At half past twelve the captain and the boatswain con- sidered that the brig was about nine miles away; she had, therefore, gained only three miles in an hour and a half, and it was doubtful whether the light breeze that had been passing over our heads had reached her at all. I fancied, too, that her sails were no longer filled, but were hanging loose against her masts. Turning to the direction of the wind, I tried to make out some chance of a rising breeze; but no, the waves were calm and torpid, and the little puff of air that had aroused our hopes had died away across the sea.
I stood aft with M. Letourneur, Andre and Miss Herbey, and our glances perpetually wandered from the distant ship to our captain's face. Curtis stood leaning against the mast, with the boatswain by his side; their eyes seemed never for a moment to cease to watch the brig, but their countenances clearly expressed the varying emotions that passed through their minds. Not a word was uttered, nor was the silence broken, until the carpenter exclaimed, in accents of despair:
"She's putting about!"
All started up -- some to their knees, others to their feet. The boatswain dropped a frightful oath. The ship was still nine miles away, and at such a distance it was impossible for our signal to be seen; our tiny raft, a mere speck upon the waters, would be lost in the intense irradiation of the sun- beams. If only we could be seen, no doubt all would be well; no captain would have the barbarous inhumanity to leave us to our fate; but there had been no chance; only too well we knew that we had not been within range of sight.
"My friends," said Curtis, "we must make a fire; it is our last and only chance."
Some planks were quickly loosened and thrown into a heap upon the fore part of the raft. They were damp and troublesome to light; but the very dampness made the smoke more dense, and ere long a tall column of dusky fumes was rising straight upward in the air. If darkness should come on before the brig was completely out of view, the flames, we hoped might still be visible. But the hours passed on; the fire died out; and yet no signs of help.
The temper of resignation now deserted me entirely; faith, hope, confidence -- all vanished from my mind, and, like the boatswain, I swore long and loudly. A gentle hand was laid upon my arm, and turning round I saw Miss Herbey with her finger pointing to the sky. I could stand it no longer, but gliding underneath the tent I hid my face in my hands and wept aloud.
Meanwhile the brig had altered her track, and was moving slowly to the east. Three hours later and the keenest eye could not have discerned her top-sails above the horizon.
CHAPTER XLIV THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR
JANUARY 15. -- After this further shattering of our ex- cited hopes, death alone now stares us in the face; slow and lingering as that death may be, sooner or later it must in- evitably come.
To-day some clouds that rose in the west have brought us a few puffs of wind; and in spite of our prostration, we ap- preciate the moderation, slight as it is, in the temperature. To my parched throat the air seemed a little less trying; but it is now seven days since the boatswain took his haul of fish, and during that period we had eaten nothing; even Andre Letourneur finished yesterday, the last morsel of the biscuit which his sorrowful and self-denying father had in- trusted to my charge.
Jynxstrop, the negro, has broken loose from his confine- ment, but Curtis has taken no measures for putting him again under restraint. It is not to be apprehended that the miserable fellow and his accomplices, weakened as they are by their protracted fast, will attempt to do us any mischief now.
Some huge sharks made their appearance to-day, cleaving the water rapidly with their great black fins. The monsters came up close to the edge of the raft, and Flaypole, who was leaning over, narrowly escaped having his arm snapped off by one of them. I could not help regarding them as living sepulchers, which ere long might swallow up our miserable carcasses; yet, withal, I profess that my feelings were those of fascination rather than horror.