Living, did I say? Ay, if such an existence as ours could be called a life, fourteen of us were living still. Who would be the next to go? We should then be thirteen.
"An unlucky number!" said Andre, with a mournful smile.
During the night the boatswain cast his lines from the stern of the raft, and, unwilling to trust them to anyone else, remained watching them himself. In the morning I went to ascertain what success had attended his patience. It was scarcely light, and with eager eyes he was peering down into the water. He had neither seen nor heard me coming.
"Well, boatswain!" I said, touching him on the shoulder.
He turned round quickly.
"Those villainous sharks have eaten every morsel of my bait," he said, in a desponding voice.
"And you have no more left?" I asked.
"No more," he said. Then grasping my arm, he added, "and that only shows me that it is no good doing things by halves."
The truth flashed upon me at once, and I laid my hand upon his mouth. Poor Walter!
CHAPTER XLII OXIDE OF COPPER POISONING
JANUARY 9 and10. -- On the 9th the wind dropped, and there was a dead calm; not a ripple disturbed the surface of the long undulations as they rose and fell beneath us; and if it were not for the slight current which is carrying us we know not whither, the raft would be absolutely stationary.
The heat was intolerable; our thirst more intolerable still; and now it was that for the first time I fully realized how the insufficiency of drink could cause torture more unendurable than the pangs of hunger. Mouth, throat, pharynx, all alike were parched and dry, every gland becoming hard as horn under the action of the hot air we breathed. At my urgent solicitation, the captain was for once induced to double our allowance of water; and this relaxation of the ordinary rule enabled us to attempt to slake our thirst four times in the day, instead of only twice. I use the word "attempt" advisedly; for the water at the bottom of the barrel though kept covered by a sail, became so warm that it was perfectly flat and unrefreshing.
It was a most trying day, and the sailors relapsed into a condition of deep despondency. The moon was nearly full, but when she rose the breeze did not return. Continuance of high temperature in daytime is a sure proof that we have been carried far to the south, and here, on this illimitable ocean, we have long ceased even to look for land; it might almost seem as though this globe of ours had veritably be- come a liquid sphere!
To-day we are still becalmed, and the temperature is as high as ever. The air is heated like a furnace, and the sun scorches like fire. The torments of famine are all forgotten; our thoughts are concentrated with fevered expectation upon the longed-for moment when Curtis shall dole out the scanty measure of lukewarm water that makes up our ration. Oh for one good draught, even if it should exhaust the whole supply! At least, it seems as if we then could die in peace!
About noon we were startled by sharp cries of agony, and looking round, I saw Owen writhing in the most horrible convulsions. I went toward him, for, detestable as his con- duct had been, common humanity prompted me to see whether I could afford him any relief. But before I reached him, a shout from Flaypole arrested my attention. The man was up in the mast, and with great excitement pointing to the east.
"A ship! A ship!" he cried.
In an instant all were on their feet. Even Owen stopped his cries and stood erect. It was quite true that in the direc- tion indicated by Flaypole there was a white speck visible upon the horizon. But did it move? Would the sailors with their keen vision pronounce it to be a sail? A silence the most profound fell upon us all. I glanced at Curtis as he stood with folded arms intently gazing at the distant point. His brow was furrowed, and he contracted every fea- ture, as with half-closed eyes he concentrated his power of vision upon that one faint spot in the far off horizon.
But at length he dropped his arms and shook his head.