Curtis stood upon the poop, giving his chief attention to the sails; the lieutenant was on the forecastle; the boatswain by the helm. The sea seemed propitiously calm and; as it swelled gently to and fro, lifted the ship several times.
"Now, my boys," said Curtis, in his calm clear voice, "all together! Off!"
Round went the windlass; click, click, clanked the chains as link by link they were forced through the hawse-holes.
The breeze freshened, and the masts gave to the pressure of the sails, but round and round we went, keeping time in regular monotony to the sing-song tune hummed by one of the sailors.
We had gained about twenty feet, and were redoubling our efforts when the ship grounded again.
And now no effort would avail; all was in vain; the tide began to turn: and the Chancellor would not advance an inch. Was there time to go back? She would inevitably go to pieces if left balanced upon the ridge. In an instant the cap- tain has ordered the sails to be furled, and the anchor dropped from the stern.
One moment of terrible anxiety, and all is well.
The Chancellor tacks to stern, and glides back into the basin, which is once more her prison.
"Well, captain," says the boatswain, "what's to be done now?"
"I don't know," said Curtis, "but we shall get across somehow."
CHAPTER XXI THE "CHANCELLOR" RELEASED FROM HER PRISON
NOVEMBER 21 TO 24. -- There was assuredly no time to be lost before we ought to leave Ham Rock reef. The barom- eter had been falling ever since the morning, the sea was getting rougher, and there was every symptom that the weather, hitherto so favorable, was on the point of breaking; and in the event of a gale the Chancellor must inevitably be dashed to pieces on the rocks.
In the evening, when the tide was quite low, and the rocks uncovered, Curtis, the boatswain, and Dowlas went to exam- ine the ridge which had proved so serious an obstruction. Falsten and I accompanied them. We came to the conclu- sion that the only way of effecting a passage was by cutting away the rocks with pikes over a surface measuring ten feet by six. An extra depth of nine or ten inches would give a sufficient gauge, and the channel might be accurately marked out by buoys; in this way it was conjectured the ship might be got over the ridge and so reach the deep water beyond.
"But this basalt is as hard as granite," said the boatswain; "besides, we can only get at it at low water, and conse- quently could only work at it for two hours out of the twenty-four."
"All the more reason why we should begin at once, boat- swain," said Curtis.
"But if it is to take us a month, captain, perhaps by that time the ship may be knocked to atoms. Couldn't we man- age to blow up the rock? we have got some powder aboard."
"Not enough for that," said the boatswain.
"You have something better than powder," said Falsten.
"What's that?" asked the captain.
"Picrate of potash," was the reply.
And so the explosive substance with which poor Ruby had so grievously imperiled the vessel was now to serve her in good stead, and I now saw what a lucky thing it was that the case had been deposited safely on the reef, instead of be- ing thrown into the sea.
The sailors went off at once for their pikes, and Dowlas and his assistants, under the direction of Falsten, who, as an engineer, understood such matters, proceeded to hollow out a mine wherein to deposit the powder. At first we hoped that everything would be ready for the blasting to take place on the following morning, but when daylight appeared we found that the men, although they had labored with a will, had only been able to work for an hour at low water and that four tides must ebb before the mine had been sunk to the required depth.
Not until eight o'clock on the morning of the 23d was the work complete. The hole was bored obliquely in the rock, and was large enough to contain about ten pounds of explosive matter. Just as the picrate was being introduced into the aperture, Falsten interposed:
"Stop," he said, "I think it will be best to mix the picrate with common powder, as that will allow us to fire the mine with a match instead of the gun-priming which would be necessary to produce a shock.