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thus would reduce the time of their delay in reality to two days. They
therefore had nothing to worry themselves about, and everyone felt
disposed to view the accident in the most philosophical manner.

It soon became evident that their mischance was going to be turned into
a festival. In a few hours the arrival of the "Alaska" became known
through the town, and as the newspapers made known the object of the
expedition, the commander of the Swedish vessel soon found himself the
recipient of the most flattering attentions. The admiral and Mayor of
Brest, the commander of the port, and the captains of the vessels which
were lying at anchor, all came to pay an official visit to Captain
Marsilas. A dinner and a ball were tendered to the hardy explorers, who
were to take part in the search for the "Nordenskiold." Although the
doctor and Mr. Malarius cared little for such gatherings, they were
obliged to take their places at the table which was prepared for them.
As for Mr. Bredejord, he was in his true element.

Among the friends invited by the admiral, was a grand-looking old man
with a refined but sad countenance. He soon attracted Erik's attention,
who felt a sympathy for him which he could hardly explain. It was Mr.
Durrien, Honorary Consul-general, and an active member of the
Geographical Society, who was well known on account of his travels and
researches in Asia Minor and the Soudan.

Erik had read his works with very great interest, and he mentioned that
he had done so, when he had been presented to the French _savant_, who
experienced a feeling of satisfaction as he listened to the enthusiastic
young man.

It is often the fate of travelers, when their adventures make a stir in
the world, to receive the loud admiration of the crowd; but to find that
their labors are appreciated, by those who are well informed and capable
of judging, does not occur so frequently. Therefore the respectful
curiosity of Erik went straight to the heart of the old geographer, and
brought a smile to his pale lips.

"I have never attached any great merit to my discoveries," he said, in
reply to a few words from Erik, regarding the fortunate excavations
which had recently been made. "I went ahead seeking, to forget my own
cruel misfortunes, and not caring so much for the results as I did for
prosecuting a work which was in entire accordance with my tastes. Chance
has done the rest."

Seeing Erik and Mr. Durrien so friendly, the admiral took care to seat
them together at table, so that they could continue their conversation
during dinner.

As they were taking their coffee, the young lieutenant of the "Alaska"
was accosted by a little bald-headed man, who had been introduced to him
as Dr. Kergaridec, who asked him without any preamble to what country he
belonged. A little surprised at first by the question, Erik answered
that he was from Sweden, or, to be more exact, from Norway, and that his
family lived in the province of Bergen. Then he inquired his motive for
asking the question.

"My motive is a very simple one," answered his interlocutor. "For an
hour I have been studying your face across the table, while we were at
dinner, and I have never seen anywhere such a perfect type of the Celt
as I behold in you! I must tell you that I am devoted to Celtic studies,
and it is the first time that I have met with this type among the
Scandinavians. Perhaps this is a precious indication for science, and we
may be able to place Norway among the regions visited by our Gaelic

Erik was about to explain to the worthy _savant_ the reasons which would
invalidate this hypothesis, when Dr. Kergaridec turned away to pay his
respects to a lady who had just entered the room, and their conversation
was not resumed.

The young lieutenant of the "Alaska" would probably never have thought
of this incident again, but the next day as they were passing through a
street near the market, Dr. Schwaryencrona said suddenly to him:

"My dear child, if I have ever had a doubt as to your Celtic origin, I
should have lost it here. See how you resemble these Bretons. They have
the same brown eyes, black hair, bony neck, colored skin and general
appearance. Bredejord may say what he likes, but you are a pure-blooded
Celt - you may depend upon it." Erik then told him what old Dr.
Kergaridec had said to him, and Dr. Schwaryencrona was so delighted that
he could not talk of anything else all the day.

With the other passengers of the "Alaska," Tudor Brown had received and
accepted an invitation from the prefect. They thought up to the last
moment that he would go in his accustomed dress, for he had made his
appearance in it just as they were all going ashore to the dinner. But
doubtless the necessity of removing his precious hat appeared too hard
to him, for they saw him no more that evening.

When he returned after the ball, Erik learned from Mr. Hersebom that
Tudor Brown had returned at seven o'clock and dined alone. After that,
he had entered the captain's room to consult a marine chart; then he had
returned to the town in the same small boat which had brought him on

This was the last news which they received of him.

The next evening at five o'clock Tudor Brown had not made his
appearance. He knew, however, that the machinery of the "Alaska" would
be repaired by that time, and her fires kindled, after which it would be
impossible to defer her departure. The captain had been careful to
notify every one. He gave the order to hoist the anchor.

The vessel had been loosened from her moorings when a small boat was
signaled making all speed toward them. Every one believed that it
carried Tudor Brown, but they soon saw that it was only a letter which
had been sent on board. It occasion general surprise when it was
discovered that this letter was directed to Erik.

When he opened it, Erik found that it simply contained the card of Mr.
Durrien, the Honorary Consul-general, and member of the Geographical
Society, with these words written in pencil:

"A good voyage - a speedy return."

We can not explain Erik's feelings.

This attention from an amiable and distinguished _savant_ brought tears
to his eyes. In leaving this hospitable shore where he had remained
three days, it seemed to him as if he was leaving his own country. He
placed Mr. Durrien's card in his memorandum book, and said to himself
that this adieu from an old man could not fail to bring him good luck.

It was now the 20th of February. The weather was fine. The sun had sunk
below the horizon, leaving a sky as cloudless as that of summer.

Erik had the watch during the first quarter, and he walked the
quarter-deck with a light step. It seemed to him that, with the
departure of Tudor Brown, the evil genius of the expedition had

"Provided that he does not intend to rejoin us at Malta or Suez," he
said to himself.

It was possible - indeed, even probable - if Tudor Brown wished to spare
himself the long voyage which the "Alaska" would make before reaching
Egypt. While the vessel was going around the coasts of France and Spain,
he could, if it so pleased him, stay for a week in Paris, or at any
other place, and then take the mail packet either to Alexandria or Suez,
and rejoin the "Alaska" at either of those places; or he could even
defer doing so until they reached Singapore or Yokohama.

But this was only a possibility. The fact was that he was no longer on
board, and that he could not cast a damper upon the spirits of the

Their dinner, also, which they took at six o'clock, as usual, was the
gayest which they had yet sat down to. At dessert they drank to the
success of the expedition, and every one, in his heart, associated it,
more or less, with the absence of Tudor Brown. Then they went on deck
and smoked their cigars.

It was a dark night, but in the distance toward the north they could see
the light of Cape Saint Matthew. They soon signaled, also, the little
light on the shore at Bec-du-Raze, which proved that they were in their
right course. A good breeze from the north-east accelerated the speed of
the vessel, which rolled very little, although the sea was quite rough.

As the dinner-party reached the deck, one of the sailors approached the
captain, and said: "Six knots and a quarter."

"In that case we shall not want any more coal until we arrive at
Behring's Straits," answered the captain. After saying these words, he
left the doctor and went down to his room. There he selected a large
chart, which he spread out before him under a brilliant light, which was
suspended from the ceiling. It was a map of the British Admiralty, and
indicated all the details of the course which the "Alaska" intended to
take. The shores, the islands, the sand-banks, the light-houses,
revolving lights, and the most minute details were all clearly marked
out. With such a chart and a compass it seemed as if even a child might
be able to guide the largest ship through these perilous passes; and
yet, a distinguished officer of the French Navy, Lieutenant Mage, who
had explored the Niger, had been lost in these waters, with all his
companions, and his vessel, the "Magician."

It had happened that Captain Marsilas had never before navigated in
these waters. In fact, it was only the necessity of stopping at Brest
which had brought him here now, otherwise he would have passed a long
distance from shore. Therefore he was careful to study his chart
attentively, in order to keep his proper course. It seemed a very easy
matter, keeping on his left the Pointe-du-Van, the Bec-du-Raze, and the
Island of Sein, the legendary abode of the nine Druidesses, and which
was nearly always veiled by the spray of the roaring waters; he had only
to run straight to the west and to the south to reach the open sea. The
light on the island indicated clearly his position, and according to the
chart, the island ended in rocky heights, bordered by the open sea,
whose depth reached one hundred meters. The light on the island was a
useful guide on a dark night, and he resolved to keep closer to it than
he would have done in broad daylight. He therefore ascended to the deck,
and told Erik to sail twenty-five degrees toward the southwest.

This order appeared to surprise the young lieutenant.

"To the south-west, did you say?" he asked in a respectful manner,
believing that he had been mistaken.

"Yes, I said to the south-west!" repeated the commander, dryly: "Do you
not like this route?"

"Since you ask me the question, captain, I must confess that I do not. I
should have preferred running west for some time."

"To what purpose? we should only lose another night."

The commander spoke in a tone that did not permit of any contradiction,
and Erik gave the order which he had received. After all the captain was
an experienced seaman in whom they might have perfect confidence.

Slight as was the change in her course, it sufficed to modify sensibly
the sailing of the vessel. The "Alaska" commenced to roll a great deal,
and to dip her prow in the waves. The log indicated fourteen knots, and
as the wind was increasing, Erik thought it prudent to take a couple of

The doctor and Mr. Bredejord both became a prey to seasickness, and
descended to their cabins. The captain, who had for some time been
pacing up and down the deck, soon followed their example.

He had hardly entered his own apartment when Erik stood before him.

"Captain," said the young man, "I have heard suspicious noises, like
waves breaking over rocks. I feel conscientiously bound to tell you that
in my opinion we are following a dangerous route."

"Certainly, sir, you are gifted with tenaciousness," cried the captain.
"What danger can you fear when we have this light at least three good
miles, if not four, distant from us?"

And he impatiently with his finger pointed out their position upon the
chart, which he had kept spread out upon his table.

Erik followed the direction of his finger, and he saw clearly that the
island was surrounded by very deep waters. Nothing could be more
decisive and reassuring, in the eyes of a mariner. But still he felt
sure that it was not an illusion, those noises which he had heard, and
which certainly were made by waves breaking upon a rocky shore very
close to them.

It was a strange case, and Erik hardly liked to acknowledge it to
himself, but it did not seem to him that he could recognize in this
profile of the coast which lay spread out before his eyes the dangerous
spot which he remembered in the same geographical studies which he had
pursued. But could he venture to oppose his dim impressions and vague
remembrances against a chart of the British Admiralty? Erik dared not do
it. These charts are made expressly to guard navigators against errors
or any illusions of their memory. He therefore bowed respectfully to his
chief and returned to his position on deck.

He had scarcely reached it when he heard this cry resounding through the
vessel, "Breakers on the starboard!" followed almost immediately by a
second shout of "Breakers on the larboard!"

There was a loud whistle and a clattering of many feet followed by a
series of effective maneuvers. The "Alaska" slackened her course, and
tried to back out. The captain made a rush up the stairs.

At this moment he heard a grating noise, then suddenly a terrible shock
which shook the vessel from prow to stern. Then all was silent, and the
"Alaska" remained motionless.

She was wedged in between two submarine rocks.

Commander Marsilas, his head bleeding from a fall, mounted the deck,
where the greatest confusion reigned. The dismayed sailors made a rush
for the boats. The waves dashed furiously over the rocks upon which the
vessel had been shipwrecked. The distant light-houses, with their fixed
lights, seemed to reproach the "Alaska" for having thrown herself into
the dangers which it was their duty to point out. Erik tried vainly to
penetrate through the gloom and discover the extent of the damage which
the vessel had sustained.

"What is the matter?" cried the captain, still half-stunned by his fall.

"By sailing south-west, sir, according to your orders, we have run upon
breakers," replied Erik.

Commander Marsilas did not say a word. What could he answer? He turned
on his heel, and walked toward the staircase again.

Their situation was a tragical one, although they did not appear to be
in any immediate peril. The vessel remained motionless between the rocks
which seemed to hold her firmly, and their adventure appeared to be more
sad than frightful. Erik had only one thought - the expedition was
brought to a full stop - his hope of finding Patrick O'Donoghan was lost.

He had scarcely made his somewhat hasty reply to the captain, which had
been dictated by this bitter disappointment, than he regretted having
done so. He therefore left the deck to go in search of his superior
officer with the generous intention of comforting him, if it were
possible to do so. But the captain had disappeared, and three minutes
had not elapsed when a detonation was heard.

Erik ran to his room. The door was fastened on the inside. He forced it
open with a blow of his fist.

Commander Marsilas lay stretched out upon the carpet, with a revolver in
his right hand, and a bullet wound in his forehead.

Seeing that the vessel was shipwrecked by his fault, he had blown his
brains out. Death had been instantaneous. The doctor and Mr. Bredejord,
who had run in after the young lieutenant, could only verify the sad

But there was no time for vain regrets. Erik left to his two friends the
care of lifting the body and laying it upon the couch. His duty
compelled him to return to the deck, and attend to the safety of the
crew and passengers.

As he passed the door of Mr. Malarius, the excellent man, who had been
awakened by the stopping of the vessel, and also by the report of the
pistol, opened his door and put out his white head, covered by his black
silk night-cap. He had been sleeping ever since they left Brest, and was
therefore ignorant of all that had occurred.

"Ah, well, what is it? Has anything happened?" he asked quietly.

"What has happened?" replied Erik. "My dear master, the 'Alaska' has
been cast upon breakers, and the captain has killed himself!"

"Oh!" said Mr. Malarius, overcome with surprise. "Then, my dear child,
adieu to our expedition!"

"That is another affair," said Erik. "I am not dead, and as long as a
spark of life remains in me, I shall say, 'Go forward!'"



The "Alaska" had been thrown upon the rocks with such violence that she
remained perfectly motionless, and the situation did not appear to be
immediately dangerous for her crew and passengers. The waves,
encountering this unusual obstacle, beat over the deck, and covered
everything with their spray; but the sea was not rough enough to make
this state of affairs dangerous. If the weather did not change, day
would break without any further disaster. Erik saw this at a glance. He
had naturally taken command of the vessel, as he was the first officer.
Having given orders to close the port-holes and scuttles carefully, and
to throw tarred cloths over all openings, in case the sea should become
rougher, he descended to the bottom of the hold, in company with the
master carpenter. There he saw with great satisfaction that no water had
entered. The exterior covering of the "Alaska" had protected her, and
the precaution which they had taken against polar icebergs had proved
very efficacious against the rocky coast; in fact the engine had stopped
at once, being disarranged by the frightful shock, but it had produced
no explosion, and they had, therefore, no vital damage to deplore. Erik
resolved to wait for daybreak, and then disembark his passengers if it
should prove necessary.

He, therefore, contented himself with firing a cannon to ask aid from
the inhabitants of the Island of Sein, and with dispatching his small
steam launch to L'Orient.

He said to himself, that at no place would they find the means of
repairing their damages so promptly and well as at this great maritime
arsenal of Western France.

Thus in this glooming hour when every one on board believed that their
chances were irretrievably lost, he already began to feel hopeful, or
rather he was one of those courageous souls who know no discouragement
and never confess themselves vanquished.

"If we can only get the 'Alaska' off these rocks, everything may yet go
well with us," he said.

But he was careful not to express this hope to the others, who would
doubtless have considered it chimerical. He only told them when he
returned from his visit to the hold that they were in no danger at
present, and that there was plenty of time for them to receive aid.

Then he ordered a distribution of tea and rum to all the crew.

This sufficed to put these children of a larger growth in a good humor,
and their little steam-boat was speedily launched.

Some rockets from the light-house of Sein soon announced that aid was
coming to the assistance of the shipwrecked vessel. Red lights now
became visible, and voices hailed them. They answered that they had been
shipwrecked upon the rocks surrounding Sein.

It was a full hour before the boat could reach them. The breakers were
so strong that the attempt was perilous. But at length six men succeeded
in seizing a small cable, and hoisting themselves on board of the

They were six rude fishermen of Sein - strong, intrepid fellows - and it
was not the first time they had gone to the assistance of shipwrecked
mariners. They fully approved of the idea of sending to L'Orient for
assistance, for their little port could not offer the necessary
resources. It was agreed that two of them should depart in the little
steamer with Mr. Hersebom and Otto, as soon as the moon arose above the
horizon. While they were waiting for it to do so, they gave some account
of the place where they were shipwrecked.

The rocks extend in a westerly direction for nine miles beyond the
Island of Sein. They are divided into two parts, which are called the
Pont du Sein and the Basse Froid.

The Pont du Sein is about four miles long, and a mile and a half wide.
It is composed of a succession of high rocks, which form a chain above
the waters. The Basse Froid extends beyond the Pont du Sein for five
miles, and is two thirds of a mile wide; it consist of a great number of
rocks of about an equal height, which can be seen at a great distance.
The principal rocks are the Cornengen, Schomeur, Cornoc-ar-Goulet-Bas-ven,
Madiou and Ar-men. These are the least dangerous, because they can be
seen. The number and irregularity of their points under the water are
not fully known, for the sea beats over them with extreme violence, the
force of the current is very strong, and they are the scene of many
shipwrecks. Light-houses have been erected on the Island of Sein and at
Bec-du-Raze, so that these rocks can be seen and avoided by vessels
coming from the west, but they are very dangerous for vessels coming
from the south. Unfortunately there is no rock or small island at the
extreme end where a signal could be placed, and the turbulence of the
waters will not permit a floating one to be placed there. Therefore it
was resolved to build a light-house on the rock Ar-men, which is three
miles from the extreme point. This work is so extremely difficult that
although it was commenced in 1867, twelve years later, in 1879, it was
only half built. They say that during the latter year it was only
possible to work for eight hours, although the workmen were always
ready to seize a favorable moment. The light-house therefore was not
yet completed at the time when the "Alaska" met with her disaster. But
this did not suffice to explain how, after leaving Brest, they had been
run into such peril. Erik promised himself that he would solve this
difficulty as soon as the little steam-boat had been dispatched for
aid. This departure was easily effected, the moon having soon made its
appearance. The young captain then appointed the night watch, and sent
the rest of the crew to bed, then he descended to the captain's room.

Mr. Bredejord, Mr. Malarius, and the doctor were keeping watch beside
the corpse. They arose as soon as they saw Erik.

"My poor child, what is the cause of this sad state of things? How did
it happen?" asked the doctor.

"It is inexplicable," answered the young man, looking at the chart which
lay open upon the table. "I felt instinctively that we were out of our
route, and I said so; but in my estimation we are at least three miles
from the light-house; and all the seamen agree with me," he added,
designating a spot with his finger on the map - and you see no danger is
indicated - no sand-banks or rocks. This coloring indicates deep water.
It is inconceivable how the mistake can have occurred. We can not
suppose that a chart of the British Admiralty can be at fault, for it is
a region well known to mariners, as it has been minutely explored for

"Is it not possible to make a mistake as to our position? Could not one
light be mistaken for another?" asked Mr. Bredejord.

"That is scarcely possible in a voyage as short as ours has been since
we left Brest," said Erik. "Remember that we have not lost, sight of
land for a moment, and that we have been passing from one point to
another. We can only suppose that one of the lights indicated on the
chart has not been lighted or that some supplementary light has been
added - in a word, we must imagine what is highly improbable. Our course
has been so regular, the soundings have been so carefully made, that it
seems impossible that we could have mistaken our route, and yet the fact
remains that we are on the rocks, when we ought to have been some
distance out to sea."

"But how is it going to end? That is what I want to know," cried the

"We shall soon see," answered Erik, "if the maritime authorities show
any eagerness to come to our assistance. For the present the best thing
that every one can do is to go quietly to bed, since we are as secure as
if we were at anchor in some quiet bay."

The young commander did not add that it was his intention to keep watch
while his friends slept.

Nevertheless this is what he did for the remainder of the night,
sometimes promenading the deck and encouraging the men, sometimes
descending for a few minutes to the saloon.

As day commenced to dawn he had the satisfaction of perceiving that the
waves visibly receded, and if they continued to do so the "Alaska" would

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Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 10 of 17)