My brain is haunted by most horrible nightmares; not that I suppose I am in anyway more distressed than my companions, who are lying in their usual places, vainly endeavoring to forget their sufferings in sleep.
After a time I fell into a restless, dreamy doze. I was neither asleep nor awake. How long I remained in that state of stupor I could hardly say, but at length a strange sensation brought me to myself. Was I dreaming, or was there not really some unaccustomed odor floating in the air? My nostrils became distended, and I could scarcely suppress a cry of astonishment; but some instinct kept me quiet, and I laid myself down again with the puzzled sen- sation sometimes experienced when we have forgotten a word or name. Only a few minutes, however, had elapsed before another still more savory puff induced me to take several long inhalations. Suddenly, the truth seemed to flash across my mind. "Surely," I muttered to myself, "this must be cooked meat that I can smell."
Again and again I sniffed, and became more convinced than ever that my senses were not deceiving me. But from what part of the raft could the smell proceed? I rose to my knees, and having satisfied myself that the odor came from the front, I crept stealthily as a cat under the sails and between the spars in that direction. Following the promptings of my scent, rather than my vision, like a blood- hound in track of his prey. I searched everywhere I could, now finding, now losing, the smell according to my change of position, or the dropping of the wind. At length I got the true scent, once for all, so that I could go straight to the object for which I was in search.
Approaching the starboard angle of the raft, I came to the conclusion that the smell that had thus keenly ex- cited my cravings was the smell of smoked bacon; the mem- branes of my tongue almost bristled with the intenseness of my longing.
Crawling along a little farther, under a thick roll of sail-cloth, I was not long in securing my prize. Forcing my arm below the roll, I felt my hand in contact with some- thing wrapped up in paper. I clutched it up, and carried it off to a place where I could examine it by the help of the light of the moon that had now made its appearance above the horizon. I almost shrieked for joy. It was a piece of bacon. True, it did not weigh many ounces, but small as it was it would suffice to alleviate the pangs of hunger for one day at least. I was just on the point of raising it to my mouth, when a hand was laid upon my arm. It was only by a most determined effort that I kept myself from screaming out. One instant more, and I found myself face to face with Hobart.
In a moment I understood all. Plainly this rascal Ho- bart had saved some provisions from the wreck, upon which he had been subsisting ever since. The steward had pro- vided for himself, while all around him were dying of starvation. Detestable wretch! This accounts for the inconsistency of his well-to-do looks and his pitiable groans. Vile hypocrite!
Yet why, it struck me, should I complain? Was not I reaping the benefit of that secret store that he, for himself, had saved?
But Hobart had no idea of allowing me the peaceable possession of what he held to be his own. He made a dash at the fragment of bacon, and seemed determined to wrest it from my grasp. We struggled with each other, but although our wrestling was very violent, it was very noise- less.
We were both of us aware that it was absolutely neces- sary that not one of those on board should know anything at all about the prize for which we were contending. Nor was my own determination lessened by hearing him groan out that it was his last, his only morsel. "His!" I thought; "it shall be mine now!"
And still careful that no noise of commotion should arise, I threw him on his back, and grasping his throat so that he gurgled again, I held him down until, in rapid mouth- fuls, I had swallowed the last scrap of the food for which we had fought so hard.
I released my prisoner, and quietly crept back to my own quarters.