My Debut as a Literary Person, page 3

By Mark Twain
From The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (1900).


Latitude, May 24, 14 degrees 18' N. Five oysters apiece for dinner and three spoonfuls of juice, a gill of water, and a piece of biscuit the size of a silver dollar. "We are plainly getting weaker -- God have mercy upon us all!" That night heavy seas break over the weather side and make everybody wet and uncomfortable, besides requiring constant bailing.

Next day "nothing particular happened." Perhaps some of us would have regarded it differently. "Passed a spar, but not near enough to see what it was." They saw some whales blow; there were flying-fish skimming the seas, but none came aboard. Misty weather, with fine rain, very penetrating.

Latitude, May 26, 15 degrees 50'. They caught a flying-fish and a booby, but had to eat them raw. "The men grow weaker, and, I think, despondent; they say very little, though." And so, to all the other imaginable and unimaginable horrors, silence is added -- the muteness and brooding of coming despair. "It seems our best chance to get in the track of ships, with the hope that some one will run near enough to our speck to see it." He hopes the other boats stood west and have been picked up. (They will never be heard of again in this world.)

Sunday, May 27. Latitude 16 degrees 0' 5"; longitude, by chronometer, 117 degrees 22'. Our fourth Sunday! When we left the ship we reckoned on having about ten days' supplies, and now we hope to be able, by rigid economy, to make them last another week if possible.(1) Last night the sea was comparatively quiet, but the wind headed us off to about west-northwest, which has been about our course all day to-day. Another flying-fish came aboard last night, and one more today -- both small ones. No birds. A booby is a great catch, and a good large one makes a small dinner for the fifteen of us -- that is, of course, as dinners go in the "Hornet's" long-boat. Tried this morning to read the full service to myself, with the communion, but found it too much; am too weak, and get sleepy, and cannot give strict attention; so I put off half till this afternoon. I trust God will hear the prayers gone up for us at home to-day, and graciously answer them by sending us succor and help in this our season of deep distress.

The next day was "a good day for seeing a ship." But none was seen. The diarist "still feels pretty well," though very weak; his brother Henry "bears up and keeps his strength the best of any on board." "I do not feel despondent at all, for I fully trust that the Almighty will hear our and the home prayers, and He who suffers not a sparrow to fall sees and cares for us, His creatures."

Considering the situation and circumstances, the record for next day, May 29, is one which has a surprise in it for those dull people who think that nothing but medicines and doctors can cure the sick. A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors. I do not mean a restricted diet; I mean total abstention from food for one or two days. I speak from experience; starvation has been my cold and fever doctor for fifteen years, and has accomplished a cure in all instances. The third mate told me in Honolulu that the "Portyghee" had lain in his hammock for months, raising his family of abscesses and feeding like a cannibal. We have seen that in spite of dreadful weather, deprivation of sleep, scorching, drenching, and all manner of miseries, thirteen days of starvation "wonderfully recovered" him. There were four sailors down sick when the ship was burned. Twenty-five days of pitiless starvation have followed, and now we have this curious record: "All the men are hearty and strong; even the ones that were down sick are well, except poor Peter." When I wrote an article some months ago urging temporary abstention from food as a remedy for an inactive appetite and for disease, I was accused of jesting, but I was in earnest. "We are all wonderfully well and strong, comparatively speaking." On this day the starvation regimen drew its belt a couple of buckle-holes tighter: the bread ration was reduced from the usual piece of cracker the size of a silver dollar to the half of that, and one meal was abolished from the daily three. This will weaken the men physically, but if there are any diseases of an ordinary sort left in them they will disappear.

Two quarts bread-crumbs left, one-third of a ham, three small cans of oysters, and twenty gallons of water. -- Captain's Log.

The hopeful tone of the diaries is persistent. It is remarkable. Look at the map and see where the boat is: latitude 16 degrees 44', longitude 119 degrees 20'. It is more than two hundred miles west of the Revillagigedo Islands, so they are quite out of the question against the trades, rigged as this boat is. The nearest land available for such a boat is the American group, six hundred and fifty miles away, westward; still, there is no note of surrender, none even of discouragement! Yet, May 30, "we have now left: one can of oysters; three pounds of raisins; one can of soup; one-third of a ham; three pints of biscuit-crumbs." And fifteen starved men to live on it while they creep and crawl six hundred and fifty miles. "Somehow I feel much encouraged by this change of course (west by north) which we have made today." Six hundred and fifty miles on a hatful of provisions. Let us be thankful, even after thirty-two years, that they are mercifully ignorant of the fact that it isn't six hundred and fifty that they must creep on the hatful, but twenty-two hundred!

Isn't the situation romantic enough just as it stands? No. Providence added a startling detail: pulling an oar in that boat, for common seaman's wages, was a banished duke -- Danish. We hear no more of him; just that mention, that is all, with the simple remark added that "he is one of our best men" -- a high enough compliment for a duke or any other man in those manhood-testing circumstances. With that little glimpse of him at his oar, and that fine word of praise, he vanishes out of our knowledge for all time. For all time, unless he should chance upon this note and reveal himself.

The last day of May is come. And now there is a disaster to report: think of it, reflect upon it, and try to understand how much it means, when you sit down with your family and pass your eye over your breakfast-table. Yesterday there were three pints of bread-crumbs; this morning the little bag is found open and some of the crumbs missing. "We dislike to suspect any one of such a rascally act, there is no question that this grave crime has been committed. Two days will certainly finish the remaining morsels. God grant us strength to reach the American group!" The third mate told me in Honolulu that in these days the men remembered with bitterness that the "Portyghee" had devoured twenty-two days' rations while he lay waiting to be transferred from the burning ship, and that now they cursed him and swore an oath that if it came to cannibalism he should be the first to suffer for the rest.

The captain has lost his glasses, and therefore he cannot read our pocket prayer-books as much as I think he would like, though he is not familiar with them.

Further of the captain: "He is a good man, and has been most kind to us -- almost fatherly. He says that if he had been offered the command of the ship sooner he should have brought his two daughters with him." It makes one shudder yet to think how narrow an escape it was.

The two meals (rations) a day are as follows: fourteen raisins and a piece of cracker the size of a cent, for tea; a gill of water, and a piece of ham and a piece of bread, each the size of a cent, for breakfast. -- Captain's Log.

He means a cent in thickness as well as in circumference. Samuel Ferguson's diary says the ham was shaved "about as thin as it could be cut."

June 1. Last night and today sea very high and cobbling, breaking over and making us all wet and cold. Weather squally, and there is no doubt that only careful management -- with God's protecting care -- preserved us through both the night and the day; and really it is most marvellous how every morsel that passes our lips is blessed to us. It makes me think daily of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Henry keeps up wonderfully, which is a great consolation to me. I somehow have great confidence, and hope that our afflictions will soon be ended, though we are running rapidly across the track of both outward and inward bound vessels, and away from them; our chief hope is a whaler, man-of-war, or some Australian ship. The isles we are steering for are put down in Bowditch, but on my map are said to be doubtful. God grant they may be there!

Hardest day yet. -- Captain's Log.

Doubtful! It was worse than that. A week later they sailed straight over them.

June 2. Latitude 18 degrees 9'. Squally, cloudy, a heavy sea.... I cannot help thinking of the cheerful and comfortable time we had aboard the "Hornet."

Two days' scantly supplies left -- ten rations of water apiece and a little morsel of bread. BUT THE SUN SHINES, AND GOD IS MERCIFUL. -- Captain's Log.

Sunday, June 3. Latitude 17 degrees 54'. Heavy sea all night, and from 4 a.m. very wet, the sea breaking over us in frequent sluices, and soaking everything aft, particularly. All day the sea has been very high, and it is a wonder that we are not swamped. Heaven grant that it may go down this evening! Our suspense and condition are getting terrible. I managed this morning to crawl, more than step, to the forward end of the boat, and was surprised to find that I was so weak, especially in the legs and knees. The sun has been out again, and I have dried some things, and hope for a better night.

June 4. Latitude 17 degrees 6', longitude 131 degrees 30'. Shipped hardly any seas last night, and today the sea has gone down somewhat, although it is still too high for comfort, as we have an occasional reminder that water is wet. The sun has been out all day, and so we have had a good drying. I have been trying for the last ten or twelve days to get a pair of drawers dry enough to put on, and today at last succeeded. I mention this to show the state in which we have lived. If our chronometer is anywhere near right, we ought to see the American Isles tomorrow or next day. If they are not there, we have only the chance, for a few days, of a stray ship, for we cannot eke out the provisions more than five or six days longer, and our strength is failing very fast. I was much surprised today to note how my legs have wasted away above my knees: they are hardly thicker than my upper arm used to be. Still, I trust in God's infinite mercy, and feel sure he will do what is best for us. To survive, as we have done, thirty-two days in an open boat, with only about ten days' fair provisions for thirty-one men in the first place, and these divided twice subsequently, is more than mere unassisted HUMAN art and strength could have accomplished and endured.

Bread and raisins all gone. -- Captain's Log.

Men growing dreadfully discontented, and awful grumbling and unpleasant talk is arising. God save us from all strife of men; and if we must die now, take us himself, and not embitter our bitter death still more. -- Henry's Log.

June 5. Quiet night and pretty comfortable day, though our sail and block show signs of failing, and need taking down -- which latter is something of a job, as it requires the climbing of the mast. We also had news from forward, there being discontent and some threatening complaints of unfair allowances, etc., all as unreasonable as foolish; still, these things bid us be on our guard. I am getting miserably weak, but try to keep up the best I can. If we cannot find those isles we can only try to make northwest and get in the track of Sandwich Island bound vessels, living as best we can in the meantime. Today we changed to one meal, and that at about noon, with a small ration of water at 8 or 9 a.m., another at 12 m., and a third at 5 or 6 p.m.

Nothing left but a little piece of ham and a gill of water, all around. -- Captain's Log.

They are down to one meal a day now, -- such as it is, -- and fifteen hundred miles to crawl yet! And now the horrors deepen, and though they escaped actual mutiny, the attitude of the men became alarming. Now we seem to see why that curious accident happened, so long ago: I mean Cox's return, after he had been far away and out of sight several days in the chief mate's boat. If he had not come back the captain and the two young passengers might have been slain, now, by these sailors, who were becoming crazed through their sufferings.

Note Secretly Passed By Henry To His Brother
Cox told me last night that there is getting to be a good deal of ugly talk among the men against the captain and us aft. They say that the captain is the cause of all; that he did not try to save the ship at all, nor to get provisions, and even would not let the men put in some they had; and that partially is shown us in apportioning our rations aft. **** asked Cox the other day if he would starve first or eat human flesh. Cox answered he would starve. **** then told him he would only be killing himself. If we do not find these islands we would do well to prepare for anything. ***** is the loudest of all.

Reply
We can depend on *****, I think, and ***** and Cox, can we not?

Second Note
I guess so, and very likely on *****; but there is no telling. ****** and Cox are certain. There is nothing definite said or hinted as yet, as I understand Cox; but starving men are the same as maniacs. It would be well to keep a watch on your pistol, so as to have it and the cartridges safe from theft.

Henry's Log, June 5. Dreadful forebodings. God spare us from all such horrors! Some of the men getting to talk a good deal. Nothing to write down. Heart very sad.

Henry's Log, June 6. Passed some sea-weed and something that looked like the trunk of an old tree, but no birds; beginning to be afraid islands not there. Today it was said to the captain, in the hearing of all, that some of the men would not shrink, when a man was dead, from using the flesh, though they would not kill. Horrible! God give us all full use of our reason, and spare us from such things! "From plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death, good Lord, deliver us!"

June 6. Latitude 16 degrees 30', longitude (chron.) 134 degrees. Dry night and wind steady enough to require no change in sail; but this a.m. an attempt to lower it proved abortive. First the third mate tried and got up to the block, and fastened a temporary arrangement to reeve the halyards through, but had to come down, weak and almost fainting, before finishing; then Joe tried, and after twice ascending, fixed it and brought down the block; but it was very exhausting work, and afterward he was good for nothing all day. The clue-iron which we are trying to make serve for the broken block works, however, very indifferently, and will, I am afraid, soon cut the rope. It is very necessary to get everything connected with the sail in good, easy running order before we get too weak to do anything with it.

Only three meals left. -- Captain's Log.

Note
1. There are nineteen days of voyaging ahead yet. --M.T.








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