There was yet another gathering of human beings on the wind-swept surface of the Atlantic that evening, to whose minds the minutes and hours were going by with no small burden of anxiety to carry.
Not an anxiety, perhaps, as great as that of the three families over there on the shore of the bay, or even of the three boys tossing along through the fog in their bubble of a yacht; but the officers, and not a few of the passengers and crew, of the great iron-builded ocean-steamer were any thing but easy about the way their affairs were looking. It would have been so much more agreeable if they could have looked at them at all.
Had they no pilot on board?
To be sure they had, for he had come on board in the usual way, as they drew near their intended port; but they had somehow seemed to bring that fog along with them, and the captain had a half-defined suspicion that neither the pilot nor he himself knew exactly where they now were. That is a bad condition for a great ship to be in at any time, and especially when it was drawing so near a coast which calls for good seamanship and skilful pilotage in the best of weather.
The captain would not for any thing have confessed his doubt to the pilot, nor the pilot his to the captain; and that was where the real danger lay, after all. If they could only have choked down their pride, and permitted themselves to talk of their possible peril, it would very likely have disappeared. That is, they could at least have decided to stop the vessel till they were rid of their doubt.
The steamer was French, and her captain a French naval officer; and it is possible he and the pilot did not understand each other any too well.
It was a matter of course that the speed of the ship should be somewhat lessened, under such circumstances; but it would have been a good deal wiser not to have gone on at all. Not to speak of the shore they were nearing, they might be sure they were not the only craft steaming or sailing over those busy waters; and vessels have sometimes been known to run against one another in a fog as thick as that. Something could be done by way of precaution in that direction, and lanterns with bright colors were freely swung out; but the fog was likely to diminish their usefulness somewhat. They took away a little of the gloom; but none of the passengers were in a mood to go to bed, with the end of their voyage so near, and they all seemed disposed to discuss the fog, if not the general question of mists and their discomforts. All of them but one, and he a boy.
A boy of about Dab Kinzer’s age, slender and delicate-looking, with curly light-brown hair, blue eyes, and a complexion which would have been fair, but for the traces it bore of a hotter climate than that of either France or America. He seemed to be all alone, and to be feeling very lonely that night; and he was leaning over the rail, peering out into the mist, humming to himself a sweet, wild air in a strange but exceedingly musical tongue.