It was evening before he awoke from that slumber. The sun had just disappeared below the horizon, and the red clouds that remained behind were beginning to deepen, as night prepared to throw her dark mantle over the sea. A gull wheeled over the youth’s head and uttered a wild cry as he awoke, causing him to start up with a feeling of bewildered uncertainty as to where he was.
The true nature of his position was quickly forced upon him. A dead calm now prevailed. Henry gazed eagerly, wistfully round the horizon. It was an unbroken line; not a speck that resembled a sail was to be seen. Remembering for the first time that his low raft would be quite invisible at a very short distance, he set about erecting a flag. This was easily done. Part of his red shirt was torn off and fastened to a light spar, the end of which he stuck between the logs. Having set up his signal of distress, he sat down beside it, and, drawing part of the sail over his shoulders, leaned on the broken part of the bulwark, and pondered his forlorn condition.
It was a long, sad reverie into which poor Henry Stuart fell that evening. Hope did not, indeed, forsake his breast; for hope is strong in youth; but he was too well acquainted with the details of a sailor’s life and risks to be able to shut his eyes to the real dangers of his position. He knew full well that if he should be cast on any of the inhabited islands of the South Seas (unless it might be one of the very few that had at that time accepted the gospel) he would certainly be killed by the savages, whose practise it is to slay and eat all unfortunates who chance to be wrecked and cast upon their shores. But no islands were in sight; and it was possible that he might be left to float on the boundless ocean until the slow and terrible process of starvation did its work, and wore away the life which he felt to be so fresh and strong within him.
When he thought of this he shuddered, and reverted, almost with a feeling of pleasure, to the idea that another storm might spring up ere long, and, by dashing his frail raft to pieces, bring his life to a speedy termination. His hopes were not very clear even to his own mind. He did indeed hope, because he could not help it; but what it was that he hoped for would have puzzled him to state. A passing ship finding him in a part of the Pacific where ships were not wont to pass was perhaps among the least animating of all his hopes.
But the thoughts that coursed through the youth’s brain that night were not centered alone upon the means or the prospects of deliverance. He thought of his mother,—her gentleness, her goodness, her unaccountable partiality for Gascoyne; but, more than all, he thought of her love for himself. He thought, too, of his former life,—his joys, his sorrows, and his sins. As he remembered these last, his soul was startled, and he thought of his God and his Saviour as he had never thought before. Despite his efforts to restrain them, tears, but not unmanly tears, would flow down his cheeks as he sat that evening on his raft; meditated on the past, the present, and the future, and realized the terrible solemnity of his position,—without water or food—almost without hope—alone on the deep.