“If we were only nearer the island,” said Gascoyne, in a low tone, as if he were talking to himself, “we might run her on the reef, and the breakers would soon put out the fire.”
“That would be little consolation to me,” said Montague, with a bitter smile. “Lower the boats, Mr. Mulroy. The Foam has observed our condition, I see. Let them row to it. I will go in the gig.”
The first lieutenant hastened to obey the order, and the men embarked in the boats, lighted by the flames, which were now roaring high up the masts.
Meanwhile the man who had been the cause of all this was rushing about the deck, a furious maniac. He had wrought at the fire almost as fiercely as Gascoyne himself, and now that all hope was past, he continued, despite the orders of Montague to the contrary, to draw water and rush with bucket after bucket into the midst of the roaring flames. At last he disappeared, no one knew where, and no one cared; for in such a scene he was soon forgotten.
The last man left the ship when the heat on the poop became so great that it was scarcely possible to stand there. Still Montague and Gascoyne stood side by side near the taffrail, and the gig with her crew floated just below them. The last boatful of men pulled away from the burning vessel and then Montague turned, with a deep sigh, and said:
“Now, Mr. Gascoyne, get into the boat. I must be the last man to quit the ship.”
Without a word, Gascoyne swung himself over the stern, and, sliding down by a rope, dropped into the boat. Montague followed, and they rowed away.
Just at that moment Surly Dick sprang on the bulwarks, and, holding on by the mizzen-shrouds, took off his hat and cheered:
“Ha! ha!” he shrieked, with a fiendish laugh, “I’ve escaped you, have I? escaped you—hurrah!” and with another wild shriek he leaped on the hot deck, and, seizing a bucket, resumed his self-imposed duty of deluging the fire with water.
“Pull, pull lads! We can’t leave the miserable man to perish,” cried Montague, starting up, while the men rowed after the frigate with their utmost might. But in vain. Already she was far from them, and ever increased the distance as she ran before the gale.
As long as the ship lasted the poor maniac was seen diligently pursuing his work; stopping now and then to spring on the bulwarks and give another cheer.
At last the blazing vessel left boats and schooner far behind, and the flames rose in great flakes and tongues above her top-masts, while the smoke rolled in dense black volumes away to leeward.
While the awe-stricken crew watched her, there came a sudden flash of bright white flame, as if a volcano had leaped out of the ocean. The powder-magazine had caught. It was followed by a roaring crash that seemed to rend the very heavens. A thick darkness settled over the scene; and the vessel that a few hours before had been a noble frigate was scattered on the ocean a mass of blackened ruins.