We must now return to Captain Scott and his companions on the wreck. The men were mustered by the officers on the quarter-deck; they numbered ninety-five or ninety-seven, and they had been all actively employed in making rafts, and lashing together spars and other materials, by which they hoped to save themselves, in the event of the ship going to pieces before assistance should arrive. Hour after hour passed away, and no help came; by the noise of the vessel grinding against the rocks they knew that she could not hold together much longer. Captain Scott continued to issue his commands with coolness and decision, and they were promptly obeyed by both officers and men. About four o’clock in the morning, the quarter-deck being no longer tenable, all the crew were obliged to betake themselves to the main and mizen chains. They had already suffered severely from the cold, but they had now to endure it in greater intensity. In their exposed situation the waves frequently washed entirely over them, and their limbs were so benumbed with cold that it was with the utmost difficulty they could hold on to the wreck, so as to save themselves from being swept into the abyss of waters that seemed yawning to receive them. By degrees, even the cries and the complaints of the sufferers became hushed: not a word was spoken; in awful silence they listened to the groaning of the timbers, and the sullen roar of the waves dashing against the rocks.
In this state they had remained another hour, when a hollow sound was heard below them; still they spoke not a word, for from the captain to the youngest boy, every one knew what that sound foretold, and that the last struggle was at hand,—for many, the last hour of existence. Then a universal tremor was felt through the wreck, and the boldest heart responded to that shudder. The very timbers seemed to dread their impending doom: with a mighty crash they yielded to the force of the waves; for a moment the ship righted, and then sank beneath the foaming waters.
The pen is powerless when we attempt to describe an event like this, for we cannot penetrate into the secret recesses of the heart, nor can we delineate the agonies of conscience which too often increase the anguish of such scenes, when the near approach of death unveils to men, truths they have been unwilling to learn or to believe. Many a cry for pardon and mercy is raised in the hour of shipwreck, from lips that never prayed before. The best and bravest then bow their heads in awe, however well they may be prepared for the dangers that are incident to their profession; and though from childhood ’these men see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep,’ yet it must be an appalling moment when the plank they have been wont to tread in calm security, is torn from beneath their feet, and they are left as helpless as infants, to be the sport of the wild billows!