deck, which he had left after the catastrophe. What had been felt in the presence of this irreparable misfortune by a being so enigmatical, no one could tell. He had contemplated the disaster without making a gesture, without departing from his speechlessness. His eye had evidently seized all the details of it. But if at such a moment one could think of observing him, he would be astonished at least, because not a muscle of his impassible face had moved. At any rate, and as if he had not heard it, he had not responded to the pious appeal of Mrs. Weldon, praying for the engulfed crew. Negoro walked aft, there even where Dick Sand was standing motionless. He stopped three steps from the novice.
"You wish to speak to me?" asked Dick Sand.
"I wish to speak to Captain Hull," replied Negoro, coolly, "or, in his absence, to boatswain Howik."
"You know well that both have perished!" cried the novice.
"Then who commands on board now?" asked Negoro, very insolently.
"I," replied Dick Sand, without hesitation.
"You!" said Negoro, shrugging his shoulders. "A captain of fifteen years?"
"A captain of fifteen years!" replied the novice, advancing toward the cook.
The latter drew back.
"Do not forget it," then said Mrs. Weldon. "There is but one captain here--Captain Sand, and it is well for all to remember that he will know how to make himself obeyed."
Negoro bowed, murmuring in an ironical tone a few words that they could not understand, and he returned to his post.
We see, Dick's resolution was taken.
Meanwhile the schooner, under the action of the breeze, which commenced to freshen, had already passed beyond the vast shoal of crustaceans.
Dick Sand examined the condition of the sails; then his eyes were cast on the deck.