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was made for the boats. Dozens, thinking to make themselves secure, climbed into one as she hung by the davits, and breaking her down, fell into the sea and were nearly all drowned; the others were overcrowded and swamped, many men and women leaping into them from the deck when they were already crowded. No blame can attach to the captain for this state of things; he did all that it was possible for him to do to restore order, in which case many valuable lives might have been spared; but the catastrophe was so sudden and unexpected that the passengers, and I am sorry to be obliged to add many of the crew, lost all self-control and rushed upon their own self-destruction.
"The captain now ordered the fore-yard to be cut down, and had it sawed in two and lashed with other spars, thus making a raft about forty feet long by three or four wide, which when finished was launched, and in a few minutes sixty or seventy persons were clinging to it. Several smaller rafts were made of doors, barrels, or anything else that would float.
"The water was rapidly rising, all the pumping having little effect in keeping it down; and at last, while we were yet at work constructing more rafts the vessel began to settle down.
"It was awful to note the despair and agony that was marked on every face. But there was not much time to look about; the sea was rushing into the ship in great volumes, and when it closed over the smoke-pipe there rose from beneath it a sound like a heavy groan, terminating in a wailing sigh. This was no doubt produced by the steam and heat of the boiler being brought in contact with cold sea-water; but at that moment it had a weird and unnatural sound, never to be forgotten.
"In an instant all who were on board were engulfed in the surging waters. Down, down we sank into the depths of the ocean. I did not lose consciousness even for a moment; but the terrible thought flashed across me that I should never again see the loved ones at home. Just when
I thought my last moments were come, I found myself rapidly rising, a gleam of light appeared above me, it grew brighter and brighter, and in a few seconds I was on the surface of the water, striking out for my life. I soon managed to reach the large raft, to which, as I said before, nearly seventy persons were clinging.
"The sea, though not high, was somewhat rough, and the waves constantly dashed over us, each time bearing away some of those who were too exhausted to hold on firmly to the raft. The poor women were the first to go; and one after another they relaxed their hold and sank into their watery graves. It was almost impossible to help one another, for those who for a moment relaxed their hold were almost certain to be washed away. It was awful to see the bodies of those who were drowned, but prevented from sinking by the life-belts that encircled them, floating around us or washed to and fro by the waves, sometimes under and sometimes over the raft.
"Presently night came on; it was a night of agony and suffering, such as it is to be hoped few have had to endure. As hour after hour passed by, numbers of my fellow-sufferers became wearied out and let go their hold, and were immediately swallowed up by the hungry waves. When at last morning dawned there were only three on the raft besides myself, and in the course of a few hours they too were washed away; and, out of the numbers that had sought refuge on that frail bark, I alone survived.
"All through that day I supported myself as best I could, hoping against hope that I might yet be picked up. As night came on again, however, I gave myself up to despair. Worn out as I was by want of food and by the unceasing attention I had to give to prevent myself being washed away, I felt that I could not endure another night. My strength was failing, my sight was becoming dim, so that I could scarcely perceive objects only a few feet from me. Even the ghastly faces of the dead that seemed to be looking up at me from under the raft were hardly discernible.
Summoning all my strength, I raised myself on my knees and gazed around, endeavouring to pierce through the gloom of the evening. Just as I was about to sink down again I saw, or thought I saw, a vessel. Was it some mocking phantom of the brain? No. I felt sure it was a reality. I could hear human voices, and then for the first time I perceived a boat pulling towards me. I can never forget the feeling I then experienced; with a fell back insensible.
cry of joy I
"I remember nothing more till I found myself in a berth on board ship, and learned how I had been thus almost miraculously plucked from the jaws of death. The third mate of the Arctic had been picked up by a vessel, which immediately on hearing his tale sent boats to endeavour to save any who might yet be floating about on any of the rafts; but I was the only living being they found.
"Not until I had been some time in Quebec, at which port I was landed, did I recover from the effects of the awful time I spent upon the raft. For years afterwards often in my sleep I went through the sufferings I then experienced.
"How many of the crew and passengers of the ill-fate! Arctic or of the other equally unfortunate vessel that caused the calamity, were saved, I have never been able to ascertain; I can only say that none besides myself, who trusted themselves to the raft, remained to tell the tale I have told you."
The gentleman who had been listening to the old sailor's narrative seemed greatly impressed by what he had heard, and asked the narrator several questions as to the state of his mind while in such extreme peril. But on this point the old sailor did not seem inclined to say much.
"I thought that I was very near to death," he said; "and I felt that I was not fit to die and enter into the presence of God. I wished that I had lived a better life, but felt that it was now too late to repent. Further than this I can tell you nothing. I will not attempt to describe the state of
mind these thoughts produced. Although, through the mercy of God, I have learned since then to put my trust in the Saviour, and feel that my soul is safe in His keeping, yet I cannot bring to remembrance the thoughts that came over me then without a shudder."
"You say that you wished you had lived a better life; did you imagine that if you had you would have been safe?" asked the gentleman.
"I hardly know what I thought about that, sir; but I know now, that no life that I could have led would have made me fit to stand before the judgment throne; and I tremble to think what would have become of my soul if I had perished then."
Such a narrative as this can hardly fail to produce serious thoughts in the mind of any one who hears or reads it.
The awful suddenness of the catastrophe and the extent of the destruction it wrought must impress every thinking mind. There is something solemn, at any time, in the thought of meeting the last enemy, death. The apostle Paul recognised this fact; for, after dilating upon the glories of the future state of the believer, he says, in words that have been echoed by many a Christian since his day: "Not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
Death at any time and under any circumstances is awful, but doubly so when it comes in a manner so sudden and unexpected. Out of the three hundred and eighty-three persons on board the Arctic probably not one had the slightest apprehension of coming danger until the catastrophe actually occurred. How many were prepared to meet their fatal doom it is impossible to say. It may be, that to many the sudden termination of mortal life was only the equally sudden entrance into glory; death to them would be the translation from a state of imperfection and of sorrow and suffering to one of perfect peace and happiness.
But there is reason to fear that many, like the narrator of the story, were totally unfit to die.
Let us ask the question, what would be our fate if we were suddenly called to appear before the judgment throne? Another thought presents itself. Are we not all of us in somewhat the same position as the persons clinging to the raft? They knew they could not stay in that position long. One by one they dropped away; every hour made their numbers less, and not one knew how soon his strength might fail and he be launched into eternity. We are all uncertain how long we may live; day by day our friends and neighbours are passing away, death is busy around us, and we do not know how soon he may lay his hand upon us. Let us then prepare for that great change, and for the eternity that awaits us, by laying hold of the hope set before us, by placing ourselves in the hands of our Saviour, and by striving earnestly and prayerfully, as we are helped by the Holy Spirit, to live as becomes the children of God. Only one man was saved from the raft. We may all be saved if we really desire it, and accept the salvation that is offered us; the salvation which was bought for us by Christ's most precious blood, and which is held out to all who will receive it.
G. H. S.
"He knoweth the Way that I take;" or, The Christian's Assurance.
CANNOT see into the future,
Or tell what "to-morrow" will bring-
Perchance 'twill be sunshine and spring;
But Jesus my Lord is unchanging;
For many long years He hath led me
By pathways both stony and drear.