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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 --they numbered forty or fifty-was shot out into the water. Another one, full of women and children, got to the water safely, 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, 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 behaviour 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, even if it cost the lives of all else on board.
* A similar incident occurred in the case of the Teuton, which foundered some years ago on the South African coast.
And thus it was exactly twenty minutes from the time that the Kangaroo sank the whaler (for, although these events have taken some time to describe, they did not take long to enact) that her
und, with the exception of some eight-and-twenty souls, all told, the hour also of every living creature who had taken passage
As soon as Mr. Meeson, saved from drowning by her intervention, lay gasping at the bottom of the boat, Augusta, overcome by a momentary faintness, let her head fall forward on to the bundle of blankets in which she had wrapped up the child she had rescued, and
, who, too terrified to speak or cry, stared about him with widely-opened and frightened eyes. When she lifted it, a few seconds later, a ray from the rising sun had pierced the mist, and striking full on the sinking ship, as, her stern well out of the water and her bow well under it, she rolled sullenly to and fro in the trough of the sea, seemed to wrap her from hull to truck in wild and stormy light.
“She's going!--by George, she's going!” said the seaman Johnnie; and as he said it the mighty ship slowly reared herself up on end. Slowly-very slowly, amidst the hideous and despairing shrieks of the doomed wretches on board of her, she lifted her stern higher and higher, and plunged her bows deeper and deeper. They shrieked, they cried to Heaven for help; but Heaven heeded them not, for man's agony cannot avert man's doom. Now, for a space, she was standing almost upright upon the water, out of which more than a hundred feet of her vast length towered like some monstrous ocean growth, whilst, like flies benumbed by frost, men fell from her in showers, down into the churning foam beneath. Then suddenly, with a swift and awful rush, with a rending sound of breaking spars, a loud explosion of her boilers, and a smothered boom of bursting bulkheads, she plunged down into the fathomless and was seen no more for ever.
The water closed in over where she had been, boiling and foaming and sucking down all things in the wake of her last journey, while the steam and prisoned air came up in huge hissing jets and bubbles that exploded into spray on the surface.
The men groaned, the child stared stupefied, and Augusta cried out, “Oh! oh!" like one in pain.
“Row back!” she gasped, "row back and see if we cannot pick some of them up.”
“No! no!” shouted Meeson; "they will sink the boat!”
“'T ain't much use anyway,” said Johnnie. “I doubt that precious few of them will come up again. They have gone too deep!”
However, they got the boat's head round againslowly enough, Augusta thought--and as they did so heard a feeble cry or two. But by the time that they had reached the spot where the Kangaroo went down, there was no living creature to be seen; nothing but
the wash of the great waves, over which the mist once more closed thick and heavy as a pall. They shouted, and once they heard a faint answer, and rowed towards it; but when they got to the spot whence the sound seemed to proceed, they could see nothing except some wreckage. They were all dead, their agony was done, their cries no more ascended to the pitiless heavens; and wind, and sky, and sea were just as they had been.
“Oh, my God! my God!" wept Augusta, clinging to the thwarts of the tossing boat.
“One boat got away—where is it?" asked Mr. Meeson, who, a wet and wretched figure, was huddled up in the stern-sheets, as he rolled his wild eyes round, striving to pierce the curtain of the mist.
“There's something,” said Johnnie, pointing through a fog-dog in the mist, that seemed to grow denser rather than otherwise as the light increased, at a round, boatlike object which had suddenly appeared to the starboard of them.
They rowed up to it; it was a boat, but empty and floating bottom upwards. Closer examination showed that it was the cutter, which, when full of women and children, had been fastened to the vessel and dragged down with her as she sank. At a certain depth the pressure of the water had torn the ring in the bow bodily out of her, so that she returned to the surface. But those in her did not return—at least, not yet. Once more, two or three days hence, they would arise