Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

the Medusa, as if to guide it on its route. Some fine weather which ensued served to confirm hopes of happiness in the Picards, and on the 28th of June they felt interested in contemplating the lofty peak of Teneriffe, which rose on the horizon. The satisfaction which the passengers now generally felt and expressed, was doomed to be of no long duration. Captain Lachaumareys was apparently so unfit for the trust reposed in him, not only from his ignorance of seamanship and general management, but as regards temper and humanity, that it is impossible to understand how he should have obtained the command of the vessel. One day, when the frigate was going before a fine breeze, at the rate of nine knots an hour, a sailor-boy fell overboard. Several persons were at the moment standing on the poop, witnessing the gambols of seals, but no effective measures were taken to save the poor boy's life. For some time the unfortunate lad kept hold of a rope which he had caught in his fall, but the vessel was making such way, that he soon lost his hold. A sailor now seized him by the arm, but for the same reason he was forced to let go. To communicate this accident to the Echo, a gun was ordered to be fired, but not a single piece was found charged; it required also a long time to lower the sails, when the more simple method would have been to put the helm about. It was at last thought of letting down a six-oared boat, into which, in the confusion and hurry, only three men entered. Every ef. fort was unavailing; the boat returned, after rowing a short distance, without having even found the cork buoy which had been thrown overboard when the accident was first announced. The same want of foresight, promptitude, and regularity on the part of the captain and lieutenants, afterward led to greater disasters. On the first of July the Medusa entered the tropics, the seamen on the occasion performing the ceremonies which ordinarily take place in crossing the equinoctial line. In the midst of this fatal merriment the vessel was surrounded by dangers, of which those in command were insensible. For some days the captain had abandoned the entire guidance of the frigate to a person named Richfort, who pretended to a great knowledge of this part of the Atlantic. In vain the passengers remonstrated on this imprudent confidence in a stranger; the commander obstinately persisted in allowing him to steer the vessel in whatever direction he thought proper. Richfort appears to have been a fool as well as an impostor, for, while risking the lives of others, he also risked his own ; and in the face of multiplying dangers, he continued his perilous course. In thus abandoning the ship to Richfort's direction, the captain transgressed the written instructions, which enjoined him to steer due west for sixty-six miles after making Cape Blanco, in order to clear the sand-bank of Arguin; instead of which, after proceeding about half that distance, the vessel's head was set to the southward. During the night which followed, the Echo hung out lanterns to warn her consort of her danger; but they were unavailing; the Medusa was kept on her course, and in the morning the Echo was out of sight. On the morning of this memorable day, July 2d, the sea assumed a sandy color, and the more reflective passengers and naval officers became seriously alarmed ; strong representations of the danger the frigate was in were again made to the captain, but with no better success than formerly. Such was his infatuation, that the vessel was at the time actually standing directly for the low, sandy shore which it was his duty to avoid. At noon, the officer of the watch asserted that the vessel was getting near the edge of the bank; but no change was permitted in her course. This obstinacy caused a mournful presentiment among the passengers. A species of stupor, approaching to despair, overspread all their spirits. M. Picard, seated in the midst

of his family, gave all up for lost; yet he durst not remonstrate; for already one of the officers had been put under arrest for daring to condemn the fallacy of Richfort's proceedings. In the mean while, the wind, blowing with violence, impelled the vessel nearer the danger which menaced it. Between two and three o’clock in the afternoon, the lead showed that the frigate was in eighteen fathoms water. This startling intelligence for the first time roused the captain. He gave orders to change the ship's course, by coming closer to the wind. It was too late. The lead was again cast, and showed only six fathoms. The captain, now thoroughly terrified, gave orders to haul the wind as close as possible. It was useless. The frigate had touched the sandy bottom, and almost immediately struck with a strong concussion. This disastrous event took place at a quarter past three o'clock, afternoon, in 19 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, and 19 degrees 45 minutes west longitude. The vessel now lay at the mercy of the winds and waves, in less than four fathoms, and this was during high water; when the tide ebbed, the depth would become less. When the concussion of striking was felt through the vessel, terror and consternation were immediately depicted on every countenance. The crew stood motionless; the passengers gave themselves up to despair. In the midst of this general panic, cries of vengeance were heard against the principal author of the misfortune, the greater number wishing to throw him overboard; but some, more generously disposed, endeavored to calm the excitement, and pointed out how much more fitting it would be to adopt means of safety, than spend time in vengeful and useless criminations. To ease the pressure on the ship, the sails were hastily lowered, the top-gallant mast and topmast taken down, and some other means tried to get her off the bank. They were all, however, only half measures; they did little good; and when night came on, the efforts were suspended. At dawn of day, July 3, new attempts were made to move the vessel. Anchors were carried, with vast trouble, in boats, to a distance, and being dropped into the sea, cables from them were pulled at the capstan; but the anchors presented no sufficient resistance, and the effort proved fruitless. Masts, yards, and booms were now thrown overboard, and a number of casks of water emptied; still the frigate continued fixed. Many wished the cannon also to be tossed overboard; but this the captain refused to do, on the plea that they belonged to the king! There was a large stock of provisions in barrels, which the frigate was carrying to Senegal; and these barrels the governor, with

« ForrigeFortsæt »