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- Opening a Chestnut Burr - 70/76 -
seen the light of his heavenly home, and felt that it would cheer his way till the portals opened and received him into rest.
Suddenly, upon the top of a distant wave, something large and white appeared, and then sank into an ocean valley. Again it rose--a sail, then the dark hull of a ship.
In dreamy musing he began, wondering how, in mid-ocean, with so many leagues of space, two vessels should cross each other's track so near. "It's just the same with human lives," he thought. "A few months or years ago, people that I never knew, and might have passed on the wider ocean of life, unknowing and uncaring, have now come so near! Why is it? Why does that ship, with the whole Atlantic before it, come so steadily toward us?"
It did come so steadily and so near that a feeling of uneasiness troubled him, but he thought that those in charge knew their business better than he.
A moment later he started forward. The ship that had come so silently and phantom-like across the waves seemed right in the path of the steamer.
Was it not a phantom?
No; there's a white face at the wheel--the man is making a sudden, desperate effort--it's too late.
With a crash like thunder the seeming phantom ship plows into the steamer's side.
For a moment Gregory was appalled, stunned; and stared at the fatal intruder that fell back in strong rebound, and dropped astern.
Then he became conscious of the confusion, and awakening uproar on both vessels. Cries of agony, shouts of alarm, and hoarse orders pierced the midnight air. He ran forward and saw the yawning cavern which the blow had made in the ship's side, and heard the rush of water into the hold. Across the chasm he saw the captain's pale face looking down with a dismay like his own.
"The ship will sink, and soon," Gregory shouted.
There was no denial.
Down to the startled passengers he rushed, crying, "Awake! Escape for your lives!"
His words were taken up and echoed in every part of the ship.
He struck a heavy blow upon the door of Annie's stateroom. "Miss Walton!"
"Oh, what has happened?" she asked.
"You and Miss Morton come on deck, instantly; don't stop to dress; snatch a shawl--anything. Lose not a moment. What is Hunting's number?"
"Forty, on the opposite side."
"I will be back in a moment; be ready."
Hunting's state-room was so near where the steamer had been struck that its door was jammed and could not be opened.
"Help! help! I can't get out," shrieked the terrified man.
Gregory wrenched a leaf from a dining-room table and pried the door open.
"Come," he said, "you've no time to dress."
Hunting wrapped his trembling form in a blanket and gasped, as he followed, "I'll pay you back every cent of that money with interest."
"Make your peace with God. We may soon be before Him," was the awful response.
Miss Eulie and Annie stood waiting, draped in heavy shawls.
"I'm sorry for the delay; Hunting's door was jammed and had to be broken open. Come;" and putting his arm around Miss Eulie and taking Annie's hand, he forced them rapidly through the increasing throng of terror-stricken passengers that were rushing in all directions.
Even then, with a strange thrill at heart, Annie thought, "He has saved his enemy's life."
He took them well aft, and said, "Don't move; stand just here until I return," and then pushed his way to the point where a frantic crowd were snatching for the life preservers which were being given out. The officer, knowing him, tossed him four as requested.
Coming back, he said to Hunting, "Fasten that one on Miss Morton and keep the other." Throwing down his own for a moment, he proceeded to fasten Annie's. He would not trust the demoralized Hunting to do anything for her, and he was right, for Hunting's hands so trembled that he was helpless. Having seen that Annie's was secured beyond a doubt, Gregory also tied on Miss Eulie's.
In the meantime a passenger snatched his own preserving-belt, which he had been trying to keep by placing his foot upon it.
"Stop," Annie cried. "O Mr. Gregory! he has taken it and you have none. You shall have mine;" and she was about to unfasten it.
He laid a strong grasp upon her hands. "Stop such folly," he said, sternly. "Come to where they are launching that boat. You have no choice;" and he forced her forward while Hunting followed with Miss Eulie.
They stood waiting where the lantern's glare fell upon their faces, with many others more pale and agonized.
Annie clung to him as her only hope (for Hunting seemed almost paralyzed with fear), and whispered, "Will you the same as die for me again?"
"Yes, God bless you! a thousand times if there were need," he said, in tones whose gentleness equalled the harshness of his former words.
She looked at him wonderingly. There was no fear upon his face, only unspeakable love for her.
"Are you not afraid?" she asked.
"You said I was a Christian to-day, and your Bible and God's voice in my heart have confirmed your words. No, I am at peace in all this uproar, save anxiety for you."
She buried her face upon his shoulder.
"My darling sister!" he murmured in her ear. "How can I ever thank you enough?"
Then he started suddenly, and tearing off the cape of his coat, said to Hunting, "Fasten that around Miss Morton;" and before Annie quite knew what he was doing he had taken off the body part and incased her in it.
"Here, Hunting, your belt is not secure"; and he tightened the straps.
"Pass the women forward," shouted the captain.
Of course those nearest were embarked first. The ladies in Gregory's charge had to take their turn, and the boat was about full when Miss Eulie was lowered over the side.
At that moment the increasing throng, with a deeper realization of danger, as the truth of their situation grew plainer, felt the first mad impulse of panic, and there was a rush toward the boat. Hunting felt the awful contagion. His face had the look of a hunted wild beast. Annie gazed wonderingly at him, but as he half-started with the others for the boat she understood him. Laying a restraining hand upon his arm, she said, in a low tone, "If you leave my side now, you leave it forever."
He cowered back in shame.
The officer in charge of the boat had shouted, "This boat is for women and children; as you are men and not brutes, stand back."
This checked the desperate mob for a moment, and Gregory was about to pass Annie down when there was another mad rush led by the blatant individual who had scouted the idea of Providence.
"Cut away all," shouted the captain from the bridge, and the boat dropped astern.
It was only by fierce effort that Gregory kept himself and Annie from being carried over the side by the surging mass, many of whom leaped blindly over, supposing the boat to be still there.
Pressing their way out they went where another boat was being launched. Hunting followed them like a child, and was as helpless. He now commenced moaning, "O God! what shall I do? what shall I do?"
"Trust Him, and be a man. What else should you do?" said Gregory, sternly, for he was deeply disgusted at Hunting's behavior.
Around this boat the officer in charge had placed a cordon of men to keep the crowd away, and stood pistol in hand to enforce his orders. But the boat was scarcely lowered before there was the same wild rush, mostly on the part of the crew and steerage passengers. The officer fired and brought down the foremost, but the frenzied wretches trampled him down with those helping, together with women and children, as a herd of buffaloes might have done. They poured over into the boat, swamped it, and as the steamer moved slowly ahead, were left struggling and perishing in the waves.
Gregory had put his arm around Annie and drawn her out of the crush. Fortunately they had been at one side, so that this was possible.
"The boats are useless," he said, sadly. "There will be the same suicidal folly at every one, even if they have time to lower any more. Come aft. That part will sink last, and there will be less suction there when the ship goes down. We may find something that will keep us afloat."
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