To Have and To Hold
XX. In Which We Are In Desperate Case
"GOD walketh upon the sea as he walketh upon the land," said the minister. "The
sea is his and we are his. He will do what it liketh him with his own." As he spoke
he looked with a steadfast soul into the black hollow of the wave that combed
above us, threatening destruction.
The wave broke, and the boat still lived. Borne high upon the shoulder of the next
rolling hill, we looked north, south, east, and west, and saw only a waste of livid,
ever forming, ever breaking waves, a gray sky streaked with darker gray shifting
vapor, and a horizon impenetrably veiled. Where we were in the great bay, in
what direction we were being driven, how near we might be to the open sea or to
some fatal shore, we knew not. What we did know was that both masts were
gone, that we must bail the boat without ceasing if we would keep it from
swamping, that the wind was doing an apparently impossible thing and rising
higher and higher, and that the waves which buffeted us from one to the other
were hourly swelling to a more monstrous bulk.
We had come into the wider waters at dawn, and still under canvas. An hour
later, off Point Comfort, a bare mast contented us; we had hardly gotten the sail
in when mast and all went overboard. That had been hours ago.
A common peril is a mighty leveler of barriers. Scant time was there in that boat
to make distinction between friend and foe. As one man we fought the element
which would devour us. Each took his turn at the bailing, each watched for the
next great wave before which we must cower, clinging with numbed hands to
gunwale and thwart. We fared alike, toiled alike, and suffered alike, only that the
minister and I cared for Mistress Percy, asking no help from the others.
The King's ward endured all without a murmur. She was cold, she was worn with
watching and terror, she was wounded; each moment Death raised his arm to
strike, but she sat there dauntless, and looked him in the face with a smile upon
her own. If, wearied out, we had given up the fight, her look would have spurred
us on to wrestle with our fate to the last gasp. She sat between Sparrow and me,
and as best we might we shielded her from the drenching seas and the icy wind.
Morning had shown me the blood upon her sleeve, and I had cut away the cloth
from the white arm, and had washed the wound with wine and bound it up. If for
my fee, I should have liked to press my lips upon the blue-veined marble, still I
did it not.
When, a week before, I had stored the boat with food and drink and had brought
it to that lonely wharf, I had thought that if at the last my wife willed to flee I would
attempt to reach the bay, and passing out between the capes would go to the
north. Given an open boat and the tempestuous seas of November, there might
be one chance out of a hundred of our reaching Manhattan and the Dutch, who
might or might not give us refuge. She had willed to flee, and ILLUSTRATION
we were upon our journey, and the one chance had vanished. That wan,
monotonous, cold, and clinging mist had shrouded us for our burial, and our
grave yawned beneath us.