Just at that moment a sailor, who had mounted to the main-top to do something to the rigging, passed close be- hind me.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"The wind has changed," he answered, adding something which I could not hear distinctly, but which sounded like "dead against us."
Dead against us! then. thought I, the wind had shifted to the southwest, and my last night's forebodings had been correct.
When daylight at length appeared, I found the wind, al- though not blowing actually from the southwest, had veered round to the northwest, a change which was equally dis- astrous to us, inasmuch as it was carrying us away from land. Moreover, the ship had sunk considerably during the night, and there were now five feet of water above deck; the side netting had completely disappeared, and the fore- castle and the poop were now all but on a level with the sea, which washed over them incessantly. With all possible ex- pedition Curtis and his crew were laboring away at their raft, but the violence of the swell materially impeded their operations, and it became a matter of doubt as to whether the woodwork would not fall asunder before it could be properly fastened together.
As I watched the men at their work, M. Letourneur, with one arm supporting his son, came out and stood by my side.
"Don't you think this main-top will soon give way?" he said, as the narrow platform on which we stood creaked and groaned with the swaying of the masts.
Miss Herbey heard his words and pointing toward Mrs. Kear, who was lying prostrate at her feet, asked what we thought ought to be done.
"We can do nothing but stay where we are," I replied.
"No," said Andre, "this is our best refuge; I hope you are not afraid."
"Not for myself," said the young girl quietly, "only for those to whom life is precious."
At a quarter to eight we heard the boatswain calling to the sailors in the bows.
"Ay, ay, sir," said one of the men -- O'Ready, I think.
"Where's the whale-boat?" shouted the boatswain in a loud voice.
"I don't know, sir. Not with us," was the reply.
"She's gone adrift, then!"
And sure enough the whale-boat was no longer hanging from the bowsprit; and in a moment the discovery was made that Mr. Kear, Silas Huntly, and three sailors, -- a Scotch- man and two Englishmen, -- were missing. Afraid that the Chancellor would founder before the completion of the raft, Kear and Huntly had plotted together to effect their escape, and had bribed the three sailors to seize the only remaining boat.
This, then, was the black speck that I had seen during the night. The miserable husband had deserted his wife, the faithless captain had abandoned the ship that had once been under his command.
"There are five saved, then," said the boatswain.
"Faith, an it's five lost ye'll be maning," said O'Ready; and the state of the sea fully justified his opinion.
The crew were furious when they heard of the surrepti- tious flight, and loaded the fugitives with all the invectives they could lay their tongues to. So enraged were they at the dastardly trick of which they had been made the dupes, that if chance should bring the deserters again on board I should be sorry to answer for the consequences.
In accordance with my advice, Mrs. Kear has not been in- formed of her husband's disappearance. The unhappy lady is wasting away with a fever for which we are powerless to supply a remedy, for the medicine-chest was lost when the ship began to sink. Nevertheless, I do not think we have anything to regret on that score, feeling, as I do, that in a case like Mrs. Kear's, drugs would be of no avail.
CHAPTER XXVIII MRS. KEAR SUCCUMBS TO FEVER
DECEMBER 6 continued. -- The Chancellor no longer main- tained her equilibrium; we felt that she was gradually going down, and her hull was probably breaking up. The main- top was already only ten feet above water, while the bow- sprit, with the exception of the extreme end, that rose obliquely from the waves, was entirely covered.