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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 wide-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 heavy sea, seemed to wrap her from hull to truck in wild and stormy light.
"She's going! By Heaven, 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 about
a hundred feet of her vast length towered like some monstrous ocean growth, while men fell from her in showers, like flies benumbed by frost, 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 measureless deeps, and was seen no more forever. 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!"
""Tain'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 again, slowly enough, Augusta thought, and as they did so they 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, boat-like object that 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 been too great and had torn the ring in the bow bodily out of her, so that she returned to the surface. But those in her did not
Once more, two or three
return at least, not yet. days hence, they would arise from the watery depths and look upon the skies with eyes that could not see, and then vanish forever.
Turning from this awful and most moving sight,
they rowed slowly through quantities of floating wreckage — barrels, hencoops (in one of these they found two drowned fowls, which they secured), and many other articles, such as oars and wicker deckchairs—and began to shout vigorously in the hope of attracting the attention of the survivors in the other boat, which they imagined would not be far off. Their efforts, however, proved fruitless, owing to the thickness of the fog; and in the considerable sea which was running it was impossible to see more than twenty yards or so. Also, what between the wind, and the wash and turmoil of the water, the sound of their voices did not travel far. The ocean is a large place, and a rowing-boat is easily lost sight of upon its furrowed surface; therefore it is not wonderful that, although the two boats were at the moment within half a mile of each other, they never met, and each took its separate course in the hope of escaping the fate of the vessel. The boat in which were Lady Holmhurst and some twenty other passengers, together with the second officer and a crew of six men, after seeing the Kangaroo sink and picking up one survivor, shaped a course for Kerguelen Land, believing that they, and they alone, remained to tell the tale of that awful shipwreck. And here it may be convenient to state that before nightfall they were picked up by a sealing-whaler, that sailed with them to Albany, on the coast of Australia. Thence an account of the disaster, which, as the reader will remember, created a deep impression, was telegraphed home, and thence, in
due course, the widowed Lady Holmhurst and most of the other women who escaped were taken back to England.
To return to our heroine and Mr. Meeson.
The occupants of the little boat sat looking at each other with white, scared faces, till at last the man called Johnnie, who, by the way, was not a tar of a very amiable cast of countenance, possibly owing to the fact that his nose was knocked almost flat against the side of his face, swore violently, and said "It was no good stopping there all the etceteraed day." Thereupon Bill, who was a more jovial-looking man, remarked "that he, Johnnie, was etceteraed well right, so they had better hoist the foresail."
At this point Augusta interposed, and told them that the captain, just after the vessel came into collision, had informed her that he was making Kerguelen Land, which was not more than sixty or seventy miles away. They had a compass in the boat, and they knew the course the Kangaroo was steering when she sank. Accordingly, without wasting further time, they got as much sail up as the little boat could carry in the stiff breeze, and ran nearly due east before the steady westerly wind. All day long they ran across the misty ocean, the little boat behaving splendidly, without sighting any living thing, till, at last, the night closed in again. There was, fortunately, a bag of biscuits in the boat, and a breaker of water; also there was, unfortunately, a breaker of rum, from which the two sailors, Bill and Johnnie, were already taking quite