"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 can- not 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 considerable pause, Mr. Falsten, as calmly as though he were delivering some philosophic dogma, quietly 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 inflam- mable 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 intimat- ing 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 fulfills her offices of duty, commands my highest ad- miration.
OCTOBER 23. -- This morning, Captain Huntly sent for Curtis into his cabin, and the mate has since made me ac- quainted 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 can not recollect anything. Are we not bound for Liverpool? Ah! yes! of course. And have we kept a northeasterly direction since we left?"
"No, sir, according to your orders we have been sailing southeast, 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 in- terrupted 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 circum- stances, I can do nothing.