I felt, it is true, that there was some great void within myself, but the sensation was quite as much moral as physical. My head was so heavy that I could not hold it up; it was swim- ming with giddiness, as though I were looking over a precipice.
My symptoms were not shared by all my companions, some of whom endured the most frightful tortures. Dow- las and the boatswain especially, who were naturally large eaters, uttered involuntary cries of agony, and were obliged to gird themselves tightly with ropes to subdue the excru- ciating pain that was gnawing their very vitals.
And this was only the second day of our misery! What would we not have given for half, nay, for a quarter of the meager ration which a few days back we deemed so inade- quate to supply our wants, and which now, eked out crumb by crumb, might, perhaps, serve for several days? In the streets of a besieged city, dire as the distress may be, some gutter, some rubbish-heap, some corner may yet be found that will furnish a dry bone or a scrap of refuse that may for a moment allay the pangs of hunger; but these bare planks, so many times washed clean by the relentless waves, offer nothing to our eager search, and after every fragment of food that the wind has carried into the interstices has been scraped out and devoured, our resources are literally at an end.
The nights seem even longer than the days. Sleep, when it comes, brings no relief; it is rather a feverish stupor, broken and disturbed by frightful nightmares. Last night, however, overcome by fatigue, I managed to rest for sev- eral hours.
At six o'clock this morning I was roused by the sound of angry voices, and, starting up, I saw Owen and Jynxstrop, with Flaypole, Wilson, Burke, and Sandon, standing in a threatening attitude. They had taken posses- sion of the carpenter's tools, and now, armed with hatchets, chisels, and hammers, they were preparing to attack the captain, the boatswain, and Dowlas. I attached myself in a moment to Curtis's party. Falsten followed my ex- ample, and although our knives were the only weapons at our disposal, we were ready to defend ourselves to the very last extremity.
Owen and his men advanced toward us. The miserable wretches were all drunk, for during the night they had knocked a hole in the brandy-barrel, and had recklessly swal- lowed its contents. What they wanted they scarcely seemed to know, but Owen and Jynxstrop, not quite so much intox- icated as the rest, seemed to be urging them on to massacre the captain and the officers.
"Down with the captain! Overboard with Curtis! Owen shall take the command!" they shouted from time to time in their drunken fury; and, armed as they were, they appeared completely masters of the situation.
"Now, then, down with your arms!" said Curtis sternly, as he advanced to meet them.
"Overboard with the captain!" howled Owen, as by word and gesture he urged on his accomplices.
Curtis pushed aside the excited rascals, and, walking straight up to Owen, asked him what he wanted.
"What do we want? Why, we want no more captains; we are all equals now."
Poor stupid fool! as though misery and privation had not already reduced us all to the same level.
"Owen," said the captain once again, "down with your arms!"
"Come on, all of you," shouted Owen to his companions, without giving the slightest heed to Curtis's words.
A regular struggle ensued. Owen and Wilson attacked Curtis, who defended himself with a piece of spar; Burke and Flaypole rushed upon Falsten and the boatswain, while I was left to confront the negro Jynxstrop, who attempted to strike me with the hammer which he brandished in his hand. I endeavored to paralyze his movements by pinioning his arms, but the rascal was my superior in muscular strength. After wrestling for a few minutes, I felt that he was getting the mastery over me, when all of a sudden he rolled over on to the platform, dragging me with him. Andre Letour- neur had caught hold of one of his legs, and thus saved my life.