Hatchet or saw in hand, the carpenter and his assistants made a beginning without delay, by cutting and trimming the spare yards and extra spars to a proper length. These were then lowered into the sea -- which was propitiously calm -- so as to favor the operation (which otherwise would have been very difficult) of lashing them together into a firm framework, about forty feet long and twenty-five feet wide, upon which the platform was to be supported.
I kept my own place steadily at the pumps, and Andre Le- tourneur worked at my side. I often noticed his father glance at him sorrowfully, as though he wondered what would become of him if he had to struggle with waves to which even the strongest man could hardly fail to succumb. But come what may, his father will never forsake him, and I myself shall not be wanting in rendering him whatever assistance I can.
Mrs. Kear, who had been for some time in a state of drowsy unconsciousness, was not informed of the immediate danger; but when Miss Herbey, looking somewhat pale with fatigue, paid one of her flying visits to the deck, I warned her to take every precaution for herself, and to be ready for any emergency.
"Thank you, doctor, I am always ready," she cheerfully replied, and returned to her duties below. I saw Andre follow the young girl with his eyes, and a look of melancholy interest passed over his countenance.
Toward eight o'clock in the evening the framework for the raft was almost complete, and the men were lower- ing empty barrels, which had first been securely bunged, and were lashing them to the woodwork to insure its floating.
Two hours later and suddenly there arose the startling cry, "We are sinking! we are sinking!"
Up to the poop rushed Mr. Kear, followed immediately by Falsten and Miss Herbey, who were bearing the inan- imate form of Mrs. Kear. Curtis ran to his cabin, instantly returning with a chart, a sextant, and a compass in his hand.
The scene that followed will ever be engraven in my memory; the cries of distress, the general confusion, the frantic rush of the sailors toward the raft that was not yet ready to support them, can never be forgotten. The whole period of my life seemed to be concentrated into that terrible moment when the planks bent below my feet and the ocean yawned beneath me.
Some of the sailors had taken their delusive refuge in the shrouds, and I was preparing to follow them when a hand was laid upon my shoulder.. Turning round I beheld M. Letourneur, with tears in his eyes, pointing toward his son. "Yes, my friend," I said, pressing his hand, "we will save him, if possible."
But Curtis had already caught hold of the young man, and was hurrying him to the main-mast shrouds, when the Chancellor, which had been scudding along rapidly with the wind, stopped suddenly, with a violent shock, and began to settle. The sea rose over my ankles, and almost instinc- tively I clutched at the nearest rope. All at once, when it seemed all over, the ship ceased to sink, and hung motionless in mid-ocean.
CHAPTER XXV WHILE THERE'S LIFE THERE'S HOPE
NIGHT of December 4. -- Curtis caught young Letourneur again in his arms, and, running with him across the flooded deck, deposited him safely in the starboard shrouds, whither his father and I climbed up beside him.
I now had time to look about me. The night was not very dark, and I could see that Curtis had returned to his post upon the poop; while in the extreme aft near the taff- rail, which was still above water, I could distinguish the forms of Mr. and Mrs. Kear, Miss Herbey, and Mr. Fal- sten. The lieutenant and the boatswain were on the far end of the forecastle; the remainder of the crew in the shrouds and top-masts.
By the assistance of his father, who carefully guided his feet up the rigging, Andre was hoisted into the main-top. Mrs. Kear could not be induced to join him in his elevated position, in spite of being told that if the wind were to freshen she would inevitably be washed overboard by the waves; nothing could induce her to listen to remonstrances, and she insisted upon remaining on the poop -- Miss Herbey, of course, staying by her side.