“Aye, aye, sir.” They stepped the mast and hoisted sail. “Good-bye all: God bless ye, captain,” they said as the canvas swelled. “Keep heart!” For a time we heard their voices shouting us God-speed—then silence came!
Thank God the bitter night was past. Out of the east the long-looked-for light grew on us, as we lay to sea-anchor, lurching unsteadily in the teeth of wind and driving rain. At the first grey break we scanned the now misty horizon. There was no sign of the pinnace; no God-sent sail in all the dreary round!
We crouched on the bottom boards of the little gig and gave way to gloomy thoughts. What else could be when we were alone and adrift on the broad Pacific, without food or water, in a tiny gig already perilously deep with the burden of eight of us? What a difference to the gay day when we manned the same little boat and set out in pride to the contest! Here was the same spare oar that we held up to the judges—the long oar that Jones was now swaying over the stern, keeping her head to the wind and sea! Out there in the tumbling water the sea-anchor held its place; the ten fathoms of good hemp “painter” was straining at the bows!
The same boat! The same gear! The same crew, but how different! A crew of bent heads and wearied limbs! Listless-eyed, despairing! A ghastly crew, with black care riding in the heaving boat with us!
Poor old Burke had hardly spoken since his last order to the mate to sail the pinnace to the east in search of help. When anything was put to him, he would say, “Aye, aye, b’ye,” and take no further heed. He was utterly crushed by the disaster that had come so suddenly on the heels of his “good luck.” He sat staring stonily ahead, deaf to our hopes and fears.
Water we had in plenty as the day wore on. The rain-soaked clothes of us were sufficient for the time, but soon hunger came and added a physical pain to the torture of our doubt. Again and again we stood up on the reeling thwarts and looked wildly around the sea-line. No pinnace—no ship—nothing! Nothing, only sea and sky, and circling sea-birds that came to mock at our misery with their plaintive cries.
A bitter night! A no less cruel day! Dark came on us again, chill and windy, and the salt spray cutting at us like a whiplash.
Big Jones stood up in the stern-sheets, swaying unsteadily. “D’ye hear anything there? . . . Like a gun?”
A gun? Gun? . . . Nothing new! . . . We had been hearing guns, seeing sails—in our minds—all the day! All day . . . guns . . . and sail! Boom-m-m-m!
“Gun! Oh God . . . a gun! Capt’n, a gun, d’ye hear! Hay—Hay-H. Out oars, there! A gun!” Hoarse in excitement Jones shook the old man and called at his ear. “Aye, aye, b’ye. Aye, aye,” said the broken old man, seeming without understanding.