At this moment he heard a grating noise, then suddenly a terrible shock which shook the vessel from prow to stern. Then all was silent, and the “Alaska” remained motionless.
She was wedged in between two submarine rocks.
Commander Marsilas, his head bleeding from a fall, mounted the deck, where the greatest confusion reigned. The dismayed sailors made a rush for the boats. The waves dashed furiously over the rocks upon which the vessel had been shipwrecked. The distant light-houses, with their fixed lights, seemed to reproach the “Alaska” for having thrown herself into the dangers which it was their duty to point out. Erik tried vainly to penetrate through the gloom and discover the extent of the damage which the vessel had sustained.
“What is the matter?” cried the captain, still half-stunned by his fall.
“By sailing south-west, sir, according to your orders, we have run upon breakers,” replied Erik.
Commander Marsilas did not say a word. What could he answer? He turned on his heel, and walked toward the staircase again.
Their situation was a tragical one, although they did not appear to be in any immediate peril. The vessel remained motionless between the rocks which seemed to hold her firmly, and their adventure appeared to be more sad than frightful. Erik had only one thought—the expedition was brought to a full stop—his hope of finding Patrick O’Donoghan was lost.
He had scarcely made his somewhat hasty reply to the captain, which had been dictated by this bitter disappointment, than he regretted having done so. He therefore left the deck to go in search of his superior officer with the generous intention of comforting him, if it were possible to do so. But the captain had disappeared, and three minutes had not elapsed when a detonation was heard.
Erik ran to his room. The door was fastened on the inside. He forced it open with a blow of his fist.
Commander Marsilas lay stretched out upon the carpet, with a revolver in his right hand, and a bullet wound in his forehead.
Seeing that the vessel was shipwrecked by his fault, he had blown his brains out. Death had been instantaneous. The doctor and Mr. Bredejord, who had run in after the young lieutenant, could only verify the sad fact.
But there was no time for vain regrets. Erik left to his two friends the care of lifting the body and laying it upon the couch. His duty compelled him to return to the deck, and attend to the safety of the crew and passengers.
As he passed the door of Mr. Malarius, the excellent man, who had been awakened by the stopping of the vessel, and also by the report of the pistol, opened his door and put out his white head, covered by his black silk night-cap. He had been sleeping ever since they left Brest, and was therefore ignorant of all that had occurred.
“Ah, well, what is it? Has anything happened?” he asked quietly.