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Out of the Storm
By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill
All rights reserved.
Gail Desmond was fast asleep in her upper berth in the steamer when the impact came and nearly shook her out.
She clung to the railing and summoned her dazed senses. There was a sound of things rending beneath her, a wild confusion of cries following an instant of terrifying silence, and then all else was obliterated by appalling clamor immediately set up by the frenzied little creature who belonged in the lower berth, who had been flung like a wisp of cloth across the stateroom and was lying on the floor half paralyzed with fear.
Mrs. Adelia Patton was a woman of wealth and refinement whose sole business in life had been to please herself. That Mr. Patton had early recognized this fact and obligingly taken himself out of this life, leaving behind a goodly fortune, had in no way hindered her in the pursuit of happiness. Gail Desmond had not been with her two hours as her newly hired companion before she recognized the fact that her employer was the most selfish woman she had ever known. Clinging now to the edge of her crazily tilted berth, in this desperate situation she had hard work not to despise the silly little woman who was screaming and wringing her hands and calling upon God to protect her as if she were the first concern in the universe.
With one quick dash of her hand, the girl rubbed the sleep from her eyes and sprang to the slanting floor of the stateroom, kneeling beside the frantic woman and placing a cool steady hand upon her forehead.
"Mrs. Patton, be quiet, please. It won't do any good to scream that way. Are you hurt anywhere? Well, then please keep still till I can find out what is the matter. It may be nothing at all, and then, of course, you don't want to make yourself ridiculous. If there is anything the matter, we shall need all our senses to get dressed and take care of ourselves."
Her calm voice arrested the woman's attention for an instant, but at the suggestion of anything being the matter she set up a hysterical scream that shivered through the girl's sensitive frame till she felt as if she could strike the woman. However, there could be nothing gained by two people's losing their heads, so she turned from her and hurriedly put on some clothes. Meantime, her employer lay huddled on the floor, complaining loudly:
"You're an unfeeling girl to stand there taking care of yourself when I am dying of fright. Why don't you do something? We may be going to the bottom. We shall drown! Oh dear----r--r--r! We shall dr--r--rown! And no one cares for me. No one cares for poor little me. I might have known that a hired companion would never think of me when a time of danger came! No one cares for me!"
Gail turned and swiftly caught the little creature in her arms, set her upon her feet, and gave her a shake.
"Be still!" she said indignantly. "No one could possibly care for you when you are acting like that. Sit down on the edge of the berth and put on your clothes quickly. We may not have any time to waste!"
"Oh, I can't! I can't!" wailed the poor woman, sinking down upon the floor again. "Don't you see I'm all unnerved, you cruel girl! You'll have to dress me yourself. What else am I paying you for? I shall certainly discharge you the minute we get to land. Such actions!"
"Mrs. Patton, look here," said Gail, trying to speak calmly again, all the while fastening her own garments with rapid hands. "There isn't time for you to act like a child. It may be as much as our lives are worth to stay here. You must put something on while I go out to see what is the matter."
"Oh, you are not going to leave me here like a rat in a trap to drown, are you?" And the woman uttered another piercing scream.
At that, Gail went to the door of the stateroom and threw it open, regardless of the woman's protests.
A steward was hurrying by.
"Collision!" he said succinctly before the girl had time to ask. "All on deck at once!" And he was gone.
The girl's lips set firmly, and she turned to her companion, who had heard the word and was silent and wide-eyed with horror.
"Put this on!" she said sternly, seizing a large silk robe, which was the only available garment at hand to cover the woman.
"Oh, but I can't go out on deck in that!" objected the vain woman. "Get that tweed suit of mine; that will be most suitable. And my hair, you'll have to fix my hair. I couldn't go out in crimping pins."
"There isn't time to get anything else," said Gail severely, "and the steamer isn't going to wait for sinking until you have dressed for the occasion. There is not time to arrange hair, either."
She slipped the robe about her and fastened it quickly, fairly having to hold her still, for the woman had no mind to be attired so carelessly.
She was like a child, who, when she saw the inevitable, succumbed and went wildly to some new extreme.
"You are a most cruel girl," she sobbed hysterically. "Get my pearls at once. I must make sure of them. And my rings, where are they?"
Gail tossed the jewel case to the woman, more to keep her quiet than anything else, while she hastily hunted out a long warm cloak and put it around Mrs. Patton's shoulders.
"Here is your purse!" She put it in the trembling, little good-for-nothing hand. "Now, we must go up instantly!"
"But my hair!" Mrs. Patton's hand went to her crimping pins. "And my face is all cold cream! I can't go this way!"
"Wipe your face on this handkerchief!" Gail thrust a handkerchief into her hand and pushed her toward the door.
But the woman held back, her face blanched with fear, dreading what she might see on deck.
The strong young girl finally had to pick up the little pampered woman and carry her up on deck, staggering under the trailing robes and hindered by the frantic attempts of her charge to get away from her.
Once on deck, Mrs. Patton forgot her bristling crimping pins and her besmeared face and took to her lifelong occupation of getting the very best that was to be had for herself.
On deck all was confusion; nobody paid the slightest attention to her. No matter what she had worn, no one would have noticed. For the first time in her life, she forgot appearances and began to look out for self-preservation.
Gail dropped her into a vacant steamer chair that had slid as far as it could when the deck slanted and then been stopped by a pile of life preservers that had been thrown down in a heap. But Mrs. Patton did not remain idly on a steamer chair. She was up and away in her bedroom slippers with the agility of a bird, and when Gail turned back from looking this way and that to reconnoiter, her companion had disappeared. In dismay she looked around for her and caught sight of her flying down the deck toward a group of people where a boat had been lowered over the side. She saw her break wildly through the crowd into their midst, and when she pursued her, she reached the place just in time to see her scrambling up on the deck sail. "Oh, Mrs. Patton!" she cried, but there was a look of cunning in the little, old eyes, the kind of look a miser has when his gold is endangered. Her life was her gold, and she hoarded it carefully. Before Gail could reach her, or before anyone else noticed what she was doing, the woman was over the side, falling wildly into the midst of the already overcrowded boat.
For a woman as frail and dependent as she had been, she righted herself from the fall with extraordinary agility and perched like a magpie in the lap of a great gouty gentleman. She looked triumphantly up at her late companion and called out musically in her most dulcet tone with which she was wont to beguile those whom she had just bulldozed: "Miss Desmond! Miss Desmond! You'll have to come in the next boat. There really isn't room for any more here to be comfortable!"
The words floated up to Gail amid a chorus of profanity from sailors and others in the overcrowded boat, but Mrs. Patton sat serenely in her cream and crimping pins like a chief in his paint and feathers and ignored it.
"I wish you'd try to save my gray satin slippers if you get a chance," she called back in the same tone she would have used if she were starting out on an automobile ride. Then a great wave lifted the little boat, and the childish creature clasped her hands over her eyes and let forth another of her terrible screams.
Gail watched her for a breathless second and then turned back, half feeling a responsibility for the foolish little gray slippers upon her. But a sailor pushed her roughly.
"Boat over there just starting, miss," he called as he rolled away. "Better hustle! Ain't got no time to lose. This here boat's due to sink in about a minute more."
Gail flew up the slippery inclined deck, catching at the railing as she went, going in the direction the sailor had pointed. Someone tossed her a life preserver and shouted to her to put it on, and she tried to adjust it as she went, thinking as she did so of the stories she had read of life preservers and the people who stuck them full of pins so that they were useless when the time of need came. Her father had used something like that to illustrate unpreparedness for death in one of his sermons in those long-ago, dear days when he and her mother were living in the quiet little parsonage and she was going to college. Blessed Father and Mother, gone two years from earth, yet missed as sorely as at first. They were at least spared the horror of this. They would not be on earth to read the papers tomorrow morning and know that the boat on which their beloved daughter sailed had gone down some miles off the coast. They would not be there to watch anxiously for news of her, to weep if she were lost, or wait for days and weeks and maybe months and still be wrenched by hope and fear.
Preparedness! She was prepared to go if it was God's will. Life had been none too easy a place for her since her home had been broken up. She would have few to leave now, and had she not often felt the longing of a lonely Christian for home and heaven and the satisfaction of being face-to-face with Christ? To her, death meant no more dark horror than the mere physical passing. She had long ago set her house in order and felt that dying would be going home to God. Still, there was the natural instinct of youth for self-preservation. All these thoughts flashed through her mind as she hurried up the deck, struggling into that life preserver and wondering why she was not tremendously frightened. Her main emotion seemed to be one of disgust for the selfish little creature who had attended so thoroughly to her own affairs. It seemed to her she would rather drown than make such a miserable spectacle of her own littleness.
She was not actually thinking but merely being aware, as with a lightning glance, of certain facts. Her mind was really busy wondering what she ought to do. The gray slippers, as they should, had dropped away with a clear vision of the danger.
The deck seemed to be strangely vacant all at once where a moment before had been clamor and confusion. Only one man was standing where the group toward which she was hurrying had stood. He seemed to be hesitating, shaking his head and waving toward the boat below as if telling them to go and leave him; but at the last moment, just as she reached his side, he evidently was persuaded. He was climbing over the rail as she came up.
As he saw her, he stopped with an exclamation of horror that she was left behind and springing back, shouted below, "Wait, here's a woman!"
Already there was noise and confusion. "Too late!" she heard someone call, and "Look! The ship! She's sinking!" And even while they spoke, she felt a sensation as if the earth was about to sink beneath her.
The first feeling of panic seized her then, but she shut her lips and gave mute appeal to the man with her eyes.
He was a big man, with strong, well-cut features and responsible eyes. His attire of sleeveless undershirt and trousers was too indiscriminate to place him socially, and when a ship is sinking beneath one's feet, one does not stop to appraise one's only visible companion.
"What ought I to do?" She asked it calmly, though her heart was beating wildly. It had come to her that this was the last minute before something dreadful was going to happen.
"Get in that boat down there, quick!"
He turned and motioned down below, but as they turned, they both saw at once that the sailors were pulling out from below and were making frantic efforts to get away from the vicinity of the sinking ship. A green churning spot in their wake suggested a hidden monster sucking them down to horrid depths.
The man's breath caught in a smothered exclamation.
"Wait!" he said and strode across the deck to where an ax lay. With quick, strong strokes he tore up a hatchway and, seizing a coil of rope that lay at hand, caught the girl and began lashing her to the improvised raft.
"Oh, what are you going to do?" she murmured, but her words were like gasps. She began to think she knew what dying was like. And yet, she took time to be glad she was not alone. It would have been awful to go down alone with a sinking ship.
The next few seconds were ever afterward confused in her mind. The rope, the raft, the smothered choke of the water, the realization that she was out away from the ship and was yet alive. Frantically she put out her arms to grasp at something, but there was nothing but the slippery raft and the rope that bound her. If the rope would give way, she would be washed into the sea like an insect, so wildly the flimsy foundation under her was tossed to and fro.
It was several seconds before she remembered her companion. Where was he? What would become of him?
Then she saw him dive from the rail into the sea as the dying ship gave a sudden lurch and groan and disappeared from view.CHAPTER 2
Gail thought the man had gone with the ship, for something appeared to strike his head as he went down, and then the water closed over him. Her crazy raft tilted the other way, and a wall of angry green foam rose threateningly above her head till she could see nothing else. The sinking ship, or the monster that controlled it, kept sucking, sucking, and the waves above kept towering, till it seemed as if they were contending between them which should rend her or submerge her, the waves or the depths. It seemed a long time before the commotion of the sea subsided, and when she could look again, she thought she saw the man's head floating with drifting spars and deck chairs and bobbing life preservers. One of these she caught as it floated close to her. It seemed good just to get hold of something, to touch it and feel there was something else besides herself and that raft. She was becoming overwhelmed with her loneliness in the sea. She strained her eyes and tried to twist her body as her raft turned to see if the man were anywhere near. Then all at once his body seemed to be hurled at her from a mountain of green water, his dark hair floating like short seaweed. His eyes were closed. She could not make out if he was conscious.
As she had reached frantically for the life preserver, so now she reached out again and caught him by the hair and held him. So weak she seemed against that mighty force of water that was dragging him away from her. Yet it flashed upon her that she must hold him, must save him in spite of waves and death! He had given up his chance in the boat to save her. She owed him a life. If life was still in him, she must save him. He had been struck. He could not save himself.
The thought seemed to lend force to her grasp, to infuse her with new strength. She sat up as far as her rope would allow and grasped with the other hand, pulling him nearer until his head was on the ledge of the raft. Then she pulled at the neck of the light undershirt, but it was thin and tore. She must get hold of his shoulders. She must somehow lift him onto the raft with her. If it was not strong enough for two, at least she would share it with him while it lasted. They would go down together.
She pulled harder, and then she rested. One arm was lying across her lap now. It seemed lifeless and slippery and cold. The great knotted muscles that must belong to an athlete were like so much inanimate iron. How could she hold him? Yet she must.
Excerpted from Out of the Storm by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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