When the weather at last changed and the sea became smoother, it was found that the working and straining of the masts during the violent weather had opened some of the seams of the brig, and that she was taking in water. She was a good vessel, but she was an old one, and she had had a rough time of it. The captain thanked his stars that she had not begun to leak before the storm.
The short-handed crew went to work at the pumps, but, after two days’ hard labor, it was found that the water in the hold steadily gained upon the pumps, and there was no doubt that the Miranda was badly strained. According to a report from Burke, the water came in forward, aft, and midships. Matters were now getting very serious, and the captain and his two mates consulted together, while the three negroes pumped. It was plain to all of them that if the water kept on gaining, it would not be long before the brig must go to the bottom. To keep her afloat until they reached a port would be impossible. To reach the shore in the boats was quite possible, for they were not a hundred miles from land. But to carry their treasure to land in two small boats was a thing which need not even be considered.
All agreed that there was but one thing to be done. The brig must be headed to land, and if she could be kept afloat until she neared one of the great islands which lie along the Patagonian coast, she might be run into some bay or protected cove, where she could be beached, or where, if she should sink, it might be in water so shallow that all hope of getting at her treasure would not have to be abandoned. In any case, the sooner they got to the shore, the better for them. So the brig’s bow was turned eastward, and the pumps were worked harder than ever. There was a good wind, and, considering that the Miranda was steadily settling deeper and deeper, she made very fair progress, and in less than two days after she had changed her course, land was sighted. Not long after, Captain Horn began to hope that if the wind held, and the brig could keep above water for an hour or so, he could double a small headland which now showed itself plainly a couple of miles away, and might be able to beach his vessel.
What a dreary, depressing hope it was that now possessed the souls of Captain Horn, of Burke and Shirley, and of even the three negroes! After all the hardships, the labor, and the anxieties, after all the joy of success and escape from danger, after all happy chances which had come in various ways and from various directions, after the sweet delights of rest, after the super-exultation of anticipation which no one on board had been able to banish from his mind, there was nothing left to them now but the eager desire that their vessel might keep afloat until she could find some friendly sands on which she might be run, or some shallow water in which she might sink and rest there on the wild Patagonian coast, leaving them far from human beings of any kind, far from help, far, perhaps, from rescue and even safety.