September 18, 2020

Anne – Part 54

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“and dark objects that they knew were men were sucked under”

Tita listened to the remarks addressed to her, noted the pretense of bustle and hearty appetite, and then, turning to the window, she said, during a momentary lull in the storm, “I do not wonder that you can not eat, when poor Rast is somewhere on that black water.”

Dr. Gaston pushed away his plate; Miss Lois sat staring at the wall with her lips tightly compressed, while Anne covered her face with her hands to keep back the tears. Père Michaux rose and began to walk up and down the room; for a moment, besides his step, there was no sound save the roar of the storm.  Tita’s words had ended all pretense, clothed their fear in language, and set it up in their midst. From that moment, through the long day, there was no more disguise; every cloud, every great wave, was watched, every fresh fierce blast swept through four anxious hearts. They were very silent now, and as the storm grew wilder, even the boys became awed, and curled themselves together on the broad window-seat, speaking in whispers.  At noon a vessel drove by under bare poles; she seemed to be unmanageable, and they could see the signals of the sailors as they passed the island. But there was no lifeboat, and nothing else could live in that sea.  At two o’clock a large bark came into view, and ran ashore on the reef opposite; there she lay, pounding to pieces for two hours.  They saw the crew try to launch the boats; one was broken into fragments in a moment, then another. The third and last floated, filled with humanity, and in two minutes she also was swamped, and dark objects that they knew were men were sucked under. Then the hull of a schooner, with one mast standing, drove aimlessly by, so near the shore that with the glass they could see the features of the sailors lashed to the pole.

“Oh! If we could but save them!” said Anne. “How near they are!” But even as she spoke the mast fell, and they saw the poor fellows drown before their eyes.

At four the Huron came into sight from the western pass, laboring heavily, fighting her way along inch by inch, but advancing.  “Thanks be to the Lord for this!” said the chaplain, fervently. Père Michaux took off his velvet cap, and reverently made the sign of the cross.

“‘Twouldn’t be any harm to sing a hymn, I guess,” said Miss Lois, wiping her eyes. Then Anne sang the “De Profundis.” Amid the storm all the voices rose together, the children and Miss Lois and the two priests joining in the old psalm of King David, which belongs to all alike, Romanist and Protestant, Jew and Christian, bond and free.

“I do feel better,” said Miss Lois. “But the steamer is still far off.” “The danger will be when she attempts to turn,” said Père Michaux.

They all stood at the windows watching the boat as she rolled and pitched in the heavy sea, seeming half the time to make no headway at all, but on the contrary to be beaten back, yet doggedly persisting. At five o’clock she had reached the point where she must turn and run the gauntlet in order to enter port, with the gale striking full upon her side. Every front window in the village now held gazing faces, and along the piers men were clustered under the lee of the warehouses with ropes and hooks, waiting to see what they could do. The steamer seemed to hesitate a moment, and was driven back. Then she turned sharply and started in toward the piers with all steam on. The watchers at the Agency held their breath.  For a moment or two she advanced rapidly, then the wind struck her, and she careened until her smokestacks seemed almost to touch the water. The boys cried out; Miss Lois clasped her hands. But the boat had righted herself again by changing her course, and was now drifting back to her old station. Again and again she made the attempt, now coming slowly, now with all the sudden speed she could muster; but she never advanced far before the lurch came, throwing her on her side, with one paddle wheel in the air, and straining every timber in her frame. After half an hour of this work she drew off, and began to ply slowly up and down under the partial shelter of the little island opposite, as if resting. But there was not a place where she could cast neither anchor, nor any safety in flight; the gale would outlast the night, and the village harbor was her best hope. The wind was increasing, the afternoon sinking into night; every one on the island and on board also knew that when darkness fell, the danger, already great, would be trebled. Menacing and near on every side were long low shore-lines, which looked harmless enough, yet held in their sands the bones of many a drowned man, the ribs of many a vessel.

 

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