Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 30.djvu/209

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The First Ironclad. 201

grating, followed by a jug containing a surplus supply of water and a package of bread.

Below the window of the prison a ship floated at anchor, and at her stern was tied a small boat used as a tender. The location of the ship was marked.

That night was dark. Securing the rope within the cell, Captain Austin, with the water jug tied around his neck, climbed from the high aperture and swung out. Hand over hand he went down to freedom. Owing -to the necessary haste his companion was just above him, bearing the bread.

When fully twenty feet above the water Captain Austin found himself at the end of the rope. It was too late to go back up. Letting go, he went crashing feet downward into the waves below. His companion was fairly on top of him when they went under. Fortunately the noise was not noted, but the water in the uncorked jug was lost, as was also the bread. With bridges figuratively burned behind them, and terrible suffering ahead, they struck out, according to previous agreement, for the ship. Securing the yawl, Captain Austin crawled aboard the vessel. The watch was napping. Work- ing fast and quietly, he unscrewed the compass from its place and dropped back with it into the small boat. It would have been sui- cidal to have attempted to secure provisions to replace those lost, and so the two sailed away destitute, shaping their course for Havana.

Day dawned, and still the two men rowed on, assisted by a make- shift sail. The heat of the summer sun blazing over a tropic sea was intense. They were out of sight of land, with "water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink." Still they kept on. Hunger gnawed at their vitals, but safety was in front, not behind. With the coming of night their suffering had increased to a point that seemed maddening.

Another and another day passed. Still there was nothing but the burning sun and the salt sea. Havana was ahead of them. Loaves of bread and bunches of fruit appeared piled up in luxurious plenty on the sea beside them, only to vanish under touch. Clear, cool springs rippled from the bottom of the boat, but the water was not for their parched and swollen throats. Land appeared just ahead, only to fade away, as with renewed efforts they rowed toward it. With sailor instinct they kept to their course. Another night found the two men raving, stark, starving mad, lying in the bottom of the yawl too weak and emaciated to even cry for help. Before another day