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Chapter 21
A miserable Night.—No one shrinks.—Their Efforts lessen.—Morning comes.—Four Feet of Water in the Hold.—Take to the Boat!—Come along, Captain!—The Dignity of Corbet.—The Folly of Pat.—The Insanity of Solomon.—The Imbecility of Wade.—The Perplexity of the Boys.—Dat ar ole Woman!—An Agony of Impatience.—Four on board tempting Fate.

NIGHT came—a miserable—miserable night! On the previous night, the boys had slept; but this night, sleep was not thought of by any one of them. Exhausted though they all were by hard work, they yet felt the position of the Antelope to be too perilous to think of sleep. It was a time for vigilance. It was a time when each one had to keep himself wide awake, and hold himself prepared to rush to the boat at a moment’s warning. The boat floated astern, as usual, and in it were all the stores that might be necessary for a lengthened row; but they wished to postpone any recourse to this boat to the latest possible moment. And all the time the Antelope held on her course, impelled by a fair, yet moderate breeze, that blew directly astern.

Exhausted though they were, yet none of them shrunk from his task. All took turns. Corbet and Wade, Wade and Solomon, Corbet and Solomon; then the boys, two by two, at the pump; each couple laboring strenuously and conscientiously, yet showing the same result. For, whoever it was that worked, or whatever was the amount of labor expended, the result seemed in each case a failure and a defeat. They were struggling against a common enemy; but the enemy was gaining. In spite of their efforts, the waters continued to rise, and there was no way by which they could bring any additional labor to bear. Had there been another pump, they would have been in a better position. At about midnight they undertook a second time to supplement the pumping with baling, but again desisted on account of the utter exhaustion which followed such severe toil. It only lessened their power of working at the pump. So once more they gave it up.

From that time on their efforts grew less and less. The long toil had told upon every one of them, more particularly upon the boys. The labors of Captain Corbet, of Solomon, and of Wade, were less vigorous certainly; yet still, they were even and well sustained; but those of the boys grew more and more fitful, irregular, and feeble.

Each time that any two of them came to take their turn, they felt as though this must be the last. And so the hours and the labors of that dreary night dragged on.

Morning came.

All the boys felt that their capacity for work was well nigh exhausted. Morning came, and brought the fog. No land appeared. No ship was in sight. They sounded a blast on the fog horn, but no reply came.

Morning came, and brought, worse than all, the sight of four feet of water in the Antelope’s hold,—an amount so great that further pumping was useless, and at the best could only delay for a very short time a doom that was inevitable.

Morning came, then, and brought this sight; and the four feet of water in the Antelope’s hold at once forced a change in the decision of those on board.

They saw that if they continued pumping they might delay the decisive moment somewhat, but that it must come; and if it came with all of them on board, they must sink with the sinking schooner. And that the end was near, they could see. There was no time for delay. Already the signs which met their view told them that the end was near.

Take to the boat!

This was now their thought. To the boat,—before it was too late! On board the boat were all the stores necessary for a protracted voyage; and they all began to feel that this boat was now a better place than the sinking Antelope. The boat was a place of rest; a place more restricted-, yet still, one which promised comparative peace and safety. To that boat, therefore, they must go, before it was too late; while yet they could embark in peace, and move away from the doomed Antelope.

Nor was a resort to the boat so hopeless an undertaking as it might appear to have been. At the worst, they were in a part of the world where ships are frequent; and some of them thought that land was near enough to be seen in some direction if only the fog should be dispelled. The stores in the boat were sufficient to sustain life for a considerable time, and they would be free from the necessity of incessant and most exhaustive labor.

There was now no time for any delay or any hesitation. They all felt this. The sight of the Antelope’s hold decided them.

They must take to the boat.

“Come along, captain,” said Bart. “We mustn’t stay any longer. The Antelope’ll go down before half an hour. If we pump any longer we’ll all be used up, and won’t delay her sinking more than five minutes. Come along.”

“Goin doun!” said Captain Corbet, dreamily. “Only think of the Antelope goin doun!”

“Come, captain,” said Bruce, taking his arm. “The boat’s all ready.”

“O, yes,” said the captain; “and the Antelope’s goin doun! Dear me! Only think of it!”

“Captain Corbet,” said Arthur, solemnly, “we’re all ready. Come, go aboard the boat.”

“Well—well—well,” said the captain. “Very well. O, all right. O, yes. You jest git into the boat. Git along. Never mind me. I’ll wait a while, you know. You go ahead. I’ll jest meander around here while you’re gettin into the boat. All right.”

At this the boys went off to the boat, and dropped in one after the other. Bruce, and Arthur, and Tom, and Phil, and Bart. Pat lingered behind. Those who had got into the boat expected that the others would follow at once, and now looked eagerly towards them.

They were afloat astern; and there, at the stern of the Antelope, stood Captain Corbet, surveying them with a melancholy air.

“Come along, captain,” said Bart.

“O, all right. Wait till the rest go,” said he. “Tain’t right for me to clar out jest yet. The captain must allers be the last to quit the sinkin ship.”

At this the boys called to the others,—to Pat, who had lingered behind, to Solomon, and to Wade.

Pat was standing by the mainmast, To their amazement, they saw that he was busily engaged in binding himself to it with ropes.

“Pat,” cried Bart, “why don’t you hurry up?”

Pat made no reply, but went on as before, solemnly and methodically.

“Pat,” cried Tom, “what in the world are you waiting for? Hurry up! What are you doing?”

“Sure it’s tyin meself to the mast, I am,” said Pat.

“What,” cried Bruce, “tying yourself to the mast! What nonsense! What do you mean?”

“Sure it’s the right thing to do,” said Pat. “It’s what they allers does, so it is, wheniver a ship gits wracked. Sure I know; and I advise you to do the same.”

“He’s tying himself to the mast!” cried Phil. “He’s mad. He’s insane. Some of us’ll have to drag him on board.”

“Pat,” cried Barty, “come along. Are you crazy? The Antelope’s sinking! What do you mean? Stop that. If you tie yourself to the mast, you’ll go down with her. What nonsense! drop that rope, and come with us.”

“Sure it’s safer here,” said Pat, calmly, “than on that bit of a boat, so it is.”

“But the Antelope’s sinking.”

“Sure, don’t I know it? Meself does.”

“But you’ll go down in her, if you do that.”

“Arrah, what are you talking about? In shipwracks, doesn’t everybody tie themselves to the mast?”

“What in the world shall we do?” cried Bart, in despair. “He’s crazy. I never saw anything like it. He’s got a craze about tying himself to the mast. Don’t you remember how he did the very same on board the Petrel?”

“We’ll have to go and untie him,” said Bruce.

“Only see how he’s fastening and knotting the rope,” said Tom.

“We’ll have to seize him, and bring him here by main force,” said Arthur.

But from these thoughts they were now diverted by the appearance of Solomon. He had been very busy for about a quarter of an hour, and was now pulling away at a rope, as though the salvation of the whole party depended upon the successful accomplishment of his design.

“Solomon,” cried Bart, “hurry, hurry! Come along! Hurry! The Antelope’s going down fast! Hurry, and bring Pat along with you. The captain’s waiting till you leave the Antelope. Hurry!

“I’se jest a histin up dis yer cookin-stove,” said he. “Ben tyin de ropes roun it ebery which way, an jes got her ready to be put into de boat.”

“The what!” cried Arthur.

“De cookin-stove,” said Solomon, gravely.

“He’s mad!” cried Bruce. “He’s gone crazy. Pat and Solomon have both gone mad with excitement or terror.”

“You jes gib a left here, an help dis ole man put dis yer cookin-stove aboard de boat, an den you ’ll be all right.”

“Solomon! Solomon!” cried Bart, “what horrible nonsense! What do you mean by talking about putting a cooking-stove on board the boat? Come along. Be quick.”

“Tell you what,” said Solomon, “dis yer stove am a nessary succumstance. How you s’pose you get you meals cooked? Mus hab a cookin-stove. Mus so. You got water to bile, and things to cook.”

“Nonsense;” cried Bart. “Can’t you see that it’ll sink the boat?”

“But what’ll you do?” said Solomon. “You’ll suffer if you don’t take it. You mus hab a cookin-stove. Mus so!”

At this obstinate persistence in such unaccountable folly the boys were in despair. The schooner was sinking, lower and lower every minute, and there were those on board of her, wasting precious time and chattering nonsense. What could be the meaning of this? Had terror deprived them of their senses? It seemed so. There was Captain Corbet, absorbed in his own thoughts, evidently quite forgetful of the present danger, and unconscious of the scene around him. There was Wade, with his heavy face gaping from the windlass, where he had seated himself. There was Pat, still tying himself to the mast; and there was Solomon, toiling away at the cooking-stove. It was like a small floating lunatic asylum. They might well feel puzzled and bewildered.

But suddenly one part of this very difficult problem was solved of its own accord. Solomon had not been very careful in the selection of his hoisting apparatus. He had picked up some bits of rope, and fastened them around the cooking-stove for slings, and into this he had passed the hook from the schooner’s tackle. He pulled and labored away, hoisting the heavy stove, and succeeded in raising it about half way above the hatches. A few more pulls, and it would have been on the deck. But there’s many a slip ’twixt cup and lip; and so it was destined to prove in this case. For at the very moment when the stove hung thus suspended, the slings suddenly gave way, and with a rush the heavy mass descended, falling with a loud crash to the bottom, and with a force that seemed sufficient to break through the Antelope’s bottom. There it lay—a ruin!

Solomon stood and stared in silence at the scene. At length, drawing a long breath, he raised his head and looked at the boys.

“Dar,” said he; “dat ar’s allus de way; troubles neber comes single. Dis yer shows dat de end am come. Smash goes de cookin-stove, an shows dat dis yer scursium’s a goin to tumminate in clamty. Dar ain’t a goin to be no more eatin in dis yer party; dat’s all done up.”

“Solomon! Solomon!” cried Bart, “hurry up!” “Solomon! Pat! Wade! Captain Corbet! Come! Quick! Hurry up! Quick!”

Such were the cries that now burst from those in the boat. They were floating close by the schooner, so as to be convenient for those who were yet on board. They had seen the destruction of the unfortunate cooking-stove, and were now eager to get away before the schooner should sink. But their patience was destined to be still further taxed, for Solomon continued to make observations on the fallen stove; and Pat went on winding the rope about himself and the mast; and Wade sat motionless on the windlass; and Captain Corbet stood in the same attitude as before,—in the attitude habitual with him, his hands mechanically grasping the tiller, and his mild eyes fixed before him, as though he was still steering the Antelope, and watching some shore ahead. But before him there was only fog; and what he might have seen was not visible to the material eye.

“No use,” said Solomon. “Dese yer may go, but I’se boun to stay. De captain may go; an mas’r Wade, he may go; an Pat mus frow away dem ropes. But for me, I’se goin to stick to de ole Antelope.”

“But she’s sinking, and sinking fast,” cried Bart, with feverish impatience.

“Dar’s no odds to dis ole man. Ef I can’t stick to de Antelope, I don’t want to go no whars else. Dar’s somebody a waitin for me, an I ain’t a goin to ’spose mysef to her, no how.”

“But you’ll be drowned; you’ll be drowned. O, Solomon!” cried Bart, “cut Pat’s ropes, and make him come; and hurry.”

“Come, come, captain. Make haste. Cut Pat’s ropes, Solomon. Come, Wade. The schooner’ll go down in five minutes!”

“Don’t care!” said Solomon; “don’t care a mite. I’se dreadful fraid ob dat ar ole woman. I’d rader be drowned here dis yar way, dan be hammered to def wid a red-hot poker. Dat’s so; mind I tell you.”

The boys were now in an agony of impatience and anxiety. The waters were high in the hold of the Antelope. They could see, from where they stood in the boat, the dark gleam of the rising flood, and knew that any moment might now witness the last plunge of the schooner into the depths below. And so they shouted, and screamed, and called upon every one in succession of those who still so madly lingered behind. But their cries were unheeded; for those four on the deck of the Antelope made not the slightest movement in response.

When the boys had left the Antelope, the water in her hold was about four feet in depth. All the time since then it had been increasing; yet, after all, though the time seemed long to the anxious boys, not over a quarter of an hour had elapsed in reality.



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