“Willis,” said Becker, “I leave it entirely to you to decide the instant of our return.”
The Pilot changed at once the course of the boat, without attempting to utter a word, so heavy was his heart at this unsuccessful termination of the expedition.
“It will be curious,” observed Fritz, “if we find the Nelson, on our return, snugly at anchor in Safety Bay.”
“I have a presentiment,” said Jack; “and you will see that we have been playing at hide-and-seek with the Nelson.”
Willis shook his head.
“Are there not a thousand accidents to cause a ship to deviate from her route?”
“Yes, Master Ernest, there are typhoons, and the waterspouts of which I spoke to you before. In such cases, ships often deviate from their route, but generally by going to the bottom.”
Willis concluded this sentence with a gesture that defies description, implying annihilation.
“Remember Admiral Socrates, Willis,” said Jack; “what I know best is, that I know nothing, and avow that God has other means of accomplishing his decrees besides typhoons and waterspouts.”
“My excellent young friends, I know you want to inspire me with hope, as they give a toy to a child to keep it from crying, and I thank you for your good intentions. Now, for three days you have, so to speak, had no rest, and I insist on your profiting by this night to take some repose; and you also, Mr. Becker; I am quite able to manage the pinnace alone.”
“Yes providing you do not play us some trick, like that of this morning, for instance.”
“All stratagems are justifiable in war. Master Ernest had fair warning that I had an idea to work out. Besides, a prisoner, when under hatches, has the right to escape if he can: under parole, the case is quite different.”
“Well, Willis, if you give me your simple promise to steer straight for New Switzerland, and awake me in two hours to take the bearings—”
“I give it, Mr. Becker.”
The three Greenlanders then descended into the hold, for tropical nights are as chilly as the days are hot, and Becker, rolling himself up in a sail, lay on deck.
In less than five minutes they were all fast asleep, and Willis paced the deck, his arms crossed, and mechanically gazing upon a star that was mirrored in the water.
“Several years to come to us, and that at the rate of seventy thousand leagues a second—that is a little too much.”
Then he went to the rudder, his head leaning upon his breast, and glancing now and then with distracted eye at the course of the boat, buried in a world of thought, sad and confused, doubtless beholding in succession visions of the Nelson, of Susan, and of Scotland.
[A] “Search after Truth,” book ix.
[B] The twilight is entirely owing to this.