My Debut as a Literary Person
In those early days I had already published one little thing ('The Jumping Frog') in an Eastern paper, but I did not consider that that counted. In my view, a person who published things in a mere newspaper could not properly claim recognition as a Literary Person: he must rise away above that; he must appear in a magazine. He would then be a Literary Person; also, he would be famous--right away. These two ambitions were strong upon me. This was in 1866. I prepared my contribution, and then looked around for the best magazine to go up to glory in. I selected the most important one in New York. The contribution was accepted. I signed it 'Mark Twain;' for that name had some currency on the Pacific coast, and it was my idea to spread it all over the world, now, at this one jump. The article appeared in the December number, and I sat up a month waiting for the January number; for that one would contain the year's list of contributors, my name would be in it, and I should be famous and could give the banquet I was meditating.
I did not give the banquet. I had not written the 'Mark Twain' distinctly; it was a fresh name to Eastern printers, and they put it 'Mike Swain' or 'MacSwain,' I do not remember which. At any rate, I was not celebrated and I did not give the banquet. I was a Literary Person, but that was all--a buried one; buried alive.
My article was about the burning of the clipper-ship 'Hornet' on the line, May 3, 1866. There were thirty-one men on board at the time, and I was in Honolulu when the fifteen lean and ghostly survivors arrived there after a voyage of forty-three days in an open boat, through the blazing tropics, on ten days' rations of food. A very remarkable trip; but it was conducted by a captain who was a remarkable man, otherwise there would have been no survivors. He was a New Englander of the best sea-going stock of the old capable times--Captain Josiah Mitchell.
I was in the islands to write letters for the weekly edition of the Sacramento 'Union,' a rich and influential daily journal which hadn't any use for them, but could afford to spend twenty dollars a week for nothing. The proprietors were lovable and well-beloved men: long ago dead, no doubt, but in me there is at least one person who still holds them in grateful remembrance; for I dearly wanted to see the islands, and they listened to me and gave me the opportunity when there was but slender likelihood that it could profit them in any way.
I had been in the islands several months when the survivors arrived. I was laid up in my room at the time, and unable to walk. Here was a great occasion to serve my journal, and I not able to take advantage of it. Necessarily I was in deep trouble. But by good luck his Excellency Anson Burlingame was there at the time, on his way to take up his post in China, where he did such good work for the United States. He came and put me on a stretcher and had me carried to the hospital where the shipwrecked men were, and I never needed to ask a question. He attended to all of that himself, and I had nothing to do but make the notes. It was like him to take that trouble. He was a great man and a great American, and it was in his fine nature to come down from his high office and do a friendly turn whenever he could.
We got through with this work at six in the evening. I took no dinner, for there was no time to spare if I would beat the other correspondents. I spent four hours arranging the notes in their proper order, then wrote all night and beyond it; with this result: that I had a very long and detailed account of the 'Hornet' episode ready at nine in the morning, while the other correspondents of the San Francisco journals had nothing but a brief outline report--for they didn't sit up. The now-and-then schooner was to sail for San Francisco about nine; when I reached the dock she was free forward and was just casting off her stern-line. My fat envelope was thrown by a strong hand, and fell on board all right, and my victory was a safe thing. All in due time the ship reached San Francisco, but it was my complete report which made the stir and was telegraphed to the New York papers, by Mr. Cash; he was in charge of the Pacific bureau of the 'New York Herald' at the time.
When I returned to California by-and-by, I went up to Sacramento and presented a bill for general correspondence at twenty dollars a week. It was paid. Then I presented a bill for 'special' service on the 'Hornet' matter of three columns of solid nonpareil at a hundred dollars a column. The cashier didn't faint, but he came rather near it. He sent for the proprietors, and they came and never uttered a protest. They only laughed in their jolly fashion, and said it was robbery, but no matter; it was a grand 'scoop' (the bill or my 'Hornet' report, I didn't know which): 'Pay it. It's all right.' The best men that ever owned a newspaper.
The 'Hornet' survivors reached the Sandwich Islands the 15th of June. They were mere skinny skeletons; their clothes hung limp about them and fitted them no better than a flag fits the flag-staff in a calm. But they were well nursed in the hospital; the people of Honolulu kept them supplied with all the dainties they could need; they gathered strength fast, and were presently nearly as good as new. Within a fortnight the most of them took ship for San Francisco; that is, if my dates have not gone astray in my memory. I went in the same ship, a sailing-vessel. Captain Mitchell of the 'Hornet' was along; also the only passengers the 'Hornet' had carried. These were two young men from Stamford, Connecticut--brothers: Samuel and Henry Ferguson. The 'Hornet' was a clipper of the first class and a fast sailer; the young men's quarters were roomy and comfortable, and were well stocked with books, and also with canned meats and fruits to help out the ship-fare with; and when the ship cleared from New York harbour in the first week of January there was promise that she would make quick and pleasant work of the fourteen or fifteen thousand miles in front of her. As soon as the cold latitudes were left behind and the vessel entered summer weather, the voyage became a holiday picnic. The ship flew southward under a cloud of sail which needed no attention, no modifying or change of any kind, for days together. The young men read, strolled the ample deck, rested and drowsed in the shade of the canvas, took their meals with the captain; and when the day was done they played dummy whist with him till bed-time. After the snow and ice and tempests of the Horn, the ship bowled northward into summer weather again, and the trip was a picnic once more.
Until the early morning of the 3rd of May. Computed position of the ship 112 degrees 10 minutes longitude, latitude 2 degrees above the equator; no wind, no sea--dead calm; temperature of the atmosphere, tropical, blistering, unimaginable by one who has not been roasted in it. There was a cry of fire. An unfaithful sailor had disobeyed the rules and gone into the booby-hatch with an open light to draw some varnish from a cask. The proper result followed, and the vessel's hours were numbered.
There was not much time to spare, but the captain made the most of it. The three boats were launched--long-boat and two quarter-boats. That the time was very short and the hurry and excitement considerable is indicated by the fact that in launching the boats a hole was stove in the side of one of them by some sort of collision, and an oar driven through the side of another. The captain's first care was to have four sick sailors brought up and placed on deck out of harm's way--among them a 'Portyghee.' This man had not done a day's work on the voyage, but had lain in his hammock four months nursing an abscess. When we were taking notes in the Honolulu hospital and a sailor told this to Mr. Burlingame, the third mate, who was lying near, raised his head with an effort, and in a weak voice made this correction--with solemnity and feeling:
'Raising abscesses! He had a family of them. He done it to keep from standing his watch.'
Any provisions that lay handy were gathered up by the men and two passengers and brought and dumped on the deck where the 'Portyghee' lay; then they ran for more. The sailor who was telling this to Mr. Burlingame added:
'We pulled together thirty-two days' rations for the thirty-one men that way.'
The third mate lifted his head again and made another correction--with bitterness:
'The "Portyghee" et twenty-two of them while he was soldiering there and nobody noticing. A damned hound.'
The fire spread with great rapidity. The smoke and flame drove the men back, and they had to stop their incomplete work of fetching provisions, and take to the boats with only ten days' rations secured.
Each boat had a compass, a quadrant, a copy of Bowditch's 'Navigator,' and a Nautical Almanac, and the captain's and chief mate's boats had chronometers. There were thirty-one men all told. The captain took an account of stock, with the following result: four hams, nearly thirty pounds of salt pork, half-box of raisins, one hundred pounds of bread, twelve two-pound cans of oysters, clams, and assorted meats, a keg containing four pounds of butter, twelve gallons of water in a forty-gallon 'scuttle-butt', four one-gallon demijohns full of water, three bottles of brandy (the property of passengers), some pipes, matches, and a hundred pounds of tobacco. No medicines. Of course the whole party had to go on short rations at once.
The captain and the two passengers kept diaries. On our voyage to San Francisco we ran into a calm in the middle of the Pacific, and did not move a rod during fourteen days; this gave me a chance to copy the diaries. Samuel Ferguson's is the fullest; I will draw upon it now. When the following paragraph was written the doomed ship was about one hundred and twenty days out from port, and all hands were putting in the lazy time about as usual, as no one was forecasting disaster.
Next day's entry records the disaster. The three boats got away, retired to a short distance, and stopped. The two injured ones were leaking badly; some of the men were kept busy baling, others patched the holes as well as they could. The captain, the two passengers, and eleven men were in the long-boat, with a share of the provisions and water, and with no room to spare, for the boat was only twenty-one feet long, six wide, and three deep. The chief mate and eight men were in one of the small boats, the second mate and seven men in the other. The passengers had saved no clothing but what they had on, excepting their overcoats. The ship, clothed in flame and sending up a vast column of black smoke into the sky, made a grand picture in the solitudes of the sea, and hour after hour the outcasts sat and watched it. Meantime the captain ciphered on the immensity of the distance that stretched between him and the nearest available land, and then scaled the rations down to meet the emergency; half a biscuit for dinner; one biscuit and some canned meat for dinner; half a biscuit for tea; a few swallows of water for each meal. And so hunger began to gnaw while the ship was still burning.
They did a quite natural thing now: waited several hours for that possible ship that might have seen the light to work her slow way to them through the nearly dead calm. Then they gave it up and set about their plans. If you will look at the map you will say that their course could be easily decided. Albemarle Island (Galapagos group) lies straight eastward nearly a thousand miles; the islands referred to in the diary as 'some islands' (Revillagigedo Islands) lie, as they think, in some widely uncertain region northward about one thousand miles and westward one hundred or one hundred and fifty miles. Acapulco, on the Mexican coast, lies about north-east something short of one thousand miles. You will say random rocks in the ocean are not what is wanted; let them strike for Acapulco and the solid continent. That does look like the rational course, but one presently guesses from the diaries that the thing would have been wholly irrational--indeed, suicidal. If the boats struck for Albemarle they would be in the doldrums all the way; and that means a watery perdition, with winds which are wholly crazy, and blow from all points of the compass at once and also perpendicularly. If the boats tried for Acapulco they would get out of the doldrums when half-way there--in case they ever got half-way--and then they would be in lamentable case, for there they would meet the north-east trades coming down in their teeth, and these boats were so rigged that they could not sail within eight points of the wind. So they wisely started northward, with a slight slant to the west. They had but ten days' short allowance of food; the long-boat was towing the others; they could not depend on making any sort of definite progress in the doldrums, and they had four or five hundred miles of doldrums in front of them yet. They are the real equator, a tossing, roaring, rainy belt, ten or twelve hundred miles broad, which girdles the globe.
It rained hard the first night and all got drenched, but they filled up their water-butt. The brothers were in the stern with the captain, who steered. The quarters were cramped; no one got much sleep. 'Kept on our course till squalls headed us off.'
Stormy and squally the next morning, with drenching rains. A heavy and dangerous 'cobbling' sea. One marvels how such boats could live in it. Is it called a feat of desperate daring when one man and a dog cross the Atlantic in a boat the size of a long-boat, and indeed it is; but this long-boat was overloaded with men and other plunder, and was only three feet deep. 'We naturally thought often of all at home, and were glad to remember that it was Sacrament Sunday, and that prayers would go up from our friends for us, although they know not our peril.'
The captain got not even a cat-nap during the first three days and nights, but he got a few winks of sleep the fourth night. 'The worst sea yet.' About ten at night the captain changed his course and headed east-north-east, hoping to make Clipperton Rock. If he failed, no matter; he would be in a better position to make those other islands. I will mention here that he did not find that rock.
On May 8 no wind all day; sun blistering hot; they take to the oars. Plenty of dolphins, but they couldn't catch any. 'I think we are all beginning to realise more and more the awful situation we are in.' 'It often takes a ship a week to get through the doldrums; how much longer, then, such a craft as ours?' 'We are so crowded that we cannot stretch ourselves out for a good sleep, but have to take it any way we can get it.'
Of course this feature will grow more and more trying, but it will be human nature to cease to set it down; there will be five weeks of it yet --we must try to remember that for the diarist; it will make our beds the softer.
May 9 the sun gives him a warning: 'Looking with both eyes, the horizon crossed thus +.' 'Henry keeps well, but broods over our troubles more than I wish he did.' They caught two dolphins; they tasted well. 'The captain believed the compass out of the way, but the long-invisible north star came out--a welcome sight--and endorsed the compass.'
May 10, 'latitude 7 degrees 0 minutes 3 seconds N., longitude 111 degrees 32 minutes W.' So they have made about three hundred miles of northing in the six days since they left the region of the lost ship. 'Drifting in calms all day.' And baking hot, of course; I have been down there, and I remember that detail. 'Even as the captain says, all romance has long since vanished, and I think the most of us are beginning to look the fact of our awful situation full in the face.' 'We are making but little headway on our course.' Bad news from the rearmost boat: the men are improvident; 'they have eaten up all of the canned meats brought from the ship, and are now growing discontented.' Not so with the chief mate's people--they are evidently under the eye of a man.
Under date of May 11: 'Standing still! or worse; we lost more last night than we made yesterday.' In fact, they have lost three miles of the three hundred of northing they had so laboriously made. 'The cock that was rescued and pitched into the boat while the ship was on fire still lives, and crows with the breaking of dawn, cheering us a good deal.' What has he been living on for a week? Did the starving men feed him from their dire poverty? 'The second mate's boat out of water again, showing that they over-drink their allowance. The captain spoke pretty sharply to them.' It is true: I have the remark in my old note-book; I got it of the third mate in the hospital at Honolulu. But there is not room for it here, and it is too combustible, anyway. Besides, the third mate admired it, and what he admired he was likely to enhance.
They were still watching hopefully for ships. The captain was a thoughtful man, and probably did not disclose on them that that was substantially a waste of time. 'In this latitude the horizon is filled with little upright clouds that look very much like ships.' Mr. Ferguson saved three bottles of brandy from his private stores when he left the ship, and the liquor came good in these days. 'The captain serves out two tablespoonfuls of brandy and water--half and half--to our crew.' He means the watch that is on duty; they stood regular watches--four hours on and four off. The chief mate was an excellent officer--a self-possessed, resolute, fine, all-round man. The diarist makes the following note--there is character in it: 'I offered one bottle of brandy to the chief mate, but he declined, saying he could keep the after-boat quiet, and we had not enough for all.'
HENRY FERGUSON'S DIARY TO DATE, GIVEN IN FULL:
That boy's diary is of the economical sort that a person might properly be expected to keep in such circumstances--and be forgiven for the economy, too. His brother, perishing of consumption, hunger, thirst, blazing heat, drowning rains, loss of sleep, lack of exercise, was persistently faithful and circumstantial with his diary from the first day to the last--an instance of noteworthy fidelity and resolution. In spite of the tossing and plunging boat he wrote it close and fine, in a hand as easy to read as print. They can't seem to get north of 7 degrees N.; they are still there the next day:
During the night, 12th-13th, 'the cry of a ship! brought us to our feet.' It seemed to be the glimmer of a vessel's signal-lantern rising out of the curve of the sea. There was a season of breathless hope while they stood watching, with their hands shading their eyes, and their hearts in their throats; then the promise failed: the light was a rising star. It is a long time ago--thirty-two years--and it doesn't matter now, yet one is sorry for their disappointment. 'Thought often of those at home to-day, and of the disappointment they will feel next Sunday at not hearing from us by telegraph from San Francisco.' It will be many weeks yet before the telegram is received, and it will come as a thunderclap of joy then, and with the seeming of a miracle, for it will raise from the grave men mourned as dead. 'To-day our rations were reduced to a quarter of a biscuit a meal, with about half a pint of water.' This is on May 13, with more than a month of voyaging in front of them yet! However, as they do not know that, 'we are all feeling pretty cheerful.'
In the afternoon of the 14th there was a thunderstorm, 'which toward night seemed to close in around us on every side, making it very dark and squally.' 'Our situation is becoming more and more desperate,' for they were making very little northing 'and every day diminishes our small stock of provisions.' They realise that the boats must soon separate, and each fight for its own life. Towing the quarter-boats is a hindering business.
That night and next day, light and baffling winds and but little progress. Hard to bear, that persistent standing still, and the food wasting away. 'Everything in a perfect sop; and all so cramped, and no change of clothes.' Soon the sun comes out and roasts them. 'Joe caught another dolphin to-day; in his maw we found a flying-fish and two skipjacks.' There is an event, now, which rouses an enthusiasm of hope: a land-bird arrives! It rests on the yard for awhile, and they can look at it all they like, and envy it, and thank it for its message. As a subject of talk it is beyond price--a fresh new topic for tongues tired to death of talking upon a single theme: Shall we ever see the land again; and when? Is the bird from Clipperton Rock? They hope so; and they take heart of grace to believe so. As it turned out the bird had no message; it merely came to mock.
May 16, 'the cock still lives, and daily carols forth his praise.' It will be a rainy night, 'but I do not care if we can fill up our water-butts.'
On the 17th one of those majestic spectres of the deep, a water-spout, stalked by them, and they trembled for their lives. Young Henry set it down in his scanty journal with the judicious comment that 'it might have been a fine sight from a ship.'
From Captain Mitchell's log for this day: 'Only half a bushel of bread-crumbs left.' (And a month to wander the seas yet.')
It rained all night and all day; everybody uncomfortable. Now came a sword-fish chasing a bonito; and the poor thing, seeking help and friends, took refuge under the rudder. The big sword-fish kept hovering around, scaring everybody badly. The men's mouths watered for him, for he would have made a whole banquet; but no one dared to touch him, of course, for he would sink a boat promptly if molested. Providence protected the poor bonito from the cruel sword-fish. This was just and right. Providence next befriended the shipwrecked sailors: they got the bonito. This was also just and right. But in the distribution of mercies the sword-fish himself got overlooked. He now went away; to muse over these subtleties, probably. The men in all the boats seem pretty well; the feeblest of the sick ones (not able for a long time to stand his watch on board the ship) 'is wonderfully recovered.' This is the third mate's detected 'Portyghee' that raised the family of abscesses.
Latitude, May 18, 11 degrees 11 minutes. So they have averaged but forty miles of northing a day during the fortnight. Further talk of separating. 'Too bad, but it must be done for the safety of the whole.' 'At first I never dreamed, but now hardly shut my eyes for a cat-nap without conjuring up something or other--to be accounted for by weakness, I suppose.' But for their disaster they think they would be arriving in San Francisco about this time. 'I should have liked to send B---the telegram for her birthday.' This was a young sister.
On the 19th the captain called up the quarter-boats and said one would have to go off on its own hook. The long-boat could no longer tow both of them. The second mate refused to go, but the chief mate was ready; in fact, he was always ready when there was a man's work to the fore. He took the second mate's boat; six of its crew elected to remain, and two of his own crew came with him (nine in the boat, now, including himself). He sailed away, and toward sunset passed out of sight. The diarist was sorry to see him go. It was natural; one could have better spared the 'Portyghee.' After thirty-two years I find my prejudice against this 'Portyghee' reviving. His very looks have long passed out of my memory; but no matter, I am coming to hate him as religiously as ever. 'Water will now be a scarce article, for as we get out of the doldrums we shall get showers only now and then in the trades. This life is telling severely on my strength. Henry holds out first-rate.' Henry did not start well, but under hardships he improved straight along.
Latitude, Sunday, May 20, 12 degrees 0 minutes 9 seconds. They ought to be well out of the doldrums now, but they are not. No breeze--the longed-for trades still missing. They are still anxiously watching for a sail, but they have only 'visions of ships that come to naught--the shadow without the substance.' The second mate catches a booby this afternoon, a bird which consists mainly of feathers; 'but as they have no other meat, it will go well.'
May 21, they strike the trades at last! The second mate catches three more boobies, and gives the long-boat one. Dinner 'half a can of mincemeat divided up and served around, which strengthened us somewhat.' They have to keep a man bailing all the time; the hole knocked in the boat when she was launched from the burning ship was never efficiently mended. 'Heading about north-west now.' They hope they have easting enough to make some of these indefinite isles. Failing that, they think they will be in a better position to be picked up. It was an infinitely slender chance, but the captain probably refrained from mentioning that.
The next day is to be an eventful one.
So these isles that they have struggled for so long and so hopefully have to be given up. What with lying birds that come to mock, and isles that are but a dream, and 'visions of ships that come to naught,' it is a pathetic time they are having, with much heartbreak in it. It was odd that the vanished boat, three days lost to sight in that vast solitude, should appear again. But it brought Cox--we can't be certain why. But if it hadn't, the diarist would never have seen the land again.
Next day 'nothing particular happened.' Perhaps some of us would have regarded it differently. 'Passed a spar, but not near enough to see what it was.' They saw some whales blow; there were flying-fish skimming the seas, but none came aboard. Misty weather, with fine rain, very penetrating.
Latitude, May 26, 15 degrees 50 minutes. They caught a flying-fish and a booby, but had to eat them raw. 'The men grow weaker, and, I think, despondent; they say very little, though.' And so, to all the other imaginable and unimaginable horrors, silence is added--the muteness and brooding of coming despair. 'It seems our best chance to get in the track of ships with the hope that some one will run near enough to our speck to see it.' He hopes the other boards stood west and have been picked up. (They will never be heard of again in this world.)
The next day was 'a good day for seeing a ship.' But none was seen. The diarist 'still feels pretty well,' though very weak; his brother Henry 'bears up and keeps his strength the best of any on board.' 'I do not feel despondent at all, for I fully trust that the Almighty will hear our and the home prayers, and He who suffers not a sparrow to fall sees and cares for us, His creatures.'
Considering the situation and circumstances, the record for next day, May 29, is one which has a surprise in it for those dull people who think that nothing but medicines and doctors can cure the sick. A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors. I do not mean a restricted diet; I mean total abstention from food for one or two days. I speak from experience; starvation has been my cold and fever doctor for fifteen years, and has accomplished a cure in all instances. The third mate told me in Honolulu that the 'Portyghee' had lain in his hammock for months, raising his family of abscesses and feeding like a cannibal. We have seen that in spite of dreadful weather, deprivation of sleep, scorching, drenching, and all manner of miseries, thirteen days of starvation 'wonderfully recovered' him. There were four sailors down sick when the ship was burned. Twenty-five days of pitiless starvation have followed, and now we have this curious record: 'All the men are hearty and strong; even the ones that were down sick are well, except poor Peter.' When I wrote an article some months ago urging temporary abstention from food as a remedy for an inactive appetite and for disease, I was accused of jesting, but I was in earnest. 'We are all wonderfully well and strong, comparatively speaking.' On this day the starvation regime drew its belt a couple of buckle-holes tighter: the bread ration was reduced from the usual piece of cracker the size of a silver dollar to the half of that, and one meal was abolished from the daily three. This will weaken the men physically, but if there are any diseases of an ordinary sort left in them they will disappear.
The hopeful tone of the diaries is persistent. It is remarkable. Look at the map and see where the boat is: latitude 16 degrees 44 minutes, longitude 119 degrees 20 minutes. It is more than two hundred miles west of the Revillagigedo Islands, so they are quite out of the question against the trades, rigged as this boat is. The nearest land available for such a boat is the American group, six hundred and fifty miles away, westward; still, there is no note of surrender, none even of discouragement! Yet, May 30, 'we have now left: one can of oysters; three pounds of raisins; one can of soup; one-third of a ham; three pints of biscuit-crumbs.'
And fifteen starved men to live on it while they creep and crawl six hundred and fifty miles. 'Somehow I feel much encouraged by this change of course (west by north) which we have made to-day.' Six hundred and fifty miles on a hatful of provisions. Let us be thankful, even after thirty-two years, that they are mercifully ignorant of the fact that it isn't six hundred and fifty that they must creep on the hatful, but twenty-two hundred!
Isn't the situation romantic enough just as it stands? No. Providence added a startling detail: pulling an oar in that boat, for common seaman's wages, was a banished duke--Danish. We hear no more of him; just that mention, that is all, with the simple remark added that 'he is one of our best men'--a high enough compliment for a duke or any other man in those manhood-testing circumstances. With that little glimpse of him at his oar, and that fine word of praise, he vanishes out of our knowledge for all time. For all time, unless he should chance upon this note and reveal himself.
The last day of May is come. And now there is a disaster to report: think of it, reflect upon it, and try to understand how much it means, when you sit down with your family and pass your eye over your breakfast-table. Yesterday there were three pints of bread-crumbs; this morning the little bag is found open and some of the crumbs are missing. 'We dislike to suspect any one of such a rascally act, but there is no question that this grave crime has been committed. Two days will certainly finish the remaining morsels. God grant us strength to reach the American group!' The third mate told me in Honolulu that in these days the men remembered with bitterness that the 'Portyghee' had devoured twenty-two days' rations while he lay waiting to be transferred from the burning ship, and that now they cursed him and swore an oath that if it came to cannibalism he should be the first to suffer for the rest.
Further of the captain: 'He is a good man, and has been most kind to us --almost fatherly. He says that if he had been offered the command of the ship sooner he should have brought his two daughters with him.' It makes one shudder yet to think how narrow an escape it was.
He means a penny in thickness as well as in circumference. Samuel Ferguson's diary says the ham was shaved 'about as thin as it could be cut.'
Doubtful! It was worse than that. A week later they sailed straight over them.
They are down to one meal a day now--such as it is--and fifteen hundred miles to crawl yet! And now the horrors deepen, and, though they escaped actual mutiny, the attitude of the men became alarming. Now we seem to see why that curious incident happened, so long ago; I mean Cox's return, after he had been far away and out of sight several days in the chief mate's boat. If he had not come back the captain and the two young passengers might have been slain, now, by these sailors, who were becoming crazed through their sufferings.
It is twelve hundred miles to the Sandwich Islands; the provisions are virtually exhausted, but not the perishing diarist's pluck.
Nothing is now left which by any flattery can be called food. But they must manage somehow for five days more, for at noon they have still eight hundred miles to go. It is a race for life now.
This is no time for comments or other interruptions from me--every moment is valuable. I will take up the boy brother's diary at this point, and clear the seas before it and let it fly.
[Ferguson's log continues]
It is an amazing adventure. There is nothing of its sort in history that surpasses it in impossibilities made possible. In one extraordinary detail--the survival of every person in the boat--it probably stands alone in the history of adventures of its kinds. Usually merely a part of a boat's company survive--officers, mainly, and other educated and tenderly-reared men, unused to hardship and heavy labour; the untrained, roughly-reared hard workers succumb. But in this case even the rudest and roughest stood the privations and miseries of the voyage almost as well as did the college-bred young brothers and the captain. I mean, physically. The minds of most of the sailors broke down in the fourth week and went to temporary ruin, but physically the endurance exhibited was astonishing. Those men did not survive by any merit of their own, of course, but by merit of the character and intelligence of the captain; they lived by the mastery of his spirit. Without him they would have been children without a nurse; they would have exhausted their provisions in a week, and their pluck would not have lasted even as long as the provisions.
The boat came near to being wrecked at the last. As it approached the shore the sail was let go, and came down with a run; then the captain saw that he was drifting swiftly toward an ugly reef, and an effort was made to hoist the sail again; but it could not be done; the men's strength was wholly exhausted; they could not even pull an oar. They were helpless, and death imminent. It was then that they were discovered by the two Kanakas who achieved the rescue. They swam out and manned the boat, and piloted her through a narrow and hardly noticeable break in the reef--the only break in it in a stretch of thirty-five miles! The spot where the landing was made was the only one in that stretch where footing could have been found on the shore; everywhere else precipices came sheer down into forty fathoms of water. Also, in all that stretch this was the only spot where anybody lived.
Within ten days after the landing all the men but one were up and creeping about. Properly, they ought to have killed themselves with the 'food' of the last few days--some of them, at any rate--men who had freighted their stomachs with strips of leather from old boots and with chips from the butter cask; a freightage which they did not get rid of by digestion, but by other means. The captain and the two passengers did not eat strips and chips, as the sailors did, but scraped the boot-leather and the wood, and made a pulp of the scrapings by moistening them with water. The third mate told me that the boots were old and full of holes; then added thoughtfully, 'but the holes digested the best.' Speaking of digestion, here is a remarkable thing, and worth nothing: during this strange voyage, and for a while afterward on shore, the bowels of some of the men virtually ceased from their functions; in some cases there was no action for twenty and thirty days, and in one case for forty-four! Sleeping also came to be rare. Yet the men did very well without it. During many days the captain did not sleep at all --twenty-one, I think, on one stretch.
When the landing was made, all the men were successfully protected from over-eating except the 'Portyghee;' he escaped the watch and ate an incredible number of bananas: a hundred and fifty-two, the third mate said, but this was undoubtedly an exaggeration; I think it was a hundred and fifty-one. He was already nearly half full of leather; it was hanging out of his ears. (I do not state this on the third mate's authority, for we have seen what sort of a person he was; I state it on my own.) The 'Portyghee' ought to have died, of course, and even now it seems a pity that he didn't; but he got well, and as early as any of them; and all full of leather, too, the way he was, and butter-timber and handkerchiefs and bananas. Some of the men did eat handkerchiefs in those last days, also socks; and he was one of them.
It is to the credit of the men that they did not kill the rooster that crowed so gallantly mornings. He lived eighteen days, and then stood up and stretched his neck and made a brave, weak effort to do his duty once more, and died in the act. It is a picturesque detail; and so is that rainbow, too--the only one seen in the forty-three days,--raising its triumphal arch in the skies for the sturdy fighters to sail under to victory and rescue.
With ten days' provisions Captain Josiah Mitchell performed this memorable voyage of forty-three days and eight hours in an open boat, sailing four thousand miles in reality and thirty-three hundred and sixty by direct courses, and brought every man safe to land. A bright, simple-hearted, unassuming, plucky, and most companionable man. I walked the deck with him twenty-eight days--when I was not copying diaries,--and I remember him with reverent honour. If he is alive he is eighty-six years old now.
If I remember rightly, Samuel Ferguson died soon after we reached San Francisco. I do not think he lived to see his home again; his disease had been seriously aggravated by his hardships.
For a time it was hoped that the two quarter-boats would presently be heard of, but this hope suffered disappointment. They went down with all on board, no doubt, not even sparing that knightly chief mate.
The authors of the diaries allowed me to copy them exactly as they were written, and the extracts that I have given are without any smoothing over or revision. These diaries are finely modest and unaffected, and with unconscious and unintentional art they rise toward the climax with graduated and gathering force and swing and dramatic intensity; they sweep you along with a cumulative rush, and when the cry rings out at last, 'Land in sight!' your heart is in your mouth, and for a moment you think it is you that have been saved. The last two paragraphs are not improvable by anybody's art; they are literary gold; and their very pauses and uncompleted sentences have in them an eloquence not reachable by any words.
The interest of this story is unquenchable; it is of the sort that time cannot decay. I have not looked at the diaries for thirty-two years, but I find that they have lost nothing in that time. Lost? They have gained; for by some subtle law all tragic human experiences gain in pathos by the perspective of time. We realize this when in Naples we stand musing over the poor Pompeian mother, lost in the historic storm of volcanic ashes eighteen centuries ago, who lies with her child gripped close to her breast, trying to save it, and whose despair and grief have been preserved for us by the fiery envelope which took her life but eternalized her form and features. She moves us, she haunts us, she stays in our thoughts for many days, we do not know why, for she is nothing to us, she has been nothing to anyone for eighteen centuries; whereas of the like case to-day we should say, 'Poor thing! it is pitiful,' and forget it in an hour.
 There are nineteen days of voyaging ahead yet.--M.T.
 Six days to sail yet, nevertheless.--M.T.
 It was at this time discovered that the crazed sailors had gotten the delusion that the captain had a million dollars in gold concealed aft, and they were conspiring to kill him and the two passengers and seize it. --M.T.