At length, after exertions that almost exhausted us, the water became agitated by the violent flappings of the tail and fins; and looking down I saw the huge carcass of the shark writhing convulsively amid waves that were stained with blood.
"Steady! steady!" said the boatswain, as the head ap- peared above
The whirl had passed right through the jaw into the mid- dle of the throat, so that no struggle on the part of the ani- mal could possibly release it. Dowlas seized the hatchet, ready to dispatch the brute the moment it should be landed on the raft. A short sharp snap was heard. The shark had closed its jaws, and bitten through the wooden handle of the hammer. Another moment and it had turned round and was completely gone.
A howl of despair burst from all our lips. All the labor and the patience, all had been in vain. Dowlas made a few more unsuccessful attempts, but as the whirl was lost, and they had no means of replacing it, there was no further room for hope. They did, indeed, lower some cords twisted into running knots, but (as might have been ex- pected) these only slipped over, without holding, the slimy bodies of the sharks. As a last resource the boatswain allowed his naked leg to hang over the side of the raft; the monsters, however, were proof even against this at- traction.
Reduced once again to a gloomy despondency, all turned to their places, to await the end that can not now be long deferred.
Just as I moved away I heard the boatswain say to Curtis:
"Captain, when shall we draw lots?"
The captain made no reply.
CHAPTER XLV OUR THIRST RELIEVED
JANUARY 16. -- If the crew of any passing vessel had caught sight of us as we lay still and inanimate upon our sail-cloth, they would scarcely, at first sight, have hesitated to pronounce us dead.
My sufferings were terrible; tongue, lips, and throat were so parched and swollen that if food had been at hand I question whether I could have swallowed it. So ex- asperated were the feelings of us all, however, that we glanced at each other with looks as savage as though we were about to slaughter and without delay eat up one an- other.
The heat was aggravated by the atmosphere being some- what stormy. Heavy vapors gathered on the horizon, and there was a look as if it were raining all around. Longing eyes and gasping mouths turned involuntarily toward the clouds, and M. Letourneur, on bended knee, was raising his hands, as it might be in supplication to the relentless skies.
It was eleven o'clock in the morning. I listened for dis- tant rumblings which might announce an approaching storm, but although the vapors had obstructed the sun's rays, they no longer presented the appearance of being charged with electricity. Thus our prognostications ended in disappointment; the clouds, which in the early morning had been marked by the distinctness of their outline, had melted one into another and assumed an uniform dull gray tint; in fact, we were enveloped in an ordinary fog. But was it not still possible that this fog might turn to rain?
Happily this hope was destined to be realized; for in a very short time, Dowlas, with a shout of delight, declared that rain was actually coming; and sure enough, not half a mile from the raft, the dark parallel streaks against the sky testified that there at least rain was falling. I fancied I could see the drops rebounding from the surface of the water. The wind was fresh and bringing the cloud right on toward us, yet we could not suppress our trepidation lest it should exhaust itself before it reached us.
But no; very soon large heavy drops began to fall, and the storm-cloud, passing over our heads, was outpouring its contents upon us. The shower, however, was very transient; already a bright streak of light along the horizon marked the limit of the cloud and warned us that we must be quick to make the most of what it had to give us. Curtis had placed the broken barrel in the position that was most exposed, and every sail was spread out to the fullest extent our dimensions would allow.