The Chancellor's last day, we felt, had come.
Fortunately the raft was all but finished, and unless Curtis preferred to wait till morning, we should be able to embark in the evening.
The raft is a very solid structure. The spars that form the framework are crossed one above another and lashed together with stout ropes, so that the whole pile rises a couple of feet above the water. The upper platform is con- structed from the planks that were broken from the ship's sides by the violence of the waves, and which had not drifted away. The afternoon has been employed in charging the raft with such provisions, sails, tools, and instruments as we have been able to save.
And how can I attempt to give any idea of the feelings with which, one and all, we now contemplated the fate be- fore us? For my own part, I was possessed rather by a benumbed indifference than by any sense of genuine resigna- tion. M. Letourneur was entirely absorbed in his son, who, in his turn, thought only of his father, at the same time exhibiting a Christian fortitude, which was shown by no one else of the party except Miss Herbey, who faced her danger with the same brave composure. Incredible as it may seem, Falsten remained the same as ever, occupying himself with writing down figures and memoranda in his pocketbook. Mrs. Kear, in spite of all that Miss Herbey could do for her, was evidently dying.
With regard to the sailors, two or three of them were calm enough, but the rest had well-nigh lost their wits. Some of the more ill-disposed among them seemed inclined to run into excesses; and their conduct, under the bad in- fluence of Owen and Jynxstrop, made it doubtful whether they would submit to control when once we were limited to the narrow dimensions of the raft. Lieutenant Walter, al- though his courage never failed him, was worn out with bodily fatigue, and obliged to give up all active labor; but Curtis and the boatswain were resolute, energetic and firm as ever. To borrow an expression from the language of metallurgic art, they were men "at the highest degree of hardness."
At five o'clock one of our companions in misfortune was released from her sufferings. Mrs. Kear, after a most dis- tressing illness, through which her young companion tended her with the most devoted care, has breathed her last. A few deep sighs and all was over, and I doubt whether the sufferer was ever conscious of the peril of her situation.
The night passed on without further incident. Toward morning I touched the dead woman's hand, and it was cold and stiff. The corpse could not remain any longer on the main-top, and after Miss Herbey and I had carefully wrapped the garments about it, with a few short prayers the body of the first victim of our miseries was committed to the deep.
As the sea closed over the body I heard one of the men in the shrouds say:
"There goes a carcass that we shall be sorry we have thrown away!"
I looked round sharply. It was Owen who had spoken. But horrible as were his words, the conviction was forced upon my mind that the day could not be far distant when we must want for food.
CHAPTER XXIX WE EMBARK ON THE RAFT
DECEMBER 7. -- The ship was sinking rapidly; the water had risen to the fore-top; the poop and forecastle were completely submerged; the top of the bowsprit had disap- peared, and only the three mast-tops projected from the waves.
But all was ready on the raft; an erection had been made on the fore to hold a mast, which was supported by shrouds fastened to the sides of the platform; this mast carried a large royal.
Perhaps, after all, these few frail planks will carry us to the shore which the Chancellor has failed to reach; at any rate, we cannot yet resign all hope.
We were just on the point of embarking at 7 A. M. when the Chancellor all at once began to sink so rapidly that the carpenter and men who were on the raft were obliged with all speed to cut the ropes that secured it to the vessel, to pre- vent it from being swallowed up in the eddying waters.