I looked again, but the spot was no longer there. If it were a ship, that ship had disappeared; but probably it had been a mere reflection, or, more likely still, only the crest of some curling wave.
A deep dejection followed this phantom ray of hope. All returned to their accustomed places. Curtis alone remained motionless, but his eye no longer scanned the distant view.
Owen now began to shriek more wildly than ever. He presented truly a most melancholy sight; he writhed with the most hideous contortions, and had all the appearance of suffering from tetanus. His throat was contracted by re- peated spasms, his tongue was parched, his body swollen, and his pulse, though feeble, was rapid and irregular. The poor wretch's symptoms were precisely such as to lead us to sus- pect that he had taken some corrosive poison. Of course it was quite out of our power to administer any antidote; all that we could devise was to make him swallow something that might act as an emetic. I asked Curtis for a little of the lukewarm water. As the contents of the broken barrel were now exhausted, the captain, in order to comply with my request, was about to tap the other barrel, when Owen started suddenly to his knees, and with a wild, unearthly shriek, exclaimed:
"No! no! no! of that water I will not touch a drop."
I supposed he did not understand what we were going to do, and endeavored to explain; but all in vain; he persisted in refusing to taste the water in the second barrel. I then tried to induce vomiting by tickling his uvula, and he brought off some bluish secretion from his stomach, the character of which confirmed our previous suspicions -- that he had been poisoned by oxide of copper. We now felt convinced that any effort on our part to save him would be of no avail. The vomiting, however, had for the time relieved him, and he was able to speak.
Curtis and I both implored him to let us know what he had taken to bring about consequences so serious. His reply fell upon us as a startling blow.
The ill-fated wretch had stolen several pints of water from the barrel that had been untouched, and that water had poisoned him!
CHAPTER XLIII OWEN'S DEATH
JANUARY 11 to 14. -- Owen's convulsions returned with in- creased violence, and in the course of the night he expired in terrible agony. His body was thrown overboard almost directly, it had decomposed so rapidly that the flesh had not even consistency enough for any fragments of it to be re- served for the boatswain to use to bait his lines. A plague the man had been to us in his life; in his death he was now of no service!
And now, perhaps still more than ever, did the horror of our situation stare us in the face. There was no doubt that the poisoned barrel had at some time or other contained copperas; but what strange fatality had converted it into a water cask, or what fatality, stranger still, had caused it to be brought on board the raft, was a problem that none could solve. Little, however, did it matter now; the fact was evi- dent -- the barrel was poisoned, and of water we had not a drop.
One and all, we fell into the gloomiest silence. We were too irritable to bear the sound of each other's voices; and it did not require a word -- a mere look or gesture was enough -- to provoke us to anger that was little short of madness. How it was that we did not all become raving maniacs, I can- not tell.
Throughout the 12th no drain of moisture crossed our lips, and not a cloud arose to warrant the expectation of a passing shower; in the shade, if shade it might be called, the thermometer would have registered at least 100 deg., and per- haps considerably more.
No change next day. The salt water began to chafe my legs, but although the smarting was at times severe, it was an inconvenience to which I gave little heed; others who had suffered from the same trouble had become no worse. Oh! if this water that surrounds us could be reduced to vapor or to ice! its particles of salt extracted, it would be available for drink.