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A FIRE AT SEA.1
In the month of May of the year
take a hand, and when in my boyeighteen hundred and thirty-eight I ish simplicity I told him my reason, happened to be crossing from St. he went into a fit of laughter, and Petersburg to Lubeck on the steam- called out to his friends that he ship ‘Nicholas the First.' As at that had made a real find, a young man time there was very little railway who had never played cards in his communication, every tourist took the life, and who consequently was quite sea-route, and for the same reason certain to have the most extraordinary many people brought their travelling luck, fool's luck in fact ! ... I don't carriages with them, so as to be able know how it came about, but ten to continue their tour through Ger- minutes later I was sitting at the many, France, and other countries. gambling.table with a lot of cards in my We had with us, I remember, twenty- hand, as bold as brass, and playing, eight private conveyances, and were playing like a madman i in all two hundred and eighty pas- I must acknowledge that in my sengers, including twenty children.
case the old proverb turned out I was very young at the time, and true; money kept coming to me in as I did not suffer at all from sea- waves; and beneath my trembling sickness I enjoyed my new experiences perspiring hands the gold piled itself immensely. Some of the ladies on up in heaps. The banker who had board were extremely pretty, and a induced me to play never stopped for few quite beautiful; most of them, a moment urging me on, and excitalas ! are long since dead.
ing me to bet. I actually thought I It was the first time that
mother had made my fortune! Suddenly the had ever allowed me to go away by saloon door is flung wide open, a lady myself, and before I left she made me rushes in, cries out in a faint agonised promise to be on my best behaviour, voice, " The ship is on fire !” and falls and, above all things, never to touch on a sofa in a dead faint. The effect a card. As it happened, it was this was like that of an earthquake. last promise that was the first to be Everybody started from his seat; the broken.
gold and the silver and the banknotes One particular evening there was a were strewn all over the cabin, and we great gathering of the passengers in rushed out. I cannot understand how the saloon, where some well-known it was that we had not noticed the Russian bankers were gambling. They smoke before. It had already reached used to play a kind of lansquenet, and In fact the staircase was full of the jingle of the gold pieces, which it, and the whole place was lit with a were much more common then than dull red glare, the glare of burning they are now, was quite deafening. coal. In the twinkling of an eye Suddenly one of the players, seeing every one was on deck. Two huge that I did not join in, and not pillars of smoke were slowly rising up understanding why, asked me to on each side of the funnel, and sweeping
along the masts, and the uproar and 1 In a posthumous volume, ("Euvres tumult which began at that moment Dernières de I. Tourgueneff,' Hetzel et Cie,
never ceased. The scene of disorder Paris) this is said to have been a real incident in the novelist's life, dictated by him
was indescribable. I felt that all in French three months before he died. the human beings on board were sud
denly seized with a frantic desire for he accomplished this act of vandalism, self-preservation, I myself most of “What is the use of this picture all. I remember catching hold of a now?” The picture did not belong to sailor by the arm and pledging him my him at all! A huge fat man, looking word that my mother would give him like a German brewer, wept floods of ten thousand roubles if he saved my tears, and kept calling out “Captain ! life. The sailor naturally looked on my Captain! Captain !” in most heartoffer as a joke, and shook me off, and I rending accents. Finally the captain, did not suggest it again. I felt that losing all patience, caught him by the what I had been saying to him was collar of his coat, and shouted at him, perfect nonsense. However I must “Well! I'm the captain. What do add that everything I saw around me you want with me?” The fat brewer was quite as nonsensical.
gazed at him blankly, and with init is that nothing comes up to the creased pathos in his voice recomtragic side of a shipwreck but its menced his piteous cry of “Captain ! comic side! A rich landed proprietor, Captain !” for instance, was seized with a fit of However, it was the captain who terror, and flinging himself down on really saved our lives.
First, by his face began frantically kissing the altering our course, which he sucdeck! After he had been doing this ceeded in doing while it some time it so happened that the fury possible to enter the engine-room ; for of the flames abated for a moment, in if the steamer had kept on straight consequence of the great masses of for Lubeck, instead of making at once water which were being pumped into for land, it would undoubtedly have the coal-bunks. He leapt to his feet been burned to the water's edge itt once, drew himself to his full before reaching port. Secondly, by height, and cried out in a stentorian ordering the sailors to draw their voice, “O ye of little faith, think ye cutlasses, and to have no hesitation i hat our God, the God of the Russian in cutting down any one who tried people, will suffer us to perish ?” Just to seize either of the life-boats. I then, however, the flames broke out should mention that we had only two worse than before, and the poor man, life-boats left, the others having been with all his faith in the God of the capsized through the carelessness of Russian people, flung himself down some of the passengers who had again on his hands and knees and re- stupidly tried to launch them without turned to his deck-kissing. A gaunt knowing how. It was curious to notice looking general kept bawling out, the involuntary feeling of respect “A special messenger must be de- inspired by these stern, impassive spatched immediately to the Emperor. sailors, Danes, by the way, most of We despatched a special messenger them, as they stood there with their to him when the military colonies drawn swords, which in the red glare l'evolted, and the lives of several im- of the flames seemed bloodstained portant people were saved in conse- already quence. I myself was there in person !” It was now blowing a pretty strong A. gentleman with an umbrella in his gale, and the violence of the wind was hand suddenly, in a mad fit of pas- a good deal intensified by the fire sion, rushed at a very ugly little oil- which by this time was raging and painting that happened to be among roaring over more than a third of the the luggage, fastened to an easel, and
At the risk of wounding the began to stave it in. It was a portrait; vanity of my own sex I feel bound to and with the ferule of his umbrella acknowledge that during this crisis he made five holes in it, where the the women showed more presence of eyes, the nose, the mouth, and the ears mind than most of the men did. With were, exclaiming from time to time, as their pale faces and the white drapery
of the bed-clothes which they had I had really no desire at all to hurriedly caught up when summoned commit suicide ; but from a sort of from their berths, they seemed to me, spirit of bravado, for which, considering sceptic though I was even at that the awful position I was in, I cannot early age, like angels come down from at all account, I made two or three heaven to shame us and to give us feigned attempts to carry out the courage.
purpose with which she credited me; However, there were a few men who and every time that I did so the poor showed some pluck. I remember one old creature rushed at me to try and particularly, M. D... ff, our prevent my accomplishing, as she ambassador at Copenhagen. He had thought, a great crime. At last I felt taken off his shoes and necktie, tied ashamed, and stopped. And indeed his coat round him with the sleeves with death before me, imminent and across his chest, and was seated on a inevitable—why act? Why spend my thick taut rope with his feet dangling last moments playing a comedy? Howin the air, quietly smoking a cigar and ever I had no time either to analyse my examining us all with a look of amused own fantastic feelings, or to admire pity. As for myself, I had taken
old woman's want of egotism refuge on the lower rungs of one of (her altruism, as we should say nowathe futtock shrouds, and sat there days) for the roar of the flames over watching with a sort of dull wonder our heads became suddenly more terthe red foam as it boiled and churned rible, and simultaneously there rang beneath me, wetting my face now and out a voice like a trumpet, the voice then with a flying flake of froth ; and, of our guardian angel, “You fool, as I looked down into it, I kept saying what are you doing there? You will to myself, “So there is where I must be killed, follow me !" die, at eighteen years of age !” for I Immediately, though we did not had quite made up my mind that it know who was calling to us or where was better to be drowned than to be we had to go, up jumped this dear old roasted. The flames were now shooting woman and myself, as if we had been over my head in a great arch, and I shot from a gun, and off we rushed could clearly distinguish the roar of through the smoke after a sailor in a the fire from the roar of the waves. blue jersey, whom we saw climbing a
Not far from me was sitting a little rope-ladder in front of us. Without old woman, a cook, I should think, be
in the slightest degree understanding longing to one of the families which why, I climbed up the ladder after were on their way to Europe. Her him, and I verily believe that at that head was buried in her hands, and she moment if he had thrown himself into seemed to be murmuring a prayer. the water or done anything extraSuddenly she looked up at me, and ordinary, no matter what, I should whether or not she thought she could have blindly followed his example. see in my face the expression of some After he had clambered up two or sinister resolve I cannot say, but, what- three rounds of the ladder, the sailor ever her reason was, she clutched me jumped heavily on to the top of a by the arm, and in a voice in which
travelling carriage, whose wheels, by entreaty and sternness were strangely the way, were already on fire; I blended, said to me, “ No, sir, no one jumped after him ; I heard the old has absolute right over his own life, woman jump after me; then from the you no more than any one else. What- top of the first carriage the sailor ever form of death God sends to you, jumped on to the top of a second, then you must submit to it. It is your on to the top of a third, I keeping duty. Else you will be committing always behind him and finally in this suicide, and will be punished for it in way we reached the bow of the ship. the next world."
Nearly all the passengers were assem
bled there. The sailors, under the received ; and as he stood there he directions of the captain, were launch- looked about him with an air of deep ing one of the life-boats, fortunately humility, as if he were asking people the largest we had. Across the other to forgive him. side of the vessel I could see the long In the meanwhile I had made my line of the Lubeck cliffs lit up by the way over to the larboard side, where I glare of our fire. They were a good saw the smaller of our two life-boats deal more than a mile off. I did not pirouetting on the waves like a toyknow how to swim, and though it was boat. There were two sailors in it probably not very deep where we bad who were making signs to the passengone aground (for we had struck
gers to try and jump. This, however, without any of us noticing it) still was not such an easy thing to do, as the waves were terribly high. How- the Nicholas the First' stood very ever, the moment I caught sight of dry high out of the water, and it required land I felt quite sure I was safe, and good deal of skill to jump into the to the amazement of every one who boat without sinking it. At last, was standing near me I began to however, I made up my mind to have dance and
“ Hip! Hip! a try, and began by standing on one Hurrah !” I did not care to join the of the anchor-chains which were hung crowd which was hustling around the over the ship's side. But just as I was steps that led up to the big life-boat; about letting myself go, something there were too many women, old men, very heavy and very soft fell on top and children in it. Besides ever since
It was a woman, who had I had caught sight of land, I did not thrown her arms round my neck, and care to hurry myself, I felt so certain hung there like a log. I must acknowI was saved. I remember noticing ledge that my first impulse was to with surprise that very few of catch her by her two hands and to the children showed any signs of throw her right over my head; but terror, and that many of them were fortunately I resisted the temptation. actually asleep in their mother's arms. The shock, however, very nearly sent None of them were lost.
us both into the sea ; and in we I remarked in the middle of the must assuredly have gone, if by a crowd of passengers a tall military piece of extraordinary good luck there looking man leaning against a bench, had not been dangling right in front which he had just wrenched out of the of my nose a rope belonging to deck and set athwart ships. He stood some part of the rigging. I made a there quite motionless, his clothes all frantic clutch at this with one hand, dripping with sea-water. I was told and with this heavy lady still clinging that in an involuntary fit of terror he to me, hung there for a moment, had brutally elbowed out of his way a cutting my fingers to the bone. I woman who had tried to get in front of then looked down and saw that the him, so as to jump into one of the first life-boat was right under us, and life-boats that had foundered; and that, putting my trust in Providence let on being collared by one of the stewards myself go ... Every timber in the and thrown roughly down upon the life-boat creaked. “ Hurrah !” deck, the old soldier, who, by the way, cried the sailors. was a general, had felt so ashamed of
I left my companion in a dead faint his momentary act of cowardice that at the bottom of the boat, and turned he had sworn an oath that he would round to look at the steamer.
A great not leave the steamer till after every mass of faces, women's faces chiefly, one else, including the captain. He were anxiously peering at us over the was a magnificently built man, with a side. “Jump!” I cried, holding out curiously pale face. His forehead was my arms, “Jump !” At this particular still bleeding from the blow he had moment the splendid success of my
daring leap and the consciousness that play as if it were a matter of life or I was well out of reach of the fire death !” As for the luggage, it was gave me the most extraordinary physi- nearly all burned, and so were the cal strength as well as pluck; the travelling carriages. only three women who could make up Amongst the ladies who had escaped their minds to jump, I caught as easily a very pretty married woman, as one catches apples in an orchard. Madame T-; she was excessively I should note that every one of these charming, though her time was a good ladies gave a piercing shriek when deal taken
with her four little she left the steamer, and fainted in daughters and their nurses. At the mid-air. One of the hapless dames present moment she was sitting in the was very nearly killed through a most desolate manner on the beach, gentleman throwing an enormously without shoes or stockings, and with heavy trunk into our boat. I suppose hardly anything over her shoulders. I he had gone out of his mind. The felt it was my duty as a gentleman to trunk, by the way, was broken in the offer her every assistance in my power, fall, and seeing inside it an extremely and as a result found myself without handsome dressing.case, I at once my coat, my boots, and my necktie. To solemnly presented it to the two make matters worse, a peasant, whom sailors, without ever stopping to con- I had been to the top of the cliff to sider whether I had any claim to give look for, and whom I had sent down away other people's belongings. The to meet the shipwrecked travellers sailors with similar disregard for the with a waggon and a pair of horses, rights of property, gratefully accepted did not think it worth his while to my gift. We then started at once for wait for me, but set off for Lubeck with shore, rowing as hard as we could, and all my ladies ; so there was I left alone, followed by cries from the steamer of half naked and wet to the marrow of " Come back as soon
as you can ! my bones, to gaze at the sea where Send us back the boat!" And indeed our ship had nearly succeeded in burn
as there were only two or ing itself out. I use the word 66 three feet of water we felt it our duty ceeded” advisedly, as I never could to get out. A cold drizzling rain had have believed that such a huge affair been falling for about an hour, and a big steamer could be so soon though it had had no effect at all on destroyed. By this time it was merely the fire it had succeeded in wetting us a vast blot of fire on the sea ; a moto the skin.
tionless mass of flame streaked with At last we reached the shore, for the black outlines of the chimneys which we bad so longed, but it turned and the masts. Kound and round it out to be little better than a swamp wheeled the gulls with a sort of monoof wet sticky mud, and we sank in it tonous indifference in their flight. up to our knees. Our boat went back Then it ceased to be flame and became at once, and in company with the ashes; a great heap of ashes spangled larger life-boat, began to transport the with tiny bright sparks which were passengers from the steamer to land. scattered over the waves in long curvVery few people had been lost, eight ing lines. “Is this all ?” I thought, I think in all. One had fallen into a ' and life itself—what is it but a coal-bunk, and another had been handful of ashes strewn on the wind ?” drowned in an attempt to carry all his money away with him. The latter, Fortunately, however, for the mediwhose name I just knew, had spent tative pbilosopher whose teeth were most of the day playing chess with now beginning to chatter, a second me, and had been so excited over our waggoner arrived to pick me up. The games that Prince W
honest fellow extorted two ducats looking on, said to him finally, “You from me, but as a set-off lent me bis