One cask of biscuit, an- other of preserved meat, a small keg of brandy, and two barrels of water complete our store, so that the utmost frugality in the distribution of our daily rations becomes absolutely necessary.
Of spare clothes we have positively none; a few sails will serve for shelter by day, and covering by night. Dowlas has his carpenter's tools, we have each a pocket- knife, and O'Ready an old tin pot, of which he takes the most tender care; in addition to these, we are in possession of a sextant, a compass, a chart, and a metal tea-kettle, everything else that was placed on deck in readiness for the first raft having been lost in the partial submersion of the vessel.
Such then is our situation; critical indeed, but after all perhaps not desperate. We have one great fear; some there are among us whose courage, moral as well as physical, may give way, and over failing spirits such as these we may have no control.
CHAPTER XXXI FIRST DAY ON THE RAFT
DECEMBER 7 continued. -- Our first day on the raft has passed without any special incident. At eight o'clock this morning Curtis asked our attention for a moment.
"My friends," he said, "listen to me. Here on this raft, just as when we were on board the Chancellor, I consider myself your captain; and as your captain, I expect that all of you will strictly obey my orders. Let me beg of you, one and all, to think solely of our common welfare; let us work with one heart and with one soul, and may Heaven protect us!"
After delivering these few words with an emotion that evidenced their earnestness, the captain consulted his com- pass, and found that the freshening breeze was blowing from the north. This was fortunate for us, and no time was to be lost in taking advantage of it to speed us on our dubious way. Dowlas was occupied in fixing the mast into the socket that had already been prepared for its reception, and in order to support it more firmly he placed spurs of wood, forming arched buttresses, on either side. While he was thus employed the boatswain and the other seamen were stretching the large royal sail on the yard that had been reserved for that purpose.
By half-past nine the mast was hoisted, and held firmly in its place by some shrouds attached securely to the sides of the raft; then the sail was run up and trimmed to the wind, and the raft began to make a perceptible progress under the brisk breeze.
As soon as we had once started, the carpenter set to work to contrive some sort of a rudder, that would enable us to maintain our desired direction. Curtis and Falsten assisted him with some serviceable suggestions, and in a couple of hours' time he had made and fixed to the back of the raft a kind of paddle, very similar to those used by the Malays.
At noon, after the necessary preliminary observations, Curtis took the altitude of the sun. The result gave lat. 15 deg. 7' N. by long. 49 deg. 35' W. as our position, which, on consulting the chart, proved to be about 650 miles northeast of the coast of Paramaribo in Dutch Guiana.
Now even under the most favorable circumstances, with trade-winds and weather always in our favor, we can not by any chance hope to make more than ten or twelve miles a day, so that the voyage cannot possibly be performed under a period of two months. To be sure there is the hope to be indulged that we may fall in with a passing vessel, but as the part of the Atlantic into which we have been driven is intermediate between the tracks of the French and English transatlantic steamers either from the Antilles or the Brazils, we cannot reckon at all upon a contingency happen- ing in our favor; while if a calm should set in, or worse still, if the wind were to blow from the east, not only two months, but twice, nay, three times that length of time will be required to accomplish the passage.
At best, however, our provisions, even though used with the greatest care, will barely last three months. Curtis has called us into consultation, and as the working of the raft does not require such labor as to exhaust our physical strength, all have agreed to submit to a regimen which, although it will suffice to keep us alive, will certainly not fully satisfy the cravings of hunger and thirst.