to pump the water out again?"
"I have already told you, Mr. Kazallon," said Curtis,
"that the very moment we admit the air, the flames will rush
forth to the very top of the masts. No; we must have courage and patience; we must wait. There is nothing whatever
to be done, except to close every aperture."
The fire continued to progress even more rapidly than we
had hitherto suspected. The heat gradually drove the passengers nearly all on deck, and the two stern cabins, lighted,
as I said, by their windows in the aft-board were the only
quarters below that were inhabitable. Of these Mrs. Kear
occupied one, and Curtis reserved the other for Ruby, who,
a raving maniac, had to be kept rigidly under restraint. I
went down occasionally to see him, but invariably found him
in a state of abject terror, uttering horrible shrieks, as
though possessed with the idea that he was being scorched
by the most excruciating heat.
Once or twice, too, I looked in upon the ex-captain. He
was always calm and spoke quite rationally on any subject
except his own profession; but in connection with that he
prated away the merest nonsense. He suffered greatly, but
steadily declined all my offers of attention, and pertinaciously refused to leave his cabin.
To-day, an acrid, nauseating smoke made its way through
the panelings that partition off the quarters of the crew. At
once Curtis ordered the partition to be enveloped in wet tarpaulin, but the fumes penetrated even this, and filled the
whole neighborhood of the ship's bows with a reeking vapor
that was positively stifling. As we listened, too, we could
hear a dull rumbling sound, but we were as mystified as ever
to comprehend where the air could have entered that was
evidently fanning the flames. Only too certainly, it was
now becoming a question not of days nor even of hours
before we must be prepared for the final catastrophe. The
sea was still running high, and escape by the boats was
plainly impossible. Fortunately, as I have said, the mainmast and the mizzen are of iron; otherwise the great heat
at their base would long ago have brought them down and
our chances of safety would have been very much imperiled;
but by crowding on sail the Chancellor in the full northeast
wind continued to make her way with undiminished speed.
It is now a fortnight since the fire was first discovered,
and the proper working of the ship has gradually become a
more and more difficult matter. Even with thick shoes any
attempt to walk upon deck up to the forecastle was soon impracticable, and the poop, simply because its floor is elevated
somewhat above the level of the hold, is now the only available standing-place. Water began to lose its effect upon
the scorched and shriveling planks; the resin oozed out from
the knots in the wood, the seams burst open, and the tar,
melted by the heat, followed the rollings of the vessel, and
formed fantastic patterns about the deck.
Then to complete our perplexity, the wind shifted suddenly round to the northwest, whence it blew a perfect hurricane. To no purpose did Curtis do everything in his
power to bring the ship ahull; every effort was in vain; the
Chancellor could not bear her trysail, so there was nothing
to be done but to let her go with the wind, and drift further
and further from the land for which we are longing so
To-day, the 29th, the tempest seemed to reach its height;
the waves appeared to us mountains high, and dashed the
spray most violently across the deck. A boat could not live
a moment in such a sea.
Our situation is terrible. We all wait in silence, some
few on the forecastle, the great proportion of us on the
poop. As for the picrate, for the time we have quite forgotten its existence; indeed it might almost seem as though
its explosion would come as a relief, for no catastrophe, however terrible, could far exceed the torture of our suspense.
While he had still the remaining chance, Curtis rescued
from the store-room such few provisions as the