“Norman!” he repeated, pointing to his empty place.
“Unhappy man !” murmured Mrs Barnett; and at the risk of being flung from the boat rocking on the waves, the two started to their feet and looked around them. But they could see and hear nothing. No cry for help broke upon their ears. No dead body floated in the white foam. The old sailor had met his death in the element he loved so well.
Mrs Barnett and Hobson sank back upon their seats. They were now alone, and must see to their own safety; but neither of them knew anything of the management of a boat, and even an experienced hand could scarcely have controlled it now. They were at the mercy of the waves, and the bark, with distended sail, swept along in mad career. What could the Lieutenant do to check or direct its course?
What a terrible situation for our travellers, to be thus overtaken by a tempest in a frail bark which they could not manage !
“We are lost!” said the Lieutenant.
“No, Lieutenant,” replied Mrs Barnett; “let us make another effort. Heaven helps those who help themselves !”
Lieutenant Hobson now for the first time realised with how intrepid a woman fate had thrown him.
The first thing to be done was to get rid of the water which weighed down the boat. Another wave shipped would have filled it in a moment, and it must have sunk at once. The vessel lightened, it would have a better chance of rising on the waves; and the two set to work to bale out the water. This was no easy task; for fresh waves constantly broke over them, and the scoop could not be laid aside for an instant. Mrs Barnett was indefatigable, and the Lieutenant, leaving the baling to her, took the helm himself, and did the best he could to guide the boat with the wind right aft.
To add to the danger, night, or rather darkness, for in these latitudes night only lasts a few hours at this time of year, fell upon them. Scarce a ray of light penetrated through the heavy clouds and fog. They could not see two yards before them, and the boat must have been dashed to pieces had it struck a floating iceberg. This danger was indeed imminent, for the loose ice-masses advance with such rapidity that it is impossible to get out of their way.
“You have no control over the helm?” said Mrs Barnett in a slight lull of the storm.
No, madam he replied; “and you must prep are for the worst.”
“I am ready!” replied the courageous woman simply.
As she spoke a loud rippling sound was heard. The sail, torn away by the wind, disappeared like a white cloud. The boat sped rapidly along for a few instants, and then stopped suddenly, the waves buffeting it about like an abandoned wreck. Mrs Barnett and Hobson, flung to the bottom of the boat, bruised, shaken, and torn, felt that all was lost. Not a shred of canvas was left to aid in navigating the craft; and what with the spray, the snow, and the rain, they could scarcely see each other, whilst the uproar drowned their voices. Expecting every moment to perish, they remained for an hour in painful suspense, commending themselves to God, who alone could save them.
Neither of them could have said how long they waited when they were aroused by a violent shock.
The boat had just struck an enormous iceberg, a floating block with rugged, slippery sides, to which it would be impossible to cling.
At this sudden blow, which could not have been parried, the bow of the boat was split open, and the water poured into it in torrents.
“We are sinking! we are sinking !” cried Jasper Hobson.
He was right. The boat was settling down; the water had already reached the seats.
“Madam, madam, I am here! I will not leave you!” added the Lieutenant.
“No, no,” cried Mrs Barnett : “alone, you may save yourself; together, we should perish. Leave me! leave me!”
“Never!” cried Hobson.
But he had scarcely pronounced this word when the boat, struck by another wave, filled and sank.
Both were drawn under water by the eddy caused by the sudden settling down of the boat, but in a few instants they rose to the surface. Hobson was a strong swimmer, and struck out with one arm, supporting his companion with the other.