Almost immediately the rectangle on the roof through which the light made its passage began to splay out, like lighted oil, although the column retained still the integrity of its outline. The fire, if such it could be called, ran with incredible rapidity along the seams between the planks, forward and aft, until the entire deck was sketched like a pyrotechnic display in thin, vivid lines of incandescence. From each of these lines then the fire began again to spread, as though soaking through the planks.
All took place practically in an instant of time. I had no opportunity to move nor to cry out; indeed, my perceptions were inadequate to the task of mere observation. Up to now there had been no sound. The wind had fallen; the waters passed unnoticed. A stillness of death seemed to have descended on the ship. It was broken by a sharp double report, one as of the fall of a metallic substance, the other caused by the body of Pulz, which, shaken loose from the truck by a heavy roll, smashed against the rail of the ship and splashed overboard. Someone cried out sharply. An instant later the entire crew struggled out from the companionway, rushed in grim silence to the side of the vessel, and threw themselves into the sea.
My own ideas were somewhat confused. The fire had practically enveloped the ship. I thought to feel it; and yet my skin was cool to the touch. The ship’s outlines became blurred. A dizziness overtook me; and then all at once a great desire seized and shook my very soul. I cannot tell you the vehemence of this desire. It was a madness; nothing could stand in the way of its gratification. Whatever happened, I must have water. It was not thirst, nor yet a purpose to allay the very real physical burning of which I was now dimly conscious; but a craving for the liquid itself as something apart from and unconnected with anything else. Without hesitation, and as though it were the most natural thing in the world, I vaulted the rail to cast myself into the ocean. I dimly remember a last flying impression of a furnace of light, then a great shock thudded through me, and I lost consciousness.
IN THE WARDROOM
Over the wardroom of the Wolverine had fallen a silence. It held after Slade had finished. Captain Parkinson, stiff and erect in his chair, staring fixedly at a spot two feet above the reporter’s head, seemed to weigh, as a judge weighs, the facts so picturesquely, set forth. Dr. Trendon, his sturdy frame half in shadow, had slouched far down into himself. Only the regard of his keen eyes fixed upon Slade’s face, unwaveringly and a bit anxiously, showed that he was thinking of the narrator as well as of the narrative. The others had fallen completely under the spell of the tale. They sat, as children in a theatre, absorbed, forgetful of the world around them, wrapped in a more vivid element. At the close, they stirred and blinked, half dazed by the abrupt fall of the curtain.