September 30, 2020

Anne – Part 55

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“Rast was safe”

“Why   doesn’t   she   make   another   trial?” said   Dr. Gaston, feverishly wiping his eyeglasses. “There is no use in running up and down under that island any longer.”

“The captain is probably making everything ready for a final attempt,” answered Père Michaux.

And so it seemed, for, after a few more minutes had passed, the steamer left her shelter, and proceeded cautiously down to the end of the little island, keeping as closely in shore as she could, climbing each wave with her bows, and then pitching down into the depth on the other side, until it seemed as if her hind-quarters must be broken off, being too long to fit into the watery hollows under her. Having reached the end of the islet, she paused, and slowly turned.

“Now for it,” said Père Michaux.

It was sunset-time in pleasant parts of the land; here the raw, cold, yellow light, which had not varied since early morning, giving a peculiar distinctness to all objects near or far, grew more clear for a few moments—the effect, perhaps, of the after-glow behind the clouds which had covered the sky all day unmoved, fitting as closely as the cover upon a dish. As the steamer started out into the channel, those on shore could see that the passengers were gathered on the deck as if prepared for the worst. They were all there, even the children. But now no one thought any more, only watched; no one spoke, only breathed. The steamer was full in the gale, and on her side. Yet she kept along, righting herself a little now and then, and then careening anew. It seemed as though she would not be able to make headway with her one wheel, but she did. Then the islanders began to fear that she would be driven by too far out; but the captain had allowed for that. In a few seconds more it became evident that she would just brush the end of the longest pier, with nothing to spare. Then the men on shore ran down, the wind almost taking them off their feet, with ropes, chains, grappling-irons, and whatever they could lay their hands on. The steamer, now unmanageable, was drifting rapidly toward them on her side, the passengers clinging to her hurricane deck and to the railings. A great wave washed over her when not twenty feet from the pier, bearing off several persons, who struggled in the water a moment, and then disappeared. Anne covered her eyes with her hands, and prayed that Rast might not be among these. When she looked again, the boat was fastened by two, by ten, by twenty, ropes and chains to the end of the pier, bows on, and pulling at her halters like an unmanageable steed, while women were throwing their children into the arms of those below, and men were jumping madly over, at the risk of breaking their ankle-bones.  Anything to be on the blessed shore! In three minutes a hundred persons were on the pier, and Rast among them.  Anne, Dr. Gaston, Père Michaux, Miss Lois, and the children all recognized his figure instantly, and the two old men started down through the storm to meet him, in their excitement running along like schoolboys, hand in hand.

Rast was safe. They brought him home to the Agency in triumph, and placed him in a chair before the fire. They all wanted to touch him, in order to feel that he was really there, to be glad over him, to make much of him; they all talked together. Anne came to his side with tender affection. He was pale and moved. Instinctively and naturally as a child turns to its mother he turned to her, and, before them all, laid his head down upon her shoulder, and clung to her without speaking. The elders drew away a little; the boys stopped their clamor. Only Tita kept her place by the youth’s side, and frowned darkly on the others.

Then they broke into a group again. Rast recovered himself, Dr. Gaston began to make puns, and Père Michaux and Miss Lois revived the subject of Father Marquette as a safe ladder by which they could all come down to common life again. A visit to the kitchen was made, and a grand repast, dinner and supper combined, was proposed and carried into effect by Miss Lois, Père Michaux, and the Irish soldier’s wife, the three boys acting as volunteers. Even Dr. Gaston found his way to the distant sanctuary through the series of empty rooms that preceded it, and proffering his services, was set to toasting bread—a duty he accomplished by attentively burning one side of every slice, and forgetting the other, so that there was a wide latitude of choice, and all tastes were suited.

 

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