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Chapter Two. The Hammer-Head.
For some time the castaways had been seated in moody silence, now and then glancing at the corpse in the bottom of the boat, some of them no doubt thinking how long it might be before they themselves would occupy the same situation.

But now and then, also, their looks were turned upon one another, not hopefully, but with a mechanical effort of despair.

In one of these occasional glances, Captain Redwood noticed the unnatural glare in the eyes of the surviving sailor, as also did the Irishman. Simultaneously were both struck with it, and a significant look was exchanged between them.

For a period of over twenty hours this man had been behaving oddly; and they had conceived something more than a suspicion of his insanity. The death of the sailor lying at the bottom of the boat, now the ninth, had rendered him for a time more tranquil, and he sat quiet on his seat, with elbows resting on his knees, his cheeks held between the palms of his hands. But the wild stare in his eyes seemed to have become only more intensified as he kept them fixed upon the corpse of his comrade. It was a look worse than wild; it had in it the expression of craving.

On perceiving it, and after a moment spent in reflection, the captain made a sign to the ship-carpenter, at the same time saying,—

“Murtagh, it’s no use our keeping the body any longer in the boat. Let us give it such burial as the sea vouchsafes to a sailor,—and a true one he was.”

He spoke these words quietly, and in a low tone, as if not intending them to be heard by the suspected maniac.

“A thrue sailor!” rejoined the Irishman. “Truth ye’re roight there, captin. Och, now! to think he’s the ninth of them we’ve throwed overboard, all the crew of the owld ship, exceptin’ our three selves, widout countin’ the Malay an’ the childer. If it wasn’t that yer honour’s still left, I’d say the best goes first; for the nigger there looks as if he’d last out the whole lot of—”

The captain, to whom this imprudent speech was torture, with a gesture brought it to an abrupt termination. He was in fear of its effect not on the Malay, but on the insane sailor. The latter, however, showed no sign of having heard or understood it; and in a whisper Murtagh received instructions how to act.

“You lay hold of him by the shoulders,” were the words spoken, “while I take the feet. Let us slip him quietly over without making any stir. Saloo, remain you where you are; we won’t need your help.”

This last speech was addressed to the Malay, and in his own language, which would not be understood by any other than himself. The reason for laying the injunction upon him was, that he sat in the boat beyond the man deemed mad, and his coming across to the others might excite the latter, and bring about some vaguely dreaded crisis.

The silent Malay simply nodded an assent, showing no sign that he comprehended why his assistance was not desired. For all that, he understood it, he too having observed the mental condition of the sailor. Rising silently from their seats, and advancing toward the dead body, the captain and carpenter, as agreed upon, laid hold of and raised it up in their arms. Even weak as both were, it was not much of a lift to them. It was not a corpse, only a skeleton, with the skin still adhering, and drawn tightly over the bones.

Resting it upon the gunwale of the boat, they made a moment’s pause, their eyes turned heavenward, as if mentally repeating a prayer.

The Irishman, a devout believer in the efficacy of outward observances, with one hand detached from the corpse, made the sign of the cross.

Then was the body again raised between them, held at arm’s length outward, and tenderly lowered down upon the water.

There was no plunge, only a tiny plashing, as if a chair, or some other piece of light wood-work, had been dropped gently upon the surface of the sea. But slight as was the sound, it produced an effect, startling as instantaneous. The sailor, whose dead comrade was thus being consigned to the deep, as it were, surreptitiously, all at once sprang to his feet, sending forth a shriek that rang far over the tranquil water. With one bound, causing the pinnace to heel fearfully over, he placed himself by the side over which the corpse had been lowered, and stood with arms upraised, as if intending to plunge after it.

The sight underneath should have awed him. The dead body was slowly, gradually sinking, its garb of dark blue Guernsey shirt becoming lighter blue as it went deeper down in the cerulean water; while fast advancing to meet it, as if coming up from the darkest depths of the ocean, was a creature of monstrous shape, the very type of a monster. It was the hideous hammer-headed shark, the dreaded zygaena of the Celebes Sea.

With a pair of enormous eyes glaring sullenly out from two immense cheek-like protuberances, giving to its head that singular sledge-hammer appearance whence it has its name, it advanced directly toward the slow-descending corpse, itself, however, moving so rapidly that the spectators above had scarce taken in the outlines of its horrid form, when this was no longer visible. It was hidden in what appeared a shower of bluish pearls suddenly projected underneath the water, and enveloping both the dead body of the sailor and the living form of the shark. Through the dimness could be distinguished gleams of a pale phosphoric sheen like lightning flashes through a sky cloud; and soon after froth and bubbles rose effervescing upon the surface of the sea.

It was a terrible spectacle, though only of an instants duration. When the subaqueous cloud cleared away, and they again looked with peering eyes down into the pellucid depths, there was nothing there, neither dead body of man, nor living form of monster. The zygaena had secured its prey, and carried the skeleton corpse to some dark cavern of the deep! (Note 1.)

Note 1. The hammer-headed shark, in common language, is rightly designated one of the most hideous of marine animals. We mean hideous in outward appearance, for, of course, there is much both wonderful and beautiful in its internal organisation, and in the exquisite fitness of its structure for its peculiar part in the economy of nature. In the general outline of its body, which is something like that of a cylinder, it resembles the ordinary sharks; and its distinctive feature is its head, which, on either side, expands like a double-headed hammer. The eyes are very large, and placed at each extremity. It is found in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as in the Indian Ocean, and is noted for its fierceness and voracity.


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