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CHAPTER IV. THE WRECK.
With the rising sun the wind abated, and when it was sufficiently light all hands set about the task of cleaning ship.

To remove the huge animal from the cabin it was necessary to literally chop him in such pieces as could be readily handled, and two hours elapsed before the last fragment had been thrown overboard to the following sharks.

Then all hands, save the man at the wheel, armed with cutlasses, rifles and capstan-bars, gathered around the forecastle hatch as it was pushed back.

A terrible stench arose, but no sound was heard. After five minutes Philip descended the ladder with a revolver in each hand; but no enemy confronted him. There had been a general battle, during which the beasts were mangled and torn in the most horrible manner, while the serpents were literally cut in pieces.

Not until twenty-four hours had passed was the bark free from odor, blood, and other evidences of the conflict; and during the week which followed the carpenter and his assistants had quite as much as they could do to repair the injury done the cabin.

Philip’s venture had not proven a paying one; but[28] in view of what might have happened he was only too well pleased to be rid of his dangerous merchandise. As he thought of this, the first speculation since Magog destroyed the establishment, and reflected upon the result of it, there came into his mind a fear that it might be the beginning of a series of misfortunes.

Of course such superstitious fears were more than childish, and he struggled manfully but unsuccessfully to put them far from him.

That which had just occurred, however, was but a foretaste of what might be expected when there was a full cargo of animals on board; and in the forecastle the sailors discussed the possible fate of all hands during the homeward voyage.

“I’ve been in ships what was becalmed week in an’ week out for two months, with never a cat to throw overboard,” old Tom Bixbee said, as the watch below were reviewing the events of the past few hours, “but I never struck on anything like this craft. Talk of havin’ a drownded man as shipmate! Why, that’s nothin’ compared to what’s goin’ to happen on this’ ere barkey when she turns her nose toward home. If there’s ever a chance of showin’ my heels to the Swallow in this ’ere benighted place we’re bound for after more jest like sich as we had last night, you’ll see precious little of me!”

And Tom’s opinion was very much the same as that entertained by every member of the crew.

As the bark continued on with favoring winds through the Indian Ocean, never a day passed but[29] that some one of the sailors had a particularly harrowing tale to tell of ghost-infested ships, and the conclusion to each would invariably be:

“But they couldn’t hold a candle to a craft like this what’s goin’ to take on board sich a crowd as we left Cape Town with.”

Sailors on a long voyage have plenty of opportunity for strengthening their strong belief in the supernatural, and in this case the reasons for misgivings were so real that it is little wonder all hands, from the boatswain to the cook, were in a state very nearly bordering on insubordination when the Swallow entered the Straits of Sunda, bearing to the westward on a course to the Celebes.

Perhaps it was because of this mutinous condition of the men that the bark was not kept true to the needle, or, again, it may have been that the captain was at fault in his navigation. At all events, on the morning of the fourth day after leaving the straits, while sailing over a mirror-like sea and under cloudless skies, the Swallow brought up with a terrific crash against a sunken reef.

In an instant all was confusion. Orders were not obeyed as promptly as should have been the case, because the sailors had settled in their minds that this was an incident to be expected during such a cruise, and for several moments the bark pounded and thumped upon the rock until, without the aid of her crew, she slipped off into deep water again.

As a matter of course, the first thing after this hidden danger had apparently been passed in safety[30] was to sound the well, and to the dismay of Philip, if not of the insubordinate crew, it was learned that the bark was leaking.

The damage done was something even more serious than the starting of a timber, as could be told from the fact that in half an hour the depth of water in the hold had increased from four to nine inches.

At that rate it was only a question of a few hours before the vessel would founder; but it was possible the injury might be so far repaired as to admit of her reaching some island on which she could be beached, and the men were stationed at the pumps while the carpenter and first mate went into the hold.

Tom Bixbee boldly announced that in his opinion the best thing they could do would be to “save their own precious selves, an’ leave the old barkey to sink if she wanted to;” and this advice might possibly have been followed, owing to the frame of mind in which the crew were, if the officers and Philip had not assumed such a determined front.

Almost at the point of revolvers were the men forced to labor at the pumps; and as if this disaster was not enough to dishearten Philip, the elements began to play their part in wrecking the craft which had come so far for such a strange cargo.

In two hours the breeze from the south had increased to a gale. The sea suddenly rose very high, and with all the light canvas stowed, the sinking vessel was headed toward the coast of Borneo under[31] storm-sails only. There was little hope in the minds of the most sanguine that she could float much longer; but yet the only chance of safety was in making land.

Some time previous the carpenter had made his report privately to the captain; but the crew understood very well from the expression of his face how imminent was the danger which threatened.

The damage was so near the keel that it could not be gotten at without removing the ballast, a task which was impossible of execution owing to the rapidity with which the bark was settling.

“She would be at the bottom before we could so much as come at the leak,” the first mate said; and it was owing to his report that the Swallow had been headed for the coast.

The wind increased hourly, and in addition to the water which came through the shattered hull, large quantities were taken over the rail.

About three o’clock in the afternoon a heavy sea washed away the port bulwarks fore and aft, completely flooding the decks, forecastle and cabin. The port quarter-boat was crushed like an egg-shell, leaving a few splintered fragments hanging in the davits, swinging to and fro in what the crew fancied was an ominously suggestive manner.

Then the sailors mutinied in downright earnest. With Tom Bixbee as the spokesman they declared it was useless labor to attempt to sail what was hardly more than a wreck, and that their lives were imperiled by remaining longer on board.

[32]

“The only chance we’ve got of saving a single soul is by sticking to the bark!” the captain shouted. “We are hardly fifty miles from the coast, and she can be kept afloat long enough to make that distance with this wind.”

Again by a liberal display of weapons the men were forced to return to the pumps; but at sunset the water had gained upon them so steadily that the doomed craft began to settle and roll heavily in the cross-seas.

At this moment, when even the captain was disheartened, the starboard pump choked, and with only the port one serviceable it was no longer reasonable to think of keeping her afloat.

As the captain and Philip, both of whom had been on deck continuously since the hidden reef was struck, turned to go into the cabin for the purpose of saving such valuables as could readily be taken away, the men became like demons.

There were only two serviceable boats remaining since the gig had been destroyed by the rhinoceros and the port quarter-boat carried away in the wreck of the bulwarks, therefore the possibilities of taking off the entire crew seemed limited.

Fully aware of this fact, the men took advantage of the captain’s temporary absence to abandon the ship, without regard to supplies of food and water, and despite the threats of the other officers.

The long-boat was stove in the launching, owing to the absence of discipline, and the starboard quarter-boat nearly swamped as she was dropped heavily by the unreasoning men.

[33]

When the captain came on deck the crew had taken to the boat, already half-filled with water, and were some distance from the sinking bark.

It would have been useless to force them to return, even if such a thing was possible, for the little craft could not approach the foundering bark in the teeth of the gale without being stove to pieces, and the four officers and Philip stood gazing at the rapidly retreating boat with despair written on every feature of their countenances.

This was the culmination of disasters, and from it there appeared to be no way of escape.

They could do but little toward providing for their own safety. It was simply a question of whether the wreck would float until some friendly craft could be sighted; and this was answered within two hours from the time the crew abandoned her.

While the five despairing men were busily engaged constructing a raft of such materials as could be hastily gathered from the wave-swept deck, the Swallow gave a mighty lurch to port; then rising on her stern-post, as if endeavoring to escape from the doom which was now so close at hand, she settled to starboard with such rapidity that those on board had not even time to throw over the timbers they had partially lashed together.

Fortunately, so far as Philip Garland was concerned, he had been hurled beyond the whirlpool caused by the foundering vessel, and as he struck out, instinctively rather than because of hope, his[34] hands came in contact with the fragments of the quarter-boat.

Dazed by the shock and blinded with the driving spray, he grasped with the clutch of a dying man the frail timbers, and heeded not the black clouds which opened to belch forth fire and peals of thunder.

The shrieking wind tossed the wreckage upon the angry, white-crested waves which gleamed like the fangs of some devouring monster, and the rain descended in torrents.


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