If, the next day, Dick Sand had perceived that object placed by Negoro under the binnacle, he might have hastened to take it away.
In fact, it was a piece of iron, whose influence had just altered the indications of the compass. The magnetic needle had been deviated, and instead of marking the magnetic north, which differs a little from the north of the world, it marked the northeast. It was then, a deviation of four points; in other words, of half a right angle.
Tom soon recovered from his drowsiness. His eyes were fixed on the compass. He believed, he had reason to believe, that the "Pilgrim" was not in the right direction. He then moved the helm so as to head the ship to the east--at least, he thought so.
But, with the deviation of the needle, which he could not suspect, that point, changed by four points, was the southeast.
And thus, while under the action of a favorable wind, the "Pilgrim" was supposed to follow the direction wished for, she sailed with an error of forty-five degrees in her route!
During the week which followed that event, from the 14th of February to the 21st, no incident took place on board. The wind from the northwest freshened gradually, and the "Pilgrim" sailed rapidly, making on an average one hundred and sixty miles in twenty-four hours. It was nearly all that could be asked of a vessel of that size.
Dick Sand thought the schooner must be approaching those parts more frequented by the merchant vessels which seek to pass from one hemisphere to the other. The novice was always hoping to encounter one of those ships, and he clearly intended either to transfer his passengers, or to borrow some additional sailors, and perhaps an officer. But, though he watched vigilantly, no ship could be signaled, and the sea was always deserted.
Dick Sand continued to be somewhat astonished at that. He had crossed this part of the Pacific several times during his three fishing voyages to the Southern Seas. Now, in the latitude and longitude where his reckoning put him, it was seldom that some English or American ship did not appear, ascending from Cape Horn toward the equator, or coming toward the extreme point of South America.
But what Dick Sand was ignorant of, what he could not even discover, was that the "Pilgrim" was already in higher latitude--that is to say, more to the south than he supposed. That was so for two reasons:
The first was, that the currents of these parts, whose swiftness the novice could only imperfectly estimate, had contributed--while he could not possibly keep account of them--to throw the ship out of her route.
The second was, that the compass, made inaccurate by Negoro's guilty hand, henceforth only gave incorrect bearings--bearings that, since the loss of the second compass, Dick Sand could not control. So that, believing, and having reason to believe, that he was sailing eastward, in reality, he was sailing southeast. The compass, it was always before his eyes. The log, it was thrown regularly. His two instruments permitted him, in a certain measure, to direct the "Pilgrim," and to estimate the number of miles sailed. But, then, was that sufficient?
However, the novice always did his best to reassure Mrs. Weldon, whom the incidents of this voyage must at times render anxious.
"We shall arrive, we shall arrive!" he repeated. "We shall reach the American coast, here or there; it matters little, on the whole, but we cannot fail to land there!"
"I do not doubt it, Dick."
"Of course, Mrs. Weldon, I should be more at ease if you were not on board--if we had only ourselves to answer for; but----"
"But if I were not on board," replied Mrs. Weldon; "if Cousin Benedict, Jack, Nan and I, had not taken passage on the 'Pilgrim,' and if, on the other hand, Tom and his companions had not been picked up at sea, Dick, there would be only two men here, you and Negoro! What would have become of you, alone with that wicked man, in whom you cannot have confidence? Yes, my child, what would have become of you?"
"I should have begun," replied Dick Sand, resolutely, "by putting Negoro where he could not injure me."
"And you would have worked alone?"
"Yes--alone--with the aid of God!"
The firmness of these words was well calculated to encourage Mrs. Weldon.