Morituri Te Salutant
From: The Crack Of Doom
We had been sitting on deck chairs smoking and talking for a couple of
hours after the late dinner, which was served as soon as the vessel was
well out to sea, when Brande came on deck. He was hailed with
enthusiasm. This did not move him, or even interest him. I was careful
not to join in the acclamations produced by his presence. He noticed
this, and lightly called me recalcitrant. I admitted the justice of the
epithet, and begged him to consider it one which would always apply to
me with equal force. He laughed at this, and contrasted my gloomy fears
with the excellent arrangements which he had made for my comfort. I
asked him what had become of Grey. I thought it strange that this man
should be amongst the absentees.
"Oh, Grey! He goes to Labrador."
"To Labrador! What takes him to Labrador?"
"The same purpose which takes us to the Arafura Sea," Brande answered,
and passed on.
Presently there was a slight stir amongst the people, and the word was
passed round that Brande was about to undertake some interesting
experiment for the amusement of his guests. I hurried aft along with
some other men with whom I had been talking, and found Miss Brande and
Miss Metford standing hand in hand. Natalie's face was very white, and
the only time I ever saw real fear upon it was at that moment. I thought
the incident on the quay had unnerved her more than was apparent at the
time, and that she was still upset by it. She beckoned to me, and when I
came to her she seized my hand. She was trembling so much her words were
hardly articulate. Miss Metford was concerned for her companion's
nervousness; but otherwise indifferent; while Natalie stood holding our
hands in hers like a frightened child awaiting the firing of a cannon.
"He's going to let off something, a rocket, I suppose," Miss Metford
said to me. "Natalie seems to think he means to sink the ship."
"He does not mean to do so. He might, if an accident occurred."
"Is he going to fire a mine?" I asked.
"No, he is going to etherize a drop of water." Natalie said this so
seriously, we had no thought of laughter, incongruous as the cause of
her fears might seem.
At that moment Brande addressed us from the top of the deckhouse, and
explained that, in order to illustrate on a large scale the most recent
discovery in natural science, he was about to disintegrate a drop of
water, at present encased in a hollow glass ball about the size of a
pea, which he held between his thumb and forefinger. An electric light
was turned upon him so that we could all see the thing quite plainly. He
explained that there was a division in the ball; one portion of it
containing the drop of water, and the other the agent by which, when the
dividing wall was eaten through by its action, the atoms of the water
would be resolved into the ultimate ether of which they were composed.
As the disintegrating agent was powerless in salt water, we might all
feel assured that no great catastrophe would ensue.
Before throwing the glass ball overboard, a careful search for the
lights of ships was made from east to west, and north to south.
There was not a light to be seen anywhere. Brande threw the ball over
the side. We were going under easy steam at the time, but the moment he
left the deckhouse "full speed ahead" was rung from the bridge, and the
Esmeralda showed us her pace. She literally tore through the water
when the engines were got full on.
Before we had gone a hundred yards a great cry arose. A little fleet of
French fishing-boats with no lights up had been lying very close to us
on the starboard bow. There they were, boatfuls of men, who waved
careless adieus to us as we dashed past.
Brande was moved for a moment. Then he shrugged his shoulders and
muttered, "It can't be helped now." We all felt that these simple words
might mean much. To test their full portent I went over to him, Natalie
still holding my hand with trembling fingers.
"Can't you do anything for them?" I asked.
"You mean, go back and sink this ship to keep them company?"
"No; but warn them to fly."
"It would be useless. In this breeze they could not sail a hundred
yards in the time allowed, and three miles is the nearest point of
safety. I could not say definitely, as this is the first time I have
ever tried an experiment so tremendous; but I believe that if we even
slowed to half speed, it would be dangerous, and if we stopped, the
Esmeralda would go to the bottom to-night, as certainly as the sun
will rise to-morrow."
Natalie moaned in anguish on hearing this. I said to her sternly:
"I thought you approved of all these actions?"
"This serves no purpose. These men may not even have a painless death,
and the reality is more awful than I thought."
Every face was turned to that point in the darkness toward which the
foaming wake of the Esmeralda stretched back. Not a word more was
spoken until Brande, who was standing, watch in hand, beside the light
from the deckhouse, came aft and said:
"You will see the explosion in ten seconds."
He could not have spoken more indifferently if the catastrophe he had
planned was only the firing of a penny squib.
Then the sea behind us burst into a flame, followed by the sound of an
explosion so frightful that we were almost stunned by it. A huge mass
of water, torn up in a solid block, was hurled into the air, and there
it broke into a hundred roaring cataracts. These, in the brilliant
search light from the ship which was now turned upon them full, fell
like cataracts of liquid silver into the seething cauldron of water that
raged below. The instant the explosion was over, our engines were
reversed, and the Esmeralda went full speed astern. The waves were
still rolling in tumultuous breakers when we got back. We might as well
have gone on.
The French fishing fleet had disappeared.
I could not help saying to Brande before we turned in:
"You expect us, I suppose, to believe that the explosion was really
caused by a drop of water?"
"Etherized," he interrupted. "Certainly I do. You don't believe it--on
"That it is unbelievable."
"Pshaw! You deny a fact because you do not understand it. Ignorance is
"I say it is impossible."
"You do not wish to believe it possible. Wishes are not proofs."
Without pursuing the argument, I said to him:
"It is fortunate that the accident took place at sea. There will be no
"Oh! I am sorry for the accident. As for the men, they might have had a
worse fate. It is better than living in life-long misery as they do.
Besides, both they and the fishes that will eat them will soon be
numbered amongst the things that have been."
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