Anxiety, the most intense, took possession of us all. At the very moment when the ship was descending into the fathomless abyss, the raft, our only hope of safety, was drifting off before our eyes. Two of the sailors and an apprentice, beside themselves with terror, threw themselves headlong into the sea; but it was evident from the very first they were quite powerless to combat the winds and waves. Escape was impossible; they could neither reach the raft nor return to the ship. Curtis tied a rope round his waist and tried to swim to their assistance; but long be- fore he could reach them, the unfortunate men, after a vain struggle for life, sank below the waves and were seen no more. Curtis, bruised and beaten with the surf that raged about the mast-heads, was hauled back to the ship.
Meantime, Dowlas and his men, by means of some spars which they used as oars, were exerting themselves to bring back the raft, which had drifted about two cables'-lengths away; but, in spite of all their efforts, it was fully an hour -- an hour which seemed to us, waiting as we were with the water up to the level of the top masts, like an eternity -- be- fore they succeeded in bringing the raft alongside, and lash- ing it once again to the Chancellor's main-mast.
Not a moment was then to be lost. The waves were eddying like a whirlpool around the submerged vessel, and numbers of enormous airbubbles were rising to the surface of the water.
The time was come. At Curtis's word, "Embark!" we all hurried to the raft. Andre, who insisted upon seeing Miss Herbey go first, was helped safely on to the platform, where his father immediately joined him. In a very few minutes all except Curtis and old O'Ready had left the Chancellor.
Curtis remained standing on the main-top, deeming it not only his duty, but his right, to be the last to leave the vessel he had loved so well, and the loss of which he so much de- plored.
"Now then, old fellow, off of this!" cried the captain to the old Irishman, who did not move.
"And is it quite sure ye are that she's sinkin'?" he said.
"Ay, ay! sure enough, my man; and you'd better look sharp."
"Faith, then, and I think I will;" and not a moment too soon (for the water was up to his waist) he jumped on to the raft.
Having cast one last, lingering look around him, Curtis then left the ship; the rope was cut, and we went slowly adrift.
All eyes were fixed upon the spot where the Chancellor lay foundering. The top of the mizzen was the first to dis- appear, then followed the main-top; and soon, of what had been a noble vessel, not a vestige was to be seen.
CHAPTER XXX OUR SITUATION CRITICAL
WILL this frail boat, forty feet by twenty, bear us in safety? Sink it cannot; the material of which it is com- posed is of a kind that must surmount the waves. But it is questionable whether it will hold together. The cords that bind it will have a tremendous strain to bear in resist- ing the violence of the sea. The most sanguine among us trembles to face the future; the most confident dares to think only of the present. After the manifold perils of the last seventy-two days' voyage all are too agitated to look forward without dismay to what in all human probability must be a time of the direst distress.
Vain as the task may seem, I will not pause in my work of registering the events of our drama, as scene after scene they are unfolded before our eyes.
Of the twenty-eight persons who left Charleston in the Chancellor, only eighteen are left to huddle together upon this narrow raft; this number includes the five passengers, namely, M. Letourneur, Andre, Miss Herbey, Falsten, and myself; the ship's officers, Captain Curtis, Lieutenant Wal- ter, the boatswain, Hobart the steward, Jynxstrop the cook, and Dowlas the carpenter; and seven sailors, Austin, Owen, Wilson, O'Ready, Burke, Sandon, and Flaypole.
Such are the passengers on the raft; it is but a brief task to enumerate their resources.
The greater part of the provisions in the store-room were destroyed at the time when the ship's deck was submerged, and the small quantity that Curtis has been able to save will be very inadequate to supply the wants of eighteen people, who too probably have many days to wait ere they sight either land or a passing vessel.