The fire now reaches to the cabin of Mrs. Kear, who, shrieking wildly, is brought on deck by Miss Herbey. A moment more, and Silas Huntly makes his appearance, his face all blackened with the grimy smoke; he bows to Curtis, as he passes, and then proceeds in the calmest manner to mount the aft-shrouds, and installs himself at the very top of the mizzen.
The sight of Huntly recalls to my recollection the prisoner still below, and my first impulse is to rush to the staircase and do what I can to set him free. But the maniac has al- ready eluded his confinement, and with singed hair and his clothes already alight, rushes upon deck. Like a sal- amander he passes across the burning deck with unscathed feet, and glides through the stifling smoke with unchoked breath. Not a sound escapes his lips.
Another loud report; the long-boat is shivered into frag- ments; the middle panel bursts the tarpaulin that covered it, and a stream of fire, free at length from the restraint that had held it, rises half-mast high.
"The picrate! the picrate!" shrieks the madman; "we shall all be blown up! the picrate will blow us all up."
And in an instant, before we can get near him, he has buried himself, through the open hatchway, down into the fiery furnace below.
CHAPTER XIV BREAKERS TO STARBOARD!
OCTOBER 20. -- Night. -- The scene, as night came on, was terrible indeed. Notwithstanding the desperateness of our situation, however, there was not one of us so paralyzed by fear, but that we fully realized the horror of it all.
Poor Ruby, indeed, is lost and gone, but his last words were productive of serious consequences. The sailors caught his cry of "Picrate, picrate!" and being thus for the first time made aware of the true nature of their peril, they resolved at every hazard to accomplish their escape. Beside themselves with terror, they either did not, or would not, see that no boat could brave the tremendous waves that were raging around, and accordingly they made a frantic rush to- ward the yawl. Curtis again made a vigorous endeavor to prevent them, but this time all in vain; Owen urged them on, and already the tackling was loosened, so that the boat was swung over to the ship's side. For a moment it hung sus- pended in mid-air, and then, with a final effort from the sailors, it was quickly lowered into the sea. But scarcely had it touched the water, when it was caught by an enor- mous wave which, recoiling with resistless violence, dashed it to atoms against the Chancellor's side.
The men stood aghast; they were dumbfounded. Long- boat and yawl both gone, there was nothing now remaining to us but a small whale-boat. Not a word was spoken; not a sound was heard but the hoarse whistling of the wind, and the mournful roaring of the flames. From the center of the ship, which was hollowed out like a furnace, there issued a column of sooty vapor that ascended to the sky. All the passengers, and several of the crew, took refuge in the aft-quarters of the poop. Mrs. Kear was lying sense- less on one of the hen-coops, with Miss Herbey sitting pas- sively at her side; M. Letourneur held his son tightly clasped to his bosom. I saw Falsten calmly consult his watch, and note down the time in his memorandum-book, but I was far from sharing his composure, for I was overcome by a nervous agitation that I could not suppress.
As far as we knew, Lieutenant Walter, the boatswain, and such of the crew as were not with us, were safe in the bow; but it was impossible to tell how they were faring, be- cause the sheet of fire intervened like a curtain, and cut off all communication between stem and stern.
I broke the dismal silence, saying, "All over now Curtis."
"No, sir, not yet," he replied, "now that the panel is open we will set to work, and pour water with all our might down into the furnace, and may be, we shall put it out, even yet."
"But how can you work your pumps while the deck is burning? and how can you get at your men beyond that sheet of flame?"
He made no answer to my impetuous questions, and find- ing he had nothing more to say, I repeated that it was all over now.