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Chapter 11

WE spent the remainder of the day in a condition of stupid
lethargy, gazing after the retreating vessel until the darkness,
hiding her from our sight, recalled us in some measure to our senses.
The pangs of hunger and thirst then returned, absorbing all other
cares and considerations. Nothing, however, could be done until the
morning, and, securing ourselves as well as possible, we endeavoured
to snatch a little repose. In this I succeeded beyond my
expectations, sleeping until my companions, who had not been so
fortunate, aroused me at daybreak to renew our attempts at getting up
provisions from the hull.

It was now a dead calm, with the sea as smooth as have ever known
it, -- the weather warm and pleasant. The brig was out of sight. We
commenced our operations by wrenching off, with some trouble, another
of the forechains; and having fastened both to Peters' feet, he again
made an endeavour to reach the door of the storeroom, thinking it
possible that he might be able to force it open, provided he could
get at it in sufficient time; and this he hoped to do, as the hulk
lay much more steadily than before.

He succeeded very quickly in reaching the door, when, loosening
one of the chains from his ankle, be made every exertion to force the
passage with it, but in vain, the framework of the room being far
stronger than was anticipated. He was quite exhausted with his long
stay under water, and it became absolutely necessary that some other
one of us should take his place. For this service Parker immediately
volunteered; but, after making three ineffectual efforts, found that
he could never even succeed in getting near the door. The condition
of Augustus's wounded arm rendered it useless for him to attempt
going down, as he would be unable to force the room open should be
reach it, and it accordingly now devolved upon me to exert myself for
our common deliverance.

Peters had left one of the chains in the passage, and I found,
upon plunging in, that I had not sufficient balance to keep me firmly
down. I determined, therefore, to attempt no more, in my first
effort, than merely to recover the other chain. In groping along the
floor of the passage for this, I felt a hard substance, which I
immediately grasped, not having time to ascertain what it was, but
returning and ascending instantly to the surface. The prize proved to
be a bottle, and our joy may be conceived when I say that it was
found to be full of port wine. Giving thanks to God for this timely
and cheering assistance, we immediately drew the cork with my
penknife, and, each taking a moderate sup, felt the most
indescribable comfort from the warmth, strength, and spirits with
which it inspired us. We then carefully recorked the bottle, and, by
means of a handkerchief, swung it in such a manner that there was no
possibility of its getting broken.

Having rested a while after this fortunate discovery, I again
descended, and now recovered the chain, with which I instantly came
up. I then fastened it on and went down for the third time, when I
became fully satisfied that no exertions whatever, in that situation,
would enable me to force open the door of the storeroom. I therefore
returned in despair.

There seemed now to be no longer any room for hope, and I could
perceive in the countenances of my companions that they had made up
their minds to perish. The wine had evidently produced in them a
species of delirium, which, perhaps, I had been prevented from
feeling by the immersion I had undergone since drinking it. They
talked incoherently, and about matters unconnected with our
condition, Peters repeatedly asking me questions about Nantucket.
Augustus, too, I remember, approached me with a serious air, and
requested me to lend him a pocket-comb, as his hair was full of
fish-scales, and he wished to get them out before going on shore.
Parker appeared somewhat less affected, and urged me to dive at
random into the cabin, and bring up any article which might come to
hand. To this I consented, and, in the first attempt, after staying
under a full minute, brought up a small leather trunk belonging to
Captain Barnard. This was immediately opened in the faint hope that
it might contain something to eat or drink. We found nothing,
however, except a box of razors and two linen shirts. I now went down
again, and returned without any success. As my head came above water
I heard a crash on deck, and, upon getting up, saw that my companions
had ungratefully taken advantage of my absence to drink the remainder
of the wine, having let the bottle fall in the endeavour to replace
it before I saw them. I remonstrated with them on the heartlessness
of their conduct, when Augustus burst into tears. The other two
endeavoured to laugh the matter off as a joke, but I hope never again
to behold laughter of such a species: the distortion of countenance
was absolutely frightful. Indeed, it was apparent that the stimulus,
in the empty state of their stomachs, had taken instant and violent
effect, and that they were all exceedingly intoxicated. With great
difficulty I prevailed upon them to lie down, when they fell very
soon into a heavy slumber, accompanied with loud stertorous
breathing.

I now found myself, as it were, alone in the brig, and my
reflections, to be sure, were of the most fearful and gloomy nature.
No prospect offered itself to my view but a lingering death by
famine, or, at the best, by being overwhelmed in the first gale which
should spring up, for in our present exhausted condition we could
have no hope of living through another.

The gnawing hunger which I now experienced was nearly
insupportable, and I felt myself capable of going to any lengths in
order to appease it. With my knife I cut off a small portion of the
leather trunk, and endeavoured to eat it, but found it utterly
impossible to swallow a single morsel, although I fancied that some
little alleviation of my suffering was obtained by chewing small
pieces of it and spitting them out. Toward night my companions awoke,
one by one, each in an indescribable state of weakness and horror,
brought on by the wine, whose fumes had now evaporated. They shook as
if with a violent ague, and uttered the most lamentable cries for
water. Their condition affected me in the most lively degree, at the
same time causing me to rejoice in the fortunate train of
circumstances which had prevented me from indulging in the wine, and
consequently from sharing their melancholy and most distressing
sensations. Their conduct, however, gave me great uneasiness and
alarm; for it was evident that, unless some favourable change took
place, they could afford me no assistance in providing for our common
safety. I had not yet abandoned all idea being able to get up
something from below; but the attempt could not possibly be resumed
until some one of them was sufficiently master of himself to aid me
by holding the end of the rope while I went down. Parker appeared to
be somewhat more in possession of his senses than the others, and I
endeavoured, by every means in my power, to rouse him. Thinking that
a plunge in the sea-water might have a beneficial effect, I contrived
to fasten the end of a rope around his body, and then, leading him to
the companion-way (he remaining quite passive all the while), pushed
him in, and immediately drew him out. I had good reason to
congratulate myself upon having made this experiment; for he appeared
much revived and invigorated, and, upon getting out, asked me, in a
rational manner, why I had so served him. Having explained my object,
he expressed himself indebted to me, and said that he felt greatly
better from the immersion, afterward conversing sensibly upon our
situation. We then resolved to treat Augustus and Peters in the same
way, which we immediately did, when they both experienced much
benefit from the shock. This idea of sudden immersion had been
suggested to me by reading in some medical work the good effect of
the shower-bath in a case where the patient was suffering from _mania
a potu_.

Finding that I could now trust my companions to hold the end of
the rope, I again made three or four plunges into the cabin, although
it was now quite dark, and a gentle but long swell from the northward
rendered the hulk somewhat unsteady. In the course of these attempts
I succeeded in bringing up two case-knives, a three-gallon jug,
empty, and a blanket, but nothing which could serve us for food. I
continued my efforts, after getting these articles, until I was
completely exhausted, but brought up nothing else. During the night
Parker and Peters occupied themselves by turns in the same manner;
but nothing coming to hand, we now gave up this attempt in despair,
concluding that we were exhausting ourselves in vain.

We passed the remainder of this night in a state of the most
intense mental and bodily anguish that can possibly be imagined. The
morning of the sixteenth at length dawned, and we looked eagerly
around the horizon for relief, but to no purpose. The sea was still
smooth, with only a long swell from the northward, as on yesterday.
This was the sixth day since we had tasted either food or drink, with
the exception of the bottle of port wine, and it was clear that we
could hold out but a very little while longer unless something could
be obtained. I never saw before, nor wish to see again, human beings
so utterly emaciated as Peters and Augustus. Had I met them on shore
in their present condition I should not have had the slightest
suspicion that I had ever beheld them. Their countenances were
totally changed in character, so that I could not bring myself to
believe them really the same individuals with whom I had been in
company but a few days before. Parker, although sadly reduced, and so
feeble that he could not raise his head from his bosom, was not so
far gone as the other two. He suffered with great patience, making no
complaint, and endeavouring to inspire us with hope in every manner
he could devise. For myself, although at the commencement of the
voyage I had been in bad health, and was at all times of a delicate
constitution, I suffered less than any of us, being much less reduced
in frame, and retaining my powers of mind in a surprising degree,
while the rest were completely prostrated in intellect, and seemed to
be brought to a species of second childhood, generally simpering in
their expressions, with idiotic smiles, and uttering the most absurd
platitudes. At intervals, however, they would appear to revive
suddenly, as if inspired all at once with a consciousness of their
condition, when they would spring upon their feet in a momentary
flash of vigour, and speak, for a short period, of their prospects,
in a manner altogether rational, although full of the most intense
despair. It is possible, however, that my companions may have
entertained the same opinion of their own condition as I did of mine,
and that I may have unwittingly been guilty of the same extravagances
and imbecilities as themselves -- this is a matter which cannot be
determined.

About noon Parker declared that he saw land off the larboard
quarter, and it was with the utmost difficulty I could restrain him
from plunging into the sea with the view of swimming toward it.
Peters and Augustus took little notice of what he said, being
apparently wrapped up in moody contemplation. Upon looking in the
direction pointed out, I could not perceive the faintest appearance
of the shore -- indeed, I was too well aware that we were far from
any land to indulge in a hope of that nature. It was a long time,
nevertheless, before I could convince Parker of his mistake. He then
burst into a flood of tears, weeping like a child, with loud cries
and sobs, for two or three hours, when becoming exhausted, he fell
asleep.

Peters and Augustus now made several ineffectual efforts to
swallow portions of the leather. I advised them to chew it and spit
it out; but they were too excessively debilitated to be able to
follow my advice. I continued to chew pieces of it at intervals, and
found some relief from so doing; my chief distress was for water, and
I was only prevented from taking a draught from the sea by
remembering the horrible consequences which thus have resulted to
others who were similarly situated with ourselves.

The day wore on in this manner, when I suddenly discovered a sail
to the eastward, and on our larboard bow. She appeared to be a large
ship, and was coming nearly athwart us, being probably twelve or
fifteen miles distant. None of my companions had as yet discovered
her, and I forbore to tell them of her for the present, lest we might
again be disappointed of relief. At length upon her getting nearer, I
saw distinctly that she was heading immediately for us, with her
light sails filled. I could now contain myself no longer, and pointed
her out to my fellow-sufferers. They immediately sprang to their
feet, again indulging in the most extravagant demonstrations of joy,
weeping, laughing in an idiotic manner, jumping, stamping upon the
deck, tearing their hair, and praying and cursing by turns. I was so
affected by their conduct, as well as by what I considered a sure
prospect of deliverance, that I could not refrain from joining in
with their madness, and gave way to the impulses of my gratitude and
ecstasy by lying and rolling on the deck, clapping my hands,
shouting, and other similar acts, until I was suddenly called to my
recollection, and once more to the extreme human misery and despair,
by perceiving the ship all at once with her stern fully presented
toward us, and steering in a direction nearly opposite to that in
which I had at first perceived her.

It was some time before I could induce my poor companions to
believe that this sad reverse in our prospects had actually taken
place. They replied to all my assertions with a stare and a gesture
implying that they were not to be deceived by such
misrepresentations. The conduct of Augustus most sensibly affected
me. In spite of all I could say or do to the contrary, he persisted
in saying that the ship was rapidly nearing us, and in making
preparations to go on board of her. Some seaweed floating by the
brig, he maintained that it was the ship's boat, and endeavoured to
throw himself upon it, howling and shrieking in the most heartrending
manner, when I forcibly restrained him from thus casting himself into
the sea.

Having become in some degree pacified, we continued to watch the
ship until we finally lost sight of her, the weather becoming hazy,
with a light breeze springing up. As soon as she was entirely gone,
Parker turned suddenly toward me with an expression of countenance
which made me shudder. There was about him an air of self-possession
which I had not noticed in him until now, and before he opened his
lips my heart told me what he would say. He proposed, in a few words,
that one of us should die to preserve the existence of the others.

Edgar Allan Poe

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