I lay there—in fear and trembling, I confess, for against cold-blooded brutality such as this no man’s courage may avail—till the last shots had long died away. And when at last I ventured to raise my head and look about me, the Frenchman was stretching away to the north-east and the Indiaman was pressing to the north, and both were far away. The sun sank like a ball of fire dipped in blood as I watched. The long red trail faded off the waters, and the soft colours out of the sky. The sea was a chill waste of tumbling waves. The sky was a cast-iron shutter. The manhood went out of me, and I sank with a sob on to my frail spar, for of all our company which had sailed so gallantly out of Peter Port five days before, I was the only one left, and the rest had all been done to death in most foul and cruel fashion.
HOW I FELL INTO THE RED HAND
I must have fallen into a stupor, as the effect of the terrible strain on mind and body of all I had gone through. For I remember nothing of that first night on the spar, and only came slowly back to sense of sodden pain and hunger when the sun was up. Some sailorly instinct, of which I have no recollection whatever, had taken a turn of the rope under my arms and round the yard, and so kept me from slipping away. But I woke up to agonies of cold—a sodden deadness of the limbs which set me wondering numbly if I had any legs left—and a gnawing hunger and emptiness. I felt no thirst; perhaps because my body was so soaked with water. In the same dull way the horrors of the previous day came back on me, and I wondered heavily if my dead comrades had not the better lot.
But the bright sun warmed the upper part of me, and I essayed to drag my dead legs out of the water, if perchance they might be warmed back to life also. They came back in time, with horrible pricking pains and cramps which I could only suffer, lest I should roll off into the water. And if I had, I am not at all sure that I would have struggled further, so weary and broken had the night left me.
All that day I lay on my spar, warmed into meagre life by the sun, and tortured at first with the angry clamour of an empty stomach, for it was full twenty hours since I had eaten, and the wear and tear alone would have needed very full supplies to make good. But in time the bitter hunger gave place to a sick emptiness which I essayed to stay by chewing bits of floating seaweed. And this, and the drying of my body by the sun, brought on a furious thirst, to which the sparkling water that broke against my spar proved a most horrible temptation. So torturing was it in the afternoon that the sodden cold of the night now seemed as nothing in comparison, and to relieve it I dropped my body into the water to soak again.