No, not rescue yet--only the imminent prospect of it. The red disk sank under the sea, and darkness blotted out the ship. By and by came a pleasant sound-oars moving in a boat's rowlocks. Nearer it came, and nearer-within thirty steps, but nothing visible. Then a deep voice: "Hol-lo!" The castaways could not answer; their swollen tongues refused voice. The boat skirted round and round the raft, started away--the agony of it!--returned, rested the oars, close at hand, listening, no doubt. The deep voice again: "Hol-lo! Where are ye, shipmates?" Captain Rounceville whispered to his men, saying: "Whisper your best, boys! now-all at once!" So they sent out an eightfold whisper in hoarse concert: "Here!", There was life in it if it succeeded; death if it failed. After that supreme moment Captain Rounceville was conscious of nothing until he came to himself on board the saving ship. Said the Reverend, concluding:

"There was one little moment of time in which that raft could be visible from that ship, and only one. If that one little fleeting moment had passed unfruitful, those men's doom was sealed. As close as that does God shave events foreordained from the beginning of the world. When the sun reached the water's edge that day, the captain of that ship was sitting on deck reading his prayer-book. The book fell; he stooped to pick it up, and happened to glance at the sun. In that instant that far- off raft appeared for a second against the red disk, its needlelike oar and diminutive signal cut sharp and black against the bright surface, and in the next instant was thrust away into the dusk again. But that ship, that captain, and that pregnant instant had had their work appointed for them in the dawn of time and could not fail of the performance. The chronometer of God never errs!"

There was deep, thoughtful silence for some moments. Then the grave, pale young man said:

"What is the chronometer of God?"


At dinner, six o'clock, the same people assembled whom we had talked with on deck and seen at luncheon and breakfast this second day out, and at dinner the evening before. That is to say, three journeying ship- masters, a Boston merchant, and a returning Bermudian who had been absent from his Bermuda thirteen years; these sat on the starboard side. On the port side sat the Reverend in the seat of honor; the pale young man next to him; I next; next to me an aged Bermudian, returning to his sunny islands after an absence of twenty-seven years. Of course, our captain was at the head of the table, the purser at the foot of it. A small company, but small companies are pleasantest.

No racks upon the table; the sky cloudless, the sun brilliant, the blue sea scarcely ruffled; then what had become of the four married couples, the three bachelors, and the active and obliging doctor from the rural districts of Pennsylvania?--for all these were on deck when we sailed down New York harbor. This is the explanation. I quote from my note- book:

Thursday, 3.30 P.M. Under way, passing the Battery. The large party, of four married couples, three bachelors, and a cheery, exhilarating doctor from the wilds of Pennsylvania, are evidently traveling together. All but the doctor grouped in camp-chairs on deck.

Passing principal fort. The doctor is one of those people who has an infallible preventive of seasickness; is flitting from friend to friend administering it and saying, "Don't you be afraid; I know this medicine; absolutely infallible; prepared under my own supervision." Takes a dose himself, intrepidly.

4.15 P.M. Two of those ladies have struck their colors, notwithstanding the "infallible." They have gone below. The other two begin to show distress.

5 P.M. Exit one husband and one bachelor. These still had their infallible in cargo when they started, but arrived at the companionway without it.

5.10. Lady No. 3, two bachelors, and one married man have gone below with their own opinion of the infallible.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book