These are now our only provisions.
CHAPTER XXVI MR. KEAR MAKES A BUSINESS DEAL
DECEMBER 5. -- The day was very hot. December in lati- tude 16 deg. N. is a summer month, and unless a breeze should rise to temper the burning sun, we might expect to suffer from an oppressive heat.
The sea still remained very rough, and as the heavy waves broke over the ship as though she were a reef, the foam flew up to the very top-masts, and our clothes were perpetually drenched by the spray.
The Chancellor's hull is three-fourths immerged; besides the three masts and the bowsprit, to which the whale-boat was suspended, the poop and the forecastle are the only por- tions that now are visible; and as the intervening section of the deck is quite below the water, these appear to be con- nected only by the framework of the netting that runs along the vessel's sides. Communication between the top-masts is extremely difficult, and would be absolutely precluded, were it not that the sailors, with practiced dexterity, manage to hoist themselves about by means of the stays. For the pas- sengers, cowering on their narrow and unstable platform, the spectacle of the raging sea below was truly terrific; every wave that dashed over the ship shook the masts till they trembled again, and one could venture scarcely to look or to think lest he should be tempted to cast himself into the vast abyss.
Meanwhile, the crew worked away with all their remain- ing vigor at the second raft, for which the top-gallants and yards were all obliged to be employed; the planks, too, which were continually being loosened and broken away by the violence of the waves from the partitions of the ship, were rescued before they had drifted out of reach, and were brought into use. The symptoms of the ship foundering did not appear to be immediate; so that Curtis insisted upon the raft being made with proper care to insure its strength; we were still several hundred miles from the coast of Guiana, and for so long a voyage it was indispensable to have a struc- ture of considerable solidity. The reasonableness of this was self-apparent, and as the crew had recovered their as- surance they spared no pains to accomplish their work effec- tually.
Of all the number, there was but one, an Irishman, named O'Ready, who seemed to question the utility of all their toil. He shook his head with an oracular gravity. He is an old- ish man, not less than sixty, with his hair and beard bleached with the storms of many travels. As I was making my way toward the poop, he came up to me and began talking.
"And why, bedad, I'd like to know, why is it that they'll all be afther lavin' the ship?"
He turned his quid with the most serene composure, and continued:
"And isn't it me myself that's been wrecked nine times already? and sure, poor fools are they that ever have put their trust in rafts or boats; sure and they found a wathery grave. Nay, nay; while the ould ship lasts, let's stick to her, says I."
Having thus unburdened his mind he relapsed into si- lence, and soon went away.
About three o'clock I noticed that Mr. Kear and Silas Huntly were holding an animated conversation in the fore- top. The petroleum merchant had evidently some difficulty in bringing the ex-captain round to his opinion, for I saw him several times shake his head as he gave long and scrutin- izing looks at the sea and sky. In less than an hour after- ward I saw Huntly let himself down by the forestays and clamber along to the fore-castle, where he joined the group of sailors, and I lost sight of him.
I attached little importance to the incident, and shortly afterward joined the party in the main-top, where we con- tinued talking for some hours. The heat was intense, and if it had not been for the shelter afforded by the sail-tent, would have been unbearable. At five o'clock we took as re- freshment some dried meat and biscuit, each individual be- ing also allowed half a glass of water. Mrs. Kear prostrate with fever, could not touch a mouthful; and nothing could be done by Miss Herbey to relieve her, beyond occasionally moistening her parched lips.