I tried to go to his assistance, and had already untied the cord that was around me; but I was too late.

Another heavy sea dashed over us, and by the light of a dazzling flash I saw the unhappy man, although he had managed without assistance to disengage his foot, washed overboard before it was in my power to get near him. His companion had also disappeared.

The same ponderous wave laid me prostrate on the plat- form, and as my head came in collision with the corner of a spar, for a time I lost all consciousness.

CHAPTER XXXVI WE LOSE NEARLY ALL OUR PROVISIONS

DECEMBER 22. -- Daylight came at length, and the sun broke through and dispersed the clouds that the storm had left behind. The struggle of the elements, while it lasted, had been terrific, but the swoon into which I was thrown by my fall prevented me from observing the final incidents of the visitation. All that I know is, that shortly after we had shipped the heavy sea, that I have mentioned, a shower of rain had the effect of calming the severity of the hurri- cane, and tended to diminish the electric tension of the atmosphere.

Thanks to the kind care of M. Letourneur and Miss Her- bey, I recovered consciousness, but I believe that it is to Robert Curtis that I owe my real deliverance, for he it was that prevented me from being carried away by a second heavy wave.

The tempest, fierce as it was, did not last more than a few hours; but even in that short space of time what an irrepar- able loss we have sustained, and what a load of misery seems stored up for us in the future!

Of the two sailors who perished in the storm, one was Austin, a fine active young man of about eight-and-twenty; the other was old O'Ready, the survivor of so many ship- wrecks. Our party is thus reduced to sixteen souls, leav- ing a total barely exceeding half the number of those who embarked on board the Chancellor at Charleston.

Curtis's first care had been to take a strict account of the remnant of our provisions. Of all the torrents of rain that fell in the night we were unhappily unable to catch a single drop; but water will not fail us yet, for about four- teen gallons still remain in the bottom of the broken barrel, while the second barrel has not been touched. But of food we have next to nothing. The cases containing the dried meat, and the fish that we had preserved, have both been washed away, and all that now remains to us is about sixty pounds of biscuit. Sixty pounds of biscuit between sixteen persons! Eight days, with half a pound a day apiece, will consume it all.

The day has passed away in silence. A general depres- sion has fallen upon all; the specter of famine has appeared among us, and each has remained wrapped in his own gloomy meditations, though each has doubtless but one idea dominant in his mind.

Once, as I passed near the group of sailors lying on the fore part of the raft, I heard Flaypole say with a sneer:

"Those who are going to die had better make haste about it."

"Yes," said Owen, "and leave their share of food to others."

At the regular hour each person received his half-pound of biscuit. Some, I noticed, swallowed it ravenously; others reserved it for another time. Falsten divided his ration into several portions, corresponding, I believe, to the number of meals to which he was ordinarily accustomed. What prudence he shows! If any one survives this misery, I think it will be he.

CHAPTER XXXVII LIEUTENANT WALTER'S CONDITION

DECEMBER 23 to 30. -- After the storm the wind settled back into its old quarter, blowing pretty briskly from the northeast. As the breeze was all in our favor it was im- portant to make the most of it, and after Dowlas had care- fully readjusted the mast, the sail was once more hoisted, and we were carried along at the rate of two or two and a half knots an hour. A new rudder, formed of a spar and a good-sized plank, has been fitted in the place of the one we lost, but with the wind in its present quarter it is in little requisition.

Jules Verne
French Authors
All Pages of This Book