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Chapter 12

I had for some time past, dwelt upon the prospect of our being
reduced to this last horrible extremity, and had secretly made up my
mind to suffer death in any shape or under any circumstances rather
than resort to such a course. Nor was this resolution in any degree
weakened by the present intensity of hunger under which I laboured.
The proposition had not been heard by either Peters or Augustus. I
therefore took Parker aside; and mentally praying to God for power to
dissuade him from the horrible purpose he entertained, I expostulated
with him for a long time, and in the most supplicating manner,
begging him in the name of every thing which he held sacred, and
urging him by every species of argument which the extremity of the
case suggested, to abandon the idea, and not to mention it to either
of the other two.

He heard all I said without attempting to controvert any of my
arguments, and I had begun to hope that he would be prevailed upon to
do as I desired. But when I had ceased speaking, he said that he knew
very well all I had said was true, and that to resort to such a
course was the most horrible alternative which could enter into the
mind of man; but that he had now held out as long as human nature
could be sustained; that it was unnecessary for all to perish, when,
by the death of one, it was possible, and even probable, that the
rest might be finally preserved; adding that I might save myself the
trouble of trying to turn him from his purpose, his mind having been
thoroughly made up on the subject even before the appearance of the
ship, and that only her heaving in sight had prevented him from
mentioning his intention at an earlier period.

I now begged him, if he would not be prevailed upon to abandon
his design, at least to defer it for another day, when some vessel
might come to our relief; again reiterating every argument I could
devise, and which I thought likely to have influence with one of his
rough nature. He said, in reply, that he had not spoken until the
very last possible moment, that he could exist no longer without
sustenance of some kind, and that therefore in another day his
suggestion would be too late, as regarded himself at least.

Finding that he was not to be moved by anything I could say in a
mild tone, I now assumed a different demeanor, and told him that he
must be aware I had suffered less than any of us from our calamities;
that my health and strength, consequently, were at that moment far
better than his own, or than that either of Peters or Augustus; in
short, that I was in a condition to have my own way by force if I
found it necessary; and that if he attempted in any manner to
acquaint the others with his bloody and cannibal designs, I would not
hesitate to throw him into the sea. Upon this he immediately seized
me by the throat, and drawing a knife, made several ineffectual
efforts to stab me in the stomach; an atrocity which his excessive
debility alone prevented him from accomplishing. In the meantime,
being roused to a high pitch of anger, I forced him to the vessel's
side, with the full intention of throwing him overboard. He was saved
from his fate, however, by the interference of Peters, who now
approached and separated us, asking the cause of the disturbance.
This Parker told before I could find means in any manner to prevent

The effect of his words was even more terrible than what I had
anticipated. Both Augustus and Peters, who, it seems, had long
secretly entertained the same fearful idea which Parker had been
merely the first to broach, joined with him in his design and
insisted upon its immediately being carried into effect. I had
calculated that one at least of the two former would be found still
possessed of sufficient strength of mind to side with myself in
resisting any attempt to execute so dreadful a purpose, and, with the
aid of either one of them, I had no fear of being able to prevent its
accomplishment. Being disappointed in this expectation, it became
absolutely necessary that I should attend to my own safety, as a
further resistance on my part might possibly be considered by men in
their frightful condition a sufficient excuse for refusing me fair
play in the tragedy that I knew would speedily be enacted.

I now told them I was willing to submit to the proposal, merely
requesting a delay of about one hour, in order that the fog which had
gathered around us might have an opportunity of lifting, when it was
possible that the ship we had seen might be again in sight. After
great difficulty I obtained from them a promise to wait thus long;
and, as I had anticipated (a breeze rapidly coming in), the fog
lifted before the hour had expired, when, no vessel appearing in
sight, we prepared to draw lots.

It is with extreme reluctance that I dwell upon the appalling
scene which ensued; a scene which, with its minutest details, no
after events have been able to efface in the slightest degree from my
memory, and whose stern recollection will embitter every future
moment of my existence. Let me run over this portion of my narrative
with as much haste as the nature of the events to be spoken of will
permit. The only method we could devise for the terrific lottery, in
which we were to take each a chance, was that of drawing straws.
Small splinters of wood were made to answer our purpose, and it was
agreed that I should be the holder. I retired to one end of the hulk,
while my poor companions silently took up their station in the other
with their backs turned toward me. The bitterest anxiety which I
endured at any period of this fearful drama was while I occupied
myself in the arrangement of the lots. There are few conditions into
which man can possibly fall where he will not feel a deep interest in
the preservation of his existence; an interest momentarily increasing
with the frailness of the tenure by which that existence may be held.
But now that the silent, definite, and stern nature of the business
in which I was engaged (so different from the tumultuous dangers of
the storm or the gradually approaching horrors of famine) allowed me
to reflect on the few chances I had of escaping the most appalling of
deaths- a death for the most appalling of purposes- every particle of
that energy which had so long buoyed me up departed like feathers
before the wind, leaving me a helpless prey to the most abject and
pitiable terror. I could not, at first, even summon up sufficient
strength to tear and fit together the small splinters of wood, my
fingers absolutely refusing their office, and my knees knocking
violently against each other. My mind ran over rapidly a thousand
absurd projects by which to avoid becoming a partner in the awful
speculation. I thought of falling on my knees to my companions, and
entreating them to let me escape this necessity; of suddenly rushing
upon them, and, by putting one of them to death, of rendering the
decision by lot useless- in short, of every thing but of going
through with the matter I had in hand. At last, after wasting a long
time in this imbecile conduct, I was recalled to my senses by the
voice of Parker, who urged me to relieve them at once from the
terrible anxiety they were enduring. Even then I could not bring
myself to arrange the splinters upon the spot, but thought over every
species of finesse by which I could trick some one of my
fellow-sufferers to draw the short straw, as it had been agreed that
whoever drew the shortest of four splinters from my hand was to die
for the preservation of the rest. Before any one condemn me for this
apparent heartlessness, let him be placed in a situation precisely
similar to my own.

At length delay was no longer possible, and, with a heart almost
bursting from my bosom, I advanced to the region of the forecastle,
where my companions were awaiting me. I held out my hand with the
splinters, and Peters immediately drew. He was free- his, at least,
was not the shortest; and there was now another chance against my
escape. I summoned up all my strength, and passed the lots to
Augustus. He also drew immediately, and he also was free; and now,
whether I should live or die, the chances were no more than precisely
even. At this moment all the fierceness of the tiger possessed my
bosom, and I felt toward my poor fellow-creature, Parker, the most
intense, the most diabolical hatred. But the feeling did not last;
and, at length, with a convulsive shudder and closed eyes, I held out
the two remaining splinters toward him. It was fully five minutes
before he could summon resolution to draw, during which period of
heartrending suspense I never once opened my eyes. Presently one of
the two lots was quickly drawn from my hand. The decision was then
over, yet I knew not whether it was for me or against me. No one
spoke, and still I dared not satisfy myself by looking at the
splinter I held. Peters at length took me by the hand, and I forced
myself to look up, when I immediately saw by the countenance of
Parker that I was safe, and that he it was who had been doomed to
suffer. Gasping for breath, I fell senseless to the deck.

I recovered from my swoon in time to behold the consummation of
the tragedy in the death of him who had been chiefly instrumental in
bringing it about. He made no resistance whatever, and was stabbed in
the back by Peters, when he fell instantly dead. I must not dwell
upon the fearful repast which immediately ensued. Such things may be
imagined, but words have no power to impress the mind with the
exquisite horror of their reality. Let it suffice to say that, having
in some measure appeased the raging thirst which consumed us by the
blood of the victim, and having by common consent taken off the
hands, feet, and head, throwing them together with the entrails, into
the sea, we devoured the rest of the body, piecemeal, during the four
ever memorable days of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and
twentieth of the month.

On the nineteenth, there coming on a smart shower which lasted
fifteen or twenty minutes, we contrived to catch some water by means
of a sheet which had been fished up from the cabin by our drag just
after the gale. The quantity we took in all did not amount to more
than half a gallon; but even this scanty allowance supplied us with
comparative strength and hope.

On the twenty-first we were again reduced to the last necessity.
The weather still remained warm and pleasant, with occasional fogs
and light breezes, most usually from N. to W.

On the twenty-second, as we were sitting close huddled together,
gloomily revolving over our lamentable condition, there flashed
through my mind all at once an idea which inspired me with a bright
gleam of hope. I remembered that, when the foremast had been cut
away, Peters, being in the windward chains, passed one of the axes
into my hand, requesting me to put it, if possible, in a place of
security, and that a few minutes before the last heavy sea struck the
brig and filled her I had taken this axe into the forecastle and laid
it in one of the larboard berths. I now thought it possible that, by
getting at this axe, we might cut through the deck over the
storeroom, and thus readily supply ourselves with provisions.

When I communicated this object to my companions, they uttered a
feeble shout of joy, and we all proceeded forthwith to the
forecastle. The difficulty of descending here was greater than that
of going down in the cabin, the opening being much smaller, for it
will be remembered that the whole framework about the cabin
companion-hatch had been carried away, whereas the forecastle-way,
being a simple hatch of only about three feet square, had remained
uninjured. I did not hesitate, however, to attempt the descent; and a
rope being fastened round my body as before, I plunged boldly in,
feet foremost, made my way quickly to the berth, and at the first
attempt brought up the axe. It was hailed with the most ecstatic joy
and triumph, and the ease with which it had been obtained was
regarded as an omen of our ultimate preservation.

We now commenced cutting at the deck with all the energy of
rekindled hope, Peters and myself taking the axe by turns, Augustus's
wounded arm not permitting him to aid us in any degree. As we were
still so feeble as to be scarcely able to stand unsupported, and
could consequently work but a minute or two without resting, it soon
became evident that many long hours would be necessary to accomplish
our task- that is, to cut an opening sufficiently large to admit of a
free access to the storeroom. This consideration, however, did not
discourage us; and, working all night by the light of the moon, we
succeeded in effecting our purpose by daybreak on the morning of the

Peters now volunteered to go down; and, having made all
arrangements as before, he descended, and soon returned bringing up
with him a small jar, which, to our great joy, proved to be full of
olives. Having shared these among us, and devoured them with the
greatest avidity, we proceeded to let him down again. This time he
succeeded beyond our utmost expectations, returning instantly with a
large ham and a bottle of Madeira wine. Of the latter we each took a
moderate sup, having learned by experience the pernicious
consequences of indulging too freely. The ham, except about two
pounds near the bone, was not in a condition to be eaten, having been
entirely spoiled by the salt water. The sound part was divided among
us. Peters and Augustus, not being able to restrain their appetite,
swallowed theirs upon the instant; but I was more cautious, and ate
but a small portion of mine, dreading the thirst which I knew would
ensue. We now rested a while from our labors, which had been
intolerably severe.

By noon, feeling somewhat strengthened and refreshed, we again
renewed our attempt at getting up provisions, Peters and myself going
down alternately, and always with more or less success, until
sundown. During this interval we had the good fortune to bring up,
altogether, four more small jars of olives, another ham, a carboy
containing nearly three gallons of excellent Cape Madeira wine, and,
what gave us still more delight, a small tortoise of the Gallipago
breed, several of which had been taken on board by Captain Barnard,
as the _Grampus_ was leaving port, from the schooner _Mary Pitts_,
just returned from a sealing voyage in the Pacific.

In a subsequent portion of this narrative I shall have frequent
occasion to mention this species of tortoise. It is found
principally, as most of my readers may know, in the group of islands
called the Gallipagos, which, indeed, derive their name from the
animal -- the Spanish word Gallipago meaning a fresh-water terrapin.
From the peculiarity of their shape and action they have been
sometimes called the elephant tortoise. They are frequently found of
an enormous size. I have myself seen several which would weigh from
twelve to fifteen hundred pounds, although I do not remember that any
navigator speaks of having seen them weighing more than eight
hundred. Their appearance is singular, and even disgusting. Their
steps are very slow, measured, and heavy, their bodies being carried
about a foot from the ground. Their neck is long, and exceedingly
slender, from eighteen inches to two feet is a very common length,
and I killed one, where the distance from the shoulder to the
extremity of the head was no less than three feet ten inches. The
head has a striking resemblance to that of a serpent. They can exist
without food for an almost incredible length of time, instances
having been known where they have been thrown into the hold of a
vessel and lain two years without nourishment of any kind- being as
fat, and, in every respect, in as good order at the expiration of the
time as when they were first put in. In one particular these
extraordinary animals bear a resemblance to the dromedary, or camel
of the desert. In a bag at the root of the neck they carry with them
a constant supply of water. In some instances, upon killing them
after a full year's deprivation of all nourishment, as much as three
gallons of perfectly sweet and fresh water have been found in their
bags. Their food is chiefly wild parsley and celery, with purslain,
sea-kelp, and prickly pears, upon which latter vegetable they thrive
wonderfully, a great quantity of it being usually found on the
hillsides near the shore wherever the animal itself is discovered.
They are excellent and highly nutritious food, and have, no doubt,
been the means of preserving the lives of thousands of seamen
employed in the whale-fishery and other pursuits in the Pacific.

The one which we had the good fortune to bring up from the
storeroom was not of a large size, weighing probably sixty-five or
seventy pounds. It was a female, and in excellent condition, being
exceedingly fat, and having more than a quart of limpid and sweet
water in its bag. This was indeed a treasure; and, falling on our
knees with one accord, we returned fervent thanks to God for so
seasonable a relief.

We had great difficulty in getting the animal up through the
opening, as its struggles were fierce and its strength prodigious. It
was upon the point of making its escape from Peter's grasp, and
slipping back into the water, when Augustus, throwing a rope with a
slipknot around its throat, held it up in this manner until I jumped
into the hole by the side of Peters, and assisted him in lifting it

The water we drew carefully from the bag into the jug; which, it
will be remembered, had been brought up before from the cabin. Having
done this, we broke off the neck of a bottle so as to form, with the
cork, a kind of glass, holding not quite half a gill. We then each
drank one of these measures full, and resolved to limit ourselves to
this quantity per day as long as it should hold out.

During the last two or three days, the weather having been dry
and pleasant, the bedding we had obtained from the cabin, as well as
our clothing, had become thoroughly dry, so that we passed this night
(that of the twenty-third) in comparative comfort, enjoying a
tranquil repose, after having supped plentifully on olives and ham,
with a small allowance of the wine. Being afraid of losing some of
our stores overboard during the night, in the event of a breeze
springing up, we secured them as well as possible with cordage to the
fragments of the windlass. Our tortoise, which we were anxious to
preserve alive as long as we could, we threw on its back, and
otherwise carefully fastened.

Edgar Allan Poe

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