“Well, sir, at that minute there began the most exciting time I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been on every sea on the map for twenty-five years. Every second there’d be waves 15 or 20 feet high, belting us head-on, stern-on and broadside, all at once. We could see them coming, for without any stop at all flash after flash of lightning was blazing all about us.
“Something else we could see, too. Sharks! There were hundreds of them on all sides, jumping up and down in the water. Some of them jumped clear out of it. And sea birds! A flock of them, squawking and crying, made for our rigging and perched there. They seemed like they were scared to death. But the queerest part of it all was the water itself. It was hot—not so hot that our feet could not stand it when it washed over the deck, but hot enough to make us think that it had been heated by some kind of a fire.
“Well that sort of thing went on hour after hour. The waves, the lightning, the hot water and the sharks, and all the rest of the odd things happening, frightened the crew out of their wits. Some of them prayed out loud—I guess the first time they ever did in their lives. Some Frenchmen aboard kept running around and yelling, ’Cest le dernier jour!’ (This is the last day.) We were all worried. Even the officers began to think that the world was coming to an end. Mighty strange things happen on the sea, but this topped them all.
“I kept to the bridge all night. When the first hour of morning came the storm was still going on. We were all pretty much tired out by that time, but there was no such thing as trying to sleep. The waves still were batting us around and we didn’t know whether we were one mile or a thousand miles from shore. At 2 o’clock in the morning all the queer goings on stopped just the way they began—all of a sudden. We lay to until daylight; then we took our reckonings and started off again. We were about 700 miles off Cape Henlopen.
“No, sir; you couldn’t get me through a thing like that again for $10,000. None of us was hurt, and the old Nordby herself pulled through all right, but I’d sooner stay ashore than see waves without wind and lightning without thunder.”
Careful inspection showed that the fiery stream which so completely destroyed St. Pierre must have been composed of poisonous gases, which instantly suffocated every one who inhaled them, and of other gases burning furiously, for nearly all the victims had their hands covering their mouths, or were in some other attitude showing that they had perished from suffocation.
It is believed that Mont Pelee threw off a great gasp of some exceedingly heavy and noxious gas, something akin to firedamp, which settled upon the city and rendered the inhabitants insensible. This was followed by the sheet of flame that swept down the side of the mountain. This theory is sustained by the experience of the survivors who were taken from the ships in the harbor, as they say that their first experience was one of faintness.