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"I am in no hurry," said Augusta, stepping forward with the trembling child in her arms; and her action for a few seconds produced a calming effect, for the men stopped.
"Come on!" said Mr. Tombey, stooping to lift her over the side, only to be nearly knocked down by a man who made a desperate effort to get into the boat. It was Mr. Meeson, and, recognizing him, Mr. Tombey dealt him a blow that sent him spinning back.
"A thousand pounds for a place!" he roared. "Ten thousand pounds for a seat in a boat!" And once more he scrambled up at the bulwarks, trampling down a child as he did so, and was once more thrown back.
Mr. Tombey took Augusta and the child into his strong arms and put her into the boat. As he did so, he kissed her forehead and murmured, "God bless you; good-bye."
At that instant there was a loud report forward, and the stern of the vessel lifted perceptibly. The bulkhead had given way, and there arose such a yell as surely was seldom heard before. To Augusta's ears it seemed to shape itself into the word “Sinking!"
Up from the bowels of the ship poured the firemen, the appearance of whose blackened faces, lined with white streaks of perspiration, added a new impulse of terror to the panic-stricken throng. Aft they came, accompanied by a crowd of sailors and emigrants.
"Rush the boats," sang out a voice with a strong Irish accent, "or sure we'll be drowned!"
Taking the hint, the maddened mob burst towards the boats like a flood, blaspheming and shrieking as it came. In a moment the women and children who were waiting to take to the boat, in which Augusta and the two seamen were already, were swept aside, and a determined effort was made to rush it, headed by a great Irishman, the same who had called out.
Augusta saw Mr. Tombey, Lord Holmhurst, who had come up, and the officer lift their pistols, which exploded almost simultaneously, and the Irishman and another man pitched forward on to their hands and knees.
"Never mind the pistols, lads," shouted a voice; 66 as well be shot as drown. There isn't room for half of us in the boats; come on!" And a second fearful rush was made, which bore the three gentlemen, firing as they went, right up against the nettings.
66 'Bill," hallooed the man who was holding on to the foremost tackle, "lower away; we shall be rushed and swamped!"
Bill obeyed with heart and soul, and down sank the boat below the level of the upper decks, just as the mob was getting the mastery. In five seconds more they were hanging close over the water, and while they were in this position a man leaped at the boat from the bulwarks. He struck on the thwarts, rolled off into the water, and was no more seen. A lady, the wife of a colonial judge, threw her child; Augusta
tried to catch it, but missed, and the boy sank and was lost. In another moment the two sailors had shoved off from the ship's side. As they did so, the stern of the Kangaroo lifted right out of the water so that they could see under her rudder-post. Just then, too, with a yell of terror, Mr. Meeson, in whom the elementary principle of self-preservation at all costs was strongly developed, cast himself from the side and fell with a splash within a few feet of the boat. Rising to the surface, he clutched hold of the gunwale, and implored to be taken in.
"Knock the old varmint over the knuckles, Bill," shouted the other man; "he'll upset us!"
"No; no!" cried Augusta, her woman's heart moved at seeing her old enemy in such a case. "There is plenty of room in the boat."
"Hold on then," said the man addressed, whose name was Johnnie; "when we get clear we'll haul you in."
And, the reader may be sure, Mr. Meeson did hold on pretty tight till, after rowing about fifty yards, the two men halted, and proceeded, not without some risk and trouble for there was a considerable sea running -to hoist Mr. Meeson's large form over the gunwale of the boat.
Meanwhile, the horrors on board the doomed ship were redoubling, as she slowly settled to her watery grave. Forward, the steam fog-horn was going unceasingly, bellowing like a thousand furious bulls; while, now and again, a rocket still shot up through
the misty morning air. Round the boats a hideous war was being waged. Augusta saw a great number of men jump into one of the largest life-boats, which was still hanging to the davits, having evidently got the better of those who were attempting to fill it with the women and children. The next second they lowered the after tackle, but, by some hitch or misunderstanding, not the foremost one; with the result that the stern of the boat fell while the bow remained fixed, and every soul in it, some forty or fifty people, was shot out into the water. Another boat was overturned by a sea as it settled on the water. Another one, full of women and children, got to the water all right, but remained fastened to the ship by the bow tackle. When, a couple of minutes afterwards, the Kangaroo went down, nobody had a knife at hand wherewith to cut the rope, and the boat was dragged down with her, and all its occupants drowned. The remaining boats, with the exception of the one in which Lady Holmhurst was, and which had been got away before the rush began, were never lowered at all, or sank as soon as lowered. It was impossible to lower them, owing to the mad behavior of the panic-stricken crowds, who fought like wild beasts for a place in them. A few gentlemen and sober-headed sailors could do nothing against a mob of frantic creatures, each bent on saving his own life, if it cost the existence of everybody on board.
And thus it was exactly twenty minutes from the time that the Kangaroo sank the whaler (for, although