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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 37. How My Cat Still Farther Cheered Me
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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 37. How My Cat Still Farther Cheered Me Post by :Bill999 Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas A. Janvier Date :May 2012 Read :3705

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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 37. How My Cat Still Farther Cheered Me

CHAPTER XXXVII. HOW MY CAT STILL FARTHER CHEERED ME

It was in the grey of early morning, while the rain still was falling, that the cat and I had our breakfast; and as soon as the rain was over I was down in the boat, and had off the tarpaulin that covered her stern-sheets, and was busy bringing up my banked fires. One thing that I had learned how to do during the week that I had been testing my engine was to bank my fires well; and that was a matter of a good deal of importance to me--since every night during my voyage the fires would have to be kept that way, on the double score of my inability to hold my course in the darkness and of my need for sleep.

Presently I had steam up; and then I went back to the ship for the last and most important piece of my cargo--my bag of jewels. It was with a queer feeling, half of doubt and half of exultation, that I fetched out this little bundle--still done up in the sleeve of the oilskin jacket--and stowed it in one of the lockers in the cabin of my boat. If my voyage went well, then all the rest of my life--so far as wealth makes for happiness--would go well too: for in that rough and dirty little bag was such a treasure--that I had won away from the dead ship holding it--as would make me one of the richest men in the world. But against this exultant hope stood up a doubt so dark that there was no great room in my mind for cheerfulness: for as I stowed away the jewels in the boat I could not but think of those others who had stowed them away two hundred years and more before aboard the galleon; and who had started in their great ship well manned on a voyage in which the risk of disaster was as nothing in comparison with the risk that I had to face in the voyage that I was undertaking in my little boat alone. Yet their venture had ended miserably; and I, trying singly to accomplish what their whole company had failed in, very well might surrender the treasure again, as they had surrendered it, to the storm-power of the sea.

But thinking these dismal thoughts was no help to me, and so I choked them down and went once more aboard the steamer to make sure that I had forgotten nothing that I needed by taking a final look around. This being ended without my seeing anything that was necessary to me, I said goodbye to the _Ville de Saint Remy and got down into my boat again; and my cat--who usually sat in the break of the side of the steamer while I was at work in the boat, though sometimes asking with a miau to be lifted down into her--of his own accord jumped aboard ahead of me: and that I took for a good sign.

Certainly, the cat and I made as queer a ship's company as ever went afloat together; and our little craft--with its cargo that would have bought a whole fleet's lading--was such an argosy as never before had sailed the seas. Nor did even Columbus, when he struck out across the black ocean westward, start upon a voyage so blind and so seemingly hopeless as was ours. The Admiral, at least, had with him such aids to navigation as his times afforded, and went cruising in open water; failing in his quest, the chance was free to him to put about again and so come once more to his home among living men. But I had not even his poor equipment; and as to turning again and so coming back to the point whence I started--even supposing that I could manage it--that ending to my voyage would be so miserable that it would be better for me to die by the way.

In none of the vessels through which I had searched had I found a sextant; nor would it have been of any use to me, had I found one, unless I had found also a chronometer still keeping time. Charts I did find; but as I had to know my position to get any good from them, and as I would run straight for any land that I sighted without in the least caring on what coast I made my landfall, I left them behind. My only aid to navigation was a compass, that I got from the binnacle of a ship lying near the _Ville de Saint Remy_; and aboard the same vessel I found a very good spyglass, and gladly brought it along with me because it would add to my chances--should I reach open water--not only of sighting a distant ship but of making out how she was standing in time to head her off.

But for all practical purposes the compass was enough for me. I knew that to the westward lay the American continent, and that between it and where I then was--for it was certain that I was not far south of the latitude of the Azores--was that section of the Atlantic which is more thickly crowded with ships than any other like-sized bit of ocean in the world. My chance of escape, therefore, and my only chance, lay in holding to a due west course: hoping first that, being clear of the weed, I might fall in with some passing vessel; and second that I might make the coast before a storm came on me by which my little boat would be swamped. And so I opened the throttle of my engine: and as the screw began to revolve I headed my boat for the cut in the weed which I had made when I was testing her--while my tow-rope drew taut and after me came slowly my long raft.

No doubt it was only because the hiss of the escaping steam startled him; but at the first turn of the engine my cat scampered forward and seated himself in the very bows of the boat--a little black figure-head--and thence gazed out steadfastly westward as though he were the pilot charged with the duty of setting our vessel's course. He had to give place to me in a moment--when I went to the bows to begin my sawing through the weed--but I was cheered by his planting himself that way pointing our course with his nose for me: and again I took his bit of freakishness for a good sign.

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