Toward two o'clock in the morning I was myself prepar- ing to go to my cabin, when Burke, one of the sailors who had been down into the hold, came on deck with the cry:
"Two feet of water below."
In an instant Curtis and the boatswain had descended the ladder. The startling news was only too true; the sea-water was entering the hold, but whether the leak had sprung afresh, or whether the caulking in some of the seams was insufficient, it was then impossible to determine; all that could be done was to let the ship go with the wind, and wait for day.
At daybreak they sounded again -- "Three feet of water!" was the report. I glanced at Curtis -- his lips were white, but he had not lost his self-possession. He quietly in- formed such of the passengers as were already on deck of the new danger that threatened us; it was better that they should know the worst, and the fact could not be long con- cealed. I told M. Letourneur that I could not help hoping that there might yet be time to reach the land before the last crisis came. Falsten was about to give vent to an expres- sion of despair, but he was soon silenced by Miss Herbey asserting her confidence that all would yet be well.
Curtis at once divided the crew into two sets, and made them work incessantly, turn and turn about, at the pumps. The men applied themselves to their task with resignation rather than with ardor; the labor was hard and scarcely re- paid them; the pumps were constantly getting out of order, the valves being choked up by the ashes and bits of cotton that were floating about in the hold, while every moment that was spent in cleaning or repairing them was so much time lost.
Slowly but surely the water continued to rise, and on the following morning the soundings gave five feet for its depth. I noticed that Curtis's brow contracted each time that the boatswain or the lieutenant brought him their report. There was no doubt it was only a question of time, and not for an instant must the efforts for keeping down the level be re- laxed. Already the ship had sunk a foot lower in the water, and as her weight increased she no longer rose buoyantly with the waves, but pitched and rolled considerably.
All yesterday and last night the pumping continued, but still the sea gained upon us. The crew are weary and dis- couraged, but the second officer and the boatswain set them a fine example of endurance, and the passengers have now begun to take their turn at the pumps.
But all are conscious of toiling almost against hope; we are no longer secured firmly to the solid soil of the Ham Rock reef, but we are floating over an abyss which daily, nay hourly, threatens to swallow us into its depths.
CHAPTER XXIII AN ATTEMPT AT MUTINY
DECEMBER 2 and 3. -- For four hours we have succeeded in keeping the water in the hold to one level; now, however, it is very evident that the time cannot be far distant when the pumps will be quite unequal to their task.
Yesterday Curtis, who does not allow himself a minute's rest, made a personal inspection of the hold. I, with the boatswain and carpenter, accompanied him. After dislodg- ing some of the bales of cotton we could hear a splashing, or rather gurgling sound; but whether the water was enter- ing at the original aperture, or whether it found its way in through a general dislocation of the seams, we were unable to discover. But, whichever might be the case, Curtis de- termined to try a plan which, by cutting off communication between the interior and exterior of the vessel, might, if only for a few hours, render her hull more water-tight. For this purpose he had some strong, well tarred sails drawn upward by ropes from below the keel, as high as the previous leak- ing place, and then fastened closely and securely to the side of the hull. The scheme was dubious, and the operation difficult, but for a time it was effectual, and at the close of the day the level of the water had actually been reduced by several inches. The diminution was small enough, but the consciousness that more water was escaping through the scupper-holes than was finding its way into the hold gave us fresh courage to persevere with our work.