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CHAPTER XXII.


A TERRIBLE LOSS.


To be suddenly aroused out of a sound sleep, and immediately afterwards to find yourself struggling in deep, dark water is not an experience to be desired. The first plunge made me shiver from head to foot, and it was only by instinct that I kept my mouth shut and struck out to keep myself afloat.

I had not the slightest notion of what had happened, and in the darkness could see nothing. It was some time ere I could recover and call out to the cabin boy:

"What is it, Phil? Where are you?"

"Here I am," he cried, close beside me; and an instant later his hand touched my body.

"What happened?" I repeated.

"I don't know," he replied. "Either something struck the boat, or else we hit a rock."

"I don't think we are near enough to shore to strike a rock," I rejoined.

"Well, what was it then?"

"I don't know, and what's more I'm not going to try to find out just at present. Where is the raft?"

"I guess the Hasty has gone to the bottom. I can't see her anywhere around."

"Don't be foolish. She couldn't sink."

"That's so; I forgot. Well, where is she then?"

"We must find her. Can you keep on swimming?"

"For awhile. But don't leave me!" added the cabin boy in sudden alarm.

"I won't. We can swim together. Take it easy."

Side by side we struck out. My thoughts were busy. Suppose we were not able to find the raft? To swim any great distance would be impossible, and we could not float forever.

"It's hard work, and no mistake," said Phil, after a few moments of silence. "I can't go much further."

"Suppose we let ourselves drift with the current."

"That's a good plan, for I suppose the Hasty did the same thing."

So we allowed ourselves to drift for fully ten minutes. Fortunately both of us were good swimmers, and understood the art of floating. If not, it might have gone hard with us.

"What's that ahead?" cried the cabin boy, at length.

"Where?"

"There! To the right!"

I strained my eyes. Was it a light? Yes; not one but several, and all moving rapidly away.

"It's a boat!" I cried. "Let us yell."

And yell we did; once, twice, and then a dozen times, in a tone that made me so hoarse I could hardly speak afterwards.

"It's no use," said Phil. "It's a steamer, and they won't pay any attention."

"I shouldn't wonder but that it was the vessel that struck us?" I exclaimed.

"Most likely. But if they would only pick us up I wouldn't care a straw."

After this there was another interval of silence. Then my arm struck something hard. I put out my hand, and was overjoyed to find that it was the raft.

"Here she is!" I cried. "Here's the Hasty."

"Thank our stars!" returned Phil; "I couldn't have held out much longer."

It did not take us long to get aboard, and completely exhausted we sank down on the flooring and panted to get our breath.

There was no more sleep for us that night, so we both sat close together, and talked of what had struck us, and what damage it had done to the raft.

"The rudder is smashed," said Phil.

"Never mind, we can make another in the morning," I returned. "It's too dark to do anything now."

So we let the raft drift at will, trusting the wind was still blowing us toward the shore.

Slowly the night wore on, and at the first streak of dawn we were both in motion. It seemed a shame to rip up another part of the flooring to make a rudder. Yet there was no help for it. While doing so I noticed that the doors were unusually wet, but gave it no attention, thinking it had been caused by the raft dipping under when the vessel had struck us.

At last we began to get hungry, and Phil hauled some crackers from the provision box.

"They will make us mighty thirsty, and we haven't much water," he said. "But I hadn't time to hunt up just the best things to take along."

We ate our crackers, and when we had finished them I turned to the cask to get some water. I pulled out the bung, and was horrified to discover that the cask was empty!

"The water's gone!" I gasped.

"What!"

"It's true; there isn't a drop in the cask!"

Phil was fully as much dismayed as I was. Alone on the broad Atlantic and not a drop to drink!

"We can't live without water," he cried.

"I know that. It is worse than being without food."

"Ten times over. Where has the water gone?"

We examined the cask carefully. At the bottom was a bunghole in which a bung had been placed; but either the riding of the raft or the shock had loosened the bung, and it had dropped out and allowed the water to run away to the last drop.

"We are done for now!" groaned Phil. "We can't stand it twenty-four hours without something to drink."

"Perhaps we'll have a change in luck before that," said I; but I had my doubts.

The hours that passed after I made the discovery were terrible ones. We suffered intensely from thirst, and I was almost tempted to drink the salt water that surrounded us. Had I done so this tale would probably have never been written.

When the noonday sun shone down upon us we could not stand to be out in it. Phil crawled under the canvas, his eyes rolling strangely.

"Water! water! oh, give me water!" he cried.

I was startled. Was the poor boy going insane?

"Let me wet the canvas," I said. "It will make it cooler."

I did as I suggested, and the cabin boy declared it was much better than before. Then I coaxed him to try to sleep, and at last he fell into a troublesome doze.

Throwing more water on the canvas until it was sopping wet, I crawled in beside him.

But not to sleep. My mind was in a whirl, and I could not think clearly. My mouth was parched, and my tongue so thick that when I tried to utter some words in reverie I could not, a thing that frightened me still more.