My brain is all in a whirl, you can not 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 ac- quiesced in all that he required and withdrew, promising him that all his orders should be obeyed."
After hearing these particulars, I could not help remark- ing how fortunate it was that the captain had resigned of his own accord, for although he might not be actually in- sane, it was very evident that his brain was in a very morbid condition.
"I succeeded him at a very critical moment," said Curtis thoughtfully; "but I shall endeavor to do my duty."
A short time afterward he sent for his boatswain and or- dered 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 cir- cumstances 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 was the change 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 im- mediately offered him our best wishes, in which Lieutenant Walter and the boatswain most cordially joined.
The ship still holds her course southwest, and Curtis crowds on all sail and makes as speedily as possible for the nearest of the Lesser Antilles.
CHAPTER XIII BETWEEN FIRE AND WATER
OCTOBER 24 to 29. -- For the last five days the sea has been very heavy, and although the Chancellor sails with wind and wave in her favor, yet her progress is considerably im- peded. Here on board this veritable fire-ship I cannot help contemplating with a longing eye this vast ocean that sur- rounds 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 cour- age 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 pas- sengers 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 on any subject except his own profession; but in connection with that he prated away the merest nonsense. He suffered greatly, but steadily declined all my offers of attention, and pertina- ciously refused to leave his cabin.
To-day, an acrid, nauseating smoke made its way through the panelings that partition off the quarters of the crew. At once Curtis ordered the partition to be enveloped in wet tar- paulin, but the fumes penetrated even this, and filled the whole neighborhood of the ship's bows with a reeking vapor 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.