Accordingly the carpenter and the boatswain set to work and made lines out of some untwisted hemp, to which they fixed some nails that they pulled out of the flooring of the raft, and bent into proper shape. The boatswain regarded his device with evident satisfaction.
"I don't mean to say," said he to me, "that these nails are first-rate fish-hooks; but, one thing I do know, and that is, with proper bait they will act as well as the best. But this biscuit is no good at all. Let me but just get hold of one fish, and I shall know fast enough how to use it to catch some more."
And the true difficulty was how to catch the first fish. It was evident that fish were not abundant in these waters, nevertheless the lines were cast. But the biscuit with which they were baited dissolved at once in the water, and we did not get a single bite. For two days the attempt was made in vain, and as it only involved what seemed a lavish waste of our only means of subsistence, it was given up in de- spair.
To-day, the 30th, as a last resource, the boatswain tried what a piece of colored rag might do by way of attracting some voracious fish, and having obtained from Miss Her- bey a little piece of the red shawl she wears, he fastened it to his hook. But still no success; for when, after several hours, he examined his lines, the crimson shred was still hanging intact as he had fixed it. The man was quite dis- couraged at his failure.
"But there will be plenty of bait before long," he said to me in a solemn undertone.
"What do you mean?" said I, struck by his significant manner.
"You'll know soon enough," he answered.
What did he insinuate? The words, coming from a man usually so reserved, have haunted me all night.
CHAPTER XXXVIII MUTINY AGAIN
JANUARY 1 to 5. -- More than three months had elapsed since we left Charleston in the Chancellor, and for no less than twenty days had we now been borne along on our raft at the mercy of the wind and waves. Whether we were approaching the American coast, or whether we were drift- ing farther and farther to sea, it was now impossible to de- termine, for, in addition to the other disasters caused by the hurricane, the captain's instruments had been hopelessly smashed, and Curtis had no longer any compass by which to direct his course, nor a sextant by which he might make an observation.
Desperate, however, as our condition might be judged, hope did not entirely abandon our hearts, and day after day, hour after hour were our eyes strained toward the far horizon, and many and many a time did our imagination shape out the distant land. But ever and again the illusion vanished; a cloud, a mist, perhaps even a wave, was all that had deceived us; no land, no sail ever broke the gray line that united sea and sky, and our raft remained the center of the wide and dreary waste.
On the 1st of January, we swallowed our last morsel of biscuit. The first of January! New Year's Day! What a rush of sorrowful recollections overwhelmed our minds! Had we not always associated the opening of another year with new hopes, new plans, and coming joys? And now, where were we? Could we dare to look at one another, and breathe a New Year's greeting?
The boatswain approached me with a peculiar look on his countenance.
"You are surely not going to wish me a happy New Year?" I said.
"No indeed, sir," he replied, "I was only going to wish you well through the first day of it; and that is pretty good assurance on my part, for we have not another crumb to eat."
True as it was, we scarcely realized the fact of there being actually nothing until on the following morning the hour came round for the distribution of the scanty ration, and then, indeed, the truth was forced upon us in a new and startling light. Toward evening I was seized with violent pains in the stomach, accompanied by a constant desire to yawn and gape that was most distressing; but in a couple of hours the extreme agony passed away, and on the 3d I was surprised to find that I did not suffer more.