A Ship On Fire At Sea



"What is it?" I exclaimed; "what can it be?"



She pointed with her finger, and as the yacht swung round she said,

"Look there, ma'am, look!"



As she spoke two strange objects came into my view. One was a great

pale moon, sickly and white, hanging and seeming to brood over the

horizon; the other, which looked about the same size, was red and

seemed to lie close at her side. It was not round, but looked blotted

and blurred in the mist. Could it be a meteor? a lighthouse? Whatever

it was, it was the cause of the commotion which had been so intense,

and which now seemed to be already subsiding. I had heard the men

called up not three minutes before, and now two boats were already

lowered, and Tom was in command of the foremost. I heard his voice

coming from the water, and no one prevented me now from rushing to the

side to look over, turning my back on the moon and her lurid

companion. Though the night was not dark I could not discern the

boats; and after straining my eyes into the mist, I observed that it

was rapidly melting away, and rolling on as well as rolling together,

so that spaces of water here and there were clear, and moonlight

glittered on them. The binnacle light glared in my uncle's face as he

stooped over it. I heard Brand whisper to his wife that he had taken

charge of the yacht, and I did not dare to speak to him, though what

it might be that alarmed them I could not tell.



It was as it seemed but a moment that I had stared out into the mist,

looking for the boats with still sleepy eyes; then, as the sailors

that were left tramped back to the fore part of the yacht, I turned

again. The mist had shaken itself and rolled on before a light air

that was coming. I saw two great pathways now lying along the waters;

one was silver white, the pathway of the wan moon, the other was

blood-red and angry, and a burning vessel lay at her head.



Oh, that sight! can I ever forget it? The fire was spurting from every

crevice of the black hull, her great main-mast was gone, the

mizzen-mast lay with several great white sails surging about in the

water, and she was dragging it along with her. The foremast only

stood, and its rigging and sails had not yet caught. A dead silence

had succeeded now to the commotion in the vessel; men were standing

stock-still, perhaps waiting for their orders, and my uncle's were the

only eyes that were not strained to follow the leaping and dazzling

spires.



Every moment we approached. Now the first waft of the smoke came in

our faces, now we could hear the crackling and rending, the creak and

shiver, and the peculiar roaring noise made by a mastering fire.



"A full-rigged ship," I heard Brand whisper to his wife. "Eleven

hundred tons at the least."



"Merciful heaven," she whispered in reply. "I hope she won't blow up.

Anyhow, I thank the Lord we've got Master in command himself."



I never saw anything like the horrible beauty of that red light. It

added tenfold to the terror of the scene to see her coming on so

majestically, dragging with her broken spars and great yards and

sprawling sails. She looked like some splendid live creature in

distress, and rocked now a good deal in the water, for every moment

the wind seemed to rise, bringing up a long swell with it.



The moon went down, and in a few minutes the majestic ship supplied

all the light to the dark sky and black water. I saw the two little

dark boats nearing her; knew that my brother was in the foremost, and

shook with fear, and cried to God to take care of him; but while I and

all gazed in awful silence on the sailing ship, the flames, bursting

through the deck in a new place, climbed up the fore-rigging, and in

one single leap, as if they had been living things, they were licking

the sails off the ropes, and, shooting higher than her topsails, they

spread themselves out like quivering fans. I saw every sail that was

left in an instant bathed in flames; a second burst came raging up

from below, blackening and shrivelling everything before it; then I

saw the weltering fire run down again, and still the wreck, plunging

her bows in the water, came rocking on and on.



"How near does our old man mean to go?" whispered Mrs. Brand; and

almost at that instant I observed that he had given some order to the

man at the helm, and I could distinctly hear a murmur of satisfaction;

then almost directly a cry of horror rose--we were very near her, and

while the water hissed with strange distinctness, and steamed in her

wake, her blazing foremast fell over the side, plunging with a

tremendous crash into the sea, sending up dangerous showers of sparks

and burning bits of sail-cloth, and covering our decks with falling

tinder.



The black water took in and quenched all that blazing top-hamper, and

still the awful hissing was audible, till suddenly, as we seemed to be

sheering off from her, there was a thunderous roll that sounded like

the breaking of her mighty heart, and still glorious in beauty she

plunged head foremost, and went down blazing into the desolate sea.



In one instant that raging glow and all the fierce illumination of the

fire were gone; darkness had settled on the face of the deep. I saw a

few lighted spars floating about, that was all, and I smelt the fire

and felt the hot smoke rushing past my face as the only evidence that

this was not a dream. Oh! the misery of the next half-hour! The boats,

when that ill-fated ship went down, must, I knew, have been very near

her. Had they been sucked in? Had they been overturned, or had they

been so blessed as to be saved, and to save some of the wretched

passengers and crew? Of all persons in the yacht then, perhaps I

suffered most. I was the most ignorant; I had no one to speak to; for

Mrs. Brand, perhaps lest I should question her, had retreated, and I

could not think of addressing my uncle; he had plenty on his mind and

on his hands. I could only observe the activity of others by the light

of the many lanterns which were now hung out from various parts of the

rigging, and hope that we should soon find the boats, though every

light hung up seemed to increase the darkness, and make us more unable

to see anything beyond the bounds of the yacht.



At last, Brand standing near me again, I said, "O Brand! cannot we go

nearer the place where that ship sunk? Perhaps some poor creatures may

be floating on the waters still."



"Ma'am," he replied, "we are sailing now as nigh as may be over the

very spot where she went down; but you have no call to be frightened;

everything has been done that can be done. We hove to directly we

sighted her."



"Yes," I said; "but what good could that do?"



"Why, ma'am," he replied, "we could not have lowered the boats without

that; and then, you know, when they were off we filled, and stood in

as nigh as we dared."



"Then where are the boats?" I inquired.



"God knows, ma'am."



"And what are these lights for? Every one you put up makes it harder

to see anything. How are we to find them?"



"We have no call to find them," he replied; "we want them to find us.

Most likely there are other boats about, besides our own, boats from

the ship--we want to make ourselves as conspicuous as we can. At least,

I reckon that is why Master has ordered all these lights out."



"And why cannot we pick up any of the poor creatures that may have

been on board? Surely we could have heard their cries, and could

now--we are not half a quarter of a mile from her."



"No, ma'am; nothing like that distance--not half that distance; that's

why our people think she may have been deserted."



The steward passed on, and I covered my face with my hands and moaned

in the misery of my heart. Oh! my only brother! had I really lost him

so?



I listened. The silence about me was so intense that I knew there was

much anxiety felt; every face as it passed under a lantern had a

restless and yet awestruck look; my uncle's, when he bent over the

illuminated compass, did not at all reassure me.



But such a misfortune as I had dreaded, such a terrible blow, we were

to be spared. I got up again, gazed out over the dark water and longed

for the dawn. Something better than dawn was destined to meet my eyes;

between us and a spar that still glowed, two dark objects stood

suddenly--a boat and black figures and moving oars, another behind her.



I shall never forget with what a thrill of joy I heard our people

cheer. In ten minutes we could hear the stroke of their oars, and

directly after Tom was on deck and his crew with him.



"God bless you!" said my uncle to Tom; "anybody saved?"



"One," said Tom; "only one, sir."





More

;