It was still but a dim light when the commander appeared on deck. He could not have slept more than an hour, but he was as wideawake and active as ever before in his life. He had a spyglass in his hand, with which he proceeded to examine the wreck as soon as he had obtained its bearings; for he never did anything, even under such desperate circumstances as the present, until he had first ascertained what was best to be done.
“How long is it since you made out the wreck, Mr. Boulong?” he inquired, still looking through the glass.
“Mr. Scott reported cries from that direction not ten minutes ago, and the lookout aloft hailed the deck a minute or two later,” replied the first officer.
“Make the course north by east,” added the captain.
“North by east, sir,” replied Mr. Boulong, mounting the promenade, and giving the order to the quartermaster through the window. “Steer small till you get the course, Bangs.”
The captain and the third officer remained on the promenade deck, still observing the persons on the wreck, who continued to shout and to discharge their firearms till they saw the head of the steamer slowly turned to the north, when they appeared to be satisfied that relief was at hand.
“They are in a very dangerous position,” said the commander. “I cannot make out what they are clinging too; but it is washed by the sea at every wave, and they cannot hold out long in that situation. I wonder that all of them have not been knocked off before this time.”
“They must have some strong hold on the thing that floats them, whatever it is, for they are under water half the time,” replied Scott, who was also using a spyglass. “I can’t make out what they are on; but it looks like a whaleback to me, with her upper works carried away.”
“There are no whalebacks in these seas,” replied the captain.
“But I saw one in New York Harbor; and I have read that one has crossed the Atlantic, going through the Welland Canal from the great lakes.”
“They have no mission in these waters, though what floats that party looks very much like one. Call all hands, Mr. Boulong, and clear away the first cutter.”
By this time the Guardian-Mother was on her course to the northward. The storm was severe, but not as savage as it might have been, or as the steamer had encountered on the Atlantic when she saved the sailing-yacht Blanche from foundering. The ship had been kept on her course for Bombay, though, as she had the gale on the beam, she was condemned to wallow in the trough of the sea; and stiff and able as she was, she rolled heavily, as any vessel would have done under the same conditions.
The change of course gave her the wind very nearly over the stern, and she pitched instead of rolling, sometimes lifting her propeller almost out of the water, which made it whirl like a top, and then burying it deep in the waves, causing it to moan and groan and shake the whole after part of the ship, rousing all the party in the cabin from their slumbers. The ship had hardly changed her course before Louis came on deck, and was soon followed by Felix McGavonty.