The unfortunate lady suffers greatly, and sometimes I am inclined to think that she will succumb to the exposure and privation. Not once had her husband troubled himself about her; but when shortly after- ward I heard him hail some of the sailors on the fore-castle and ask them to help him down from the foretop, I began to think that the selfish fellow was coming to join his wife.
At first the sailors took no notice of his request, but on his repeating it with the promise of paying them handsomely for their services, two of them, Burke and Sandon, swung themselves along the netting into the shrouds, and were soon at his side.
A long discussion ensued. The men evidently were ask- ing more than Mr. Kear was inclined to give, and at one time it seemed as though the negotiation would fall through altogether. But at length the bargain was struck, and I saw Mr. Kear take a bundle of paper dollars from his waistcoat pocket, and hand a number of them over to one of the men. The man counted them carefully, and from the time it took him, I should think that he could not have pocketed anything less than a hundred dollars.
The next business was to get Mr. Kear down from the foretop, and Burke and Sandon proceeded to tie a rope round his waist, which they afterward fastened to the fore- stay; then, in a way which provoked shouts of laughter from their mates, they gave the unfortunate man a shove, and sent him rolling down like a bundle of dirty clothes on to the forecastle.
I was quite mistaken as to his object. Mr. Kear had no intention of looking after his wife, but remained by the side of Silas Huntly until the gathering darkness hid them both from view.
As night drew on, the wind grew calmer, but the sea re- mained very rough. The moon had been up ever since four in the afternoon, though she only appeared at rare intervals between the clouds. Some long lines of vapor on the hori- zon were tinged with a rosy glare that foreboded a strong breeze for the morrow, and all felt anxious to know from which quarter the breeze would come, for any but a north- easter would bear the frail raft on which we were to embark far away from land.
About eight o'clock in the evening, Curtis mounted to the main-top, but he seemed preoccupied and anxious, and did not speak to anyone. He remained for a quarter of an hour, then after silently pressing my hand, he returned to his old post.
I laid myself down in the narrow space at my disposal, and tried to sleep; but my mind was filled with strange fore- bodings, and sleep was impossible. The very calmness of the atmosphere was oppressive; scarcely a breath of air vibrated through the metal rigging, and yet the sea rose with a heavy swell as though it felt the warnings of a coming tempest.
All at once, at about eleven o'clock, the moon burst brightly forth through a rift in the clouds, and the waves sparkled again as if illuminated by a submarine glimmer. I start up and look around me. Is it merely imagination? or do I really see a black speck floating, on the dazzling white- ness of the waters, a speck that cannot be a rock, because it rises and falls with the heaving motion of the billows? But the moon once again becomes overclouded; the sea is darkened, and I return to my uneasy couch close to the lar- board shrouds.
CHAPTER XXVII THE WHALE-BOAT MISSING
DECEMBER 6. -- I must have fallen asleep for a few hours, when, at four o'clock in the morning, I was rudely aroused by the roaring of the wind, and could distinguish Curtis's voice as he shouted in the brief intervals between the heavy gusts.
I got up, and holding tightly to the purlin -- for the waves made the masts tremble with their violence -- I tried to look around and below me. The sea was literally raging beneath, and great masses of livid-looking foam were dashing be- tween the masts, which were oscillating terrifically. It was still dark, and I could only faintly distinguish two figures in the stern, whom, by the sound of their voices, that I caught occasionally above the tumult, I made out to be Curtis and the boatswain.