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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XXII. Out Of The Depths

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Then there came one of those great confluences of waves described already, which, lifting her bodily upward, higher and higher and higher, suddenly rushed with her into the basin, filling it like an opened dry-dock, crashing and roaring round the vessel and upon the rocks, then sweeping out again and leaving her lodged, still stately and steady, at the centre of the cove.

They could hear from the crew a mingled sound, that came as a shout of excitement from some and a shriek of despair from others. The vivid lightning revealed for a moment those on shipboard to those on shore; and blinding as it was, it lasted long enough to show figures gesticulating and pointing. The old sailor, Mitchell, tried to build a fire among the rocks nearest the vessel, but it was impossible, because of the wind. This was a disappointment, for the light would have taken away half the danger, and more than half the terror. Though the cove was more quiet than the ocean, yet it was fearful enough, even there. The vessel might hold together till morning, but who could tell? It was almost certain that those on board would try to land, and there was nothing to do but to await the effort. The men from the farmhouse had meanwhile come down with ropes.

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It was simply impossible to judge with any accuracy of the distance of the ship. One of these new-comers, who declared that she was lodged very near, went to a point of rocks, and shouted to those on board to heave him a rope. The tempest suppressed his voice, as it had put out the fire. But perhaps the lightning had showed him to the dark figures on the stern; for when the next flash came, they saw a rope flung, which fell short. The real distance was more than a hundred yards.

Then there was a long interval of darkness. The moment the next flash came they saw a figure let down by a rope from the stern of the vessel, while the hungry waves reared like wolves to seize it. Everybody crowded down to the nearest rocks, looking this way and that for a head to appear. They pressed eagerly in every direction where a bit of plank or a barrel-head floated; they fancied faint cries here and there, and went aimlessly to and fro. A new effort, after half a dozen failures, sent a blaze mounting up fitfully among the rocks, startling all with the sudden change its blessed splendor made. Then a shrill shout from one of the watchers summoned all to a cleft in the cove, half shaded from the firelight, where there came rolling in amidst the surf, more dead than alive, the body of a man. He was the young foreigner, John Lambert's boatman. He bore still around him the rope that was to save the rest.

How pale and eager their faces looked as they bent above him! But the eagerness was all gone from his, and only the pallor left. While the fishermen got the tackle rigged, such as it was, to complete the communication with the vessel, the young men worked upon the boatman, and soon had him restored to consciousness. He was able to explain that the ship had been severely strained, and that all on board believed she would go to pieces before morning. No one would risk being the first to take the water, and he had at last volunteered, as being the best swimmer, on condition that Emilia should be next sent, when the communication was established.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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