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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/173

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THE LAST RESOURCE.

you can lay hold upon. The winds are like Cossacks: stand your ground and they will disperse. Calms remind one of an executioner's pincers.

The water crept up higher and higher in the hold; and as it rose, the vessel sank,—slowly but surely. Those on board the wreck of the "Matutina" felt that most hopeless of catastrophes,—an inert catastrophe undermining them. The grim certainty of their fate petrified them. No stir in the air, no movement on the sea. The motionless is the inexorable. Absorption was sucking them down silently. Through the depths of the silent waters—without anger, without passion, not willing, not knowing, not caring—the fatal centre of the globe was drawing them downwards. It was no longer the wide-open mouth of the sea, the fierce jaws of the wind and the wave, that threatened them; it was as if the wretched beings had under them the black gulf of the infinite. They felt themselves slowly sinking into oblivion. The distance between the deck and the water was lessening,—that was all. They could calculate her disappearance to the moment. It was the exact reverse of submersion by the rising tide. The water was not rising towards them, they were sinking into it. They were digging their own grave. Their own weight was their sexton. Their fate was sealed, not by the laws of man, but by the laws of Nature.

The snow continued to fall, and as the wreck was now perfectly motionless, it was covered as with a winding-sheet. The hold was becoming fuller and deeper. There was no way of getting at the leak. They struck a light and fixed three or four torches in holes as best they could. Galdeazun brought some old leathern buckets, and they tried to bale the hold out, standing in a row to pass the buckets from hand to hand; but the buckets were past use; the leather of some was unstitched, there