Page:Paine--Lost ships and lonely seas.djvu/79

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the most astonishing manner. But Captain de Chaumareys was not made cautious by his error, and he drove along with fatuous confidence in his ability and would pay no heed to the opinions of his officers. He also managed to lose touch with the three smaller ships of the squadron, and they vanished from his ken. It was one fatal mischance after another.

On the first of July, when the frigate crossed the tropic of Cancer, the debonair captain made it an excuse for a holiday and took personal charge of the gaieties which so absorbed him that he turned over the command of the ship to M. Richefort, one of the civilian officials who had seen naval service. There was a feeling of uneasiness on board, for all the fiddling and singing and dancing, and the officers discussed it over their wine in the ward-room and the passengers were aware of it in the cabins, "while the crew performed the fantastic ceremonies usual on such occasions although the frigate was surrounded by all the unseen perils of the ocean. A few persons, aware of the danger, remonstrated, but without effect, even when it was ascertained that the Medusa was on the bank of Arguin."

The ship was, in fact, entrapped among the shoals and reefs which extended like a labyrinth far out from the African coast. It was an area of