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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Girls of the Morning-Glory Camp Fire » CHAPTER XIII WIND AGAINST TIDE
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“As bravely as we can!”

Jessica chanted the words to her painted oars, bright, talkative oars that spoke through many vivid emblems painted on blade and handle by herself and her Camp Fire Sisters.

A tongue of flame licked the dripping blade of one of them, mocking the water in which it was dipped, where Sesooā had gaudily painted her Camp Fire symbol, so characteristic of the little fire-witch who had mastered the art of getting fire without matches.

“Dear little Sally! if I could love one girl of our Morning-Glory Camp Fire better than another ’twould be Sally, next to Olive!” So said the girl-rower to herself, answering the appeal of the spray-feathered flame. “And ’twas so nice of her to go off and leave me to myself for a little while after I’d told her all my story—what I was crying about—I do feel a step happier for telling her!” smiling tremulously. “Her going will give me time for just half-an-hour’s row, alone, before dinner. And the water isn’t very rough near shore, though there’s a wild tumble of tide out in the middle of the river. This sou’wester is a ripping breeze!”

Thus the would-be designer of a painted window, enshrining the form of a Camp Fire Girl and consecrated to her ideals, soliloquized as she, Jessica Dee Holley, rowed briskly out from the Sugarloaf shore toward the wild-looking water that foamed and leaped at the broad heart of the tidal river.

The tide was still so low that she had difficulty in shoving off her flat-bottomed dory which Captain Andy had put at the service of the girls, but the feat was accomplished at last, at the cost of wet ankles.

“Never mind! I’ll change when I get back. I couldn’t have a row after dinner; it’s going to ‘rain pitchforks,’” the girl had told herself as she finally took her seat in the boat. “It’s breezing up for a good hard blow, too—sou’westerly squall, maybe—a mighty bad squall when it blows off the Sugarloaf, over a hundred acres of tall sand-hills, so Captain Andy says. I sha’n’t go out far! But I love the sea when it gets an angry rake on”—again mentally quoting the captain. “I like to feel myself mistress of it in a boat—I suppose that’s my great-grandfather coming alive in me!”

It would have been so much better if this one of her dead and gone relatives who seemed to have been a power could have “come alive” outside her, to smooth her way and steer her girlish course, so the rower thought, and rowed on thinking about him, his adventures on the deep, his life-saving achievements when he rescued the shipwrecked crews of other vessels. In high school she had read about Ulysses—hero of the greatest poem of antiquity—who was represented as being such a strong-hearted sailor, but Ulysses played second fiddle to her great-grandfather in her youthful imagination.

Thinking of the latter now, of the gallant shoulders in the blue coat, the dimpled chin, the hair and eyes so like her own, as everybody said—thinking of these as depicted in the old miniature which she had left locked in her desk in the Deering Mansion for safety—lent a glamor to the hard, short sea, wildly tipped with foam, that was springing up about her boat.

It might well be termed the sea, that part of the tidal river on which she was vaguely rowing, for the sand-bar at the river’s mouth where the breakers combed and foamed and the brown, sandy point called the Neck, on which those breakers threw their white bonnets aloft, was less than a mile away.

And what Jessica did not realize while she spun romances about that sailor-ancestor of hers and while she felt the daring drop of sea-blood inherited from him revel in her veins, was that the strong sou’westerly wind blowing offshore, gaining tremendous force as it drove across the hundred acres of pale sand-hills that made up the Sugarloaf Peninsula, was sweeping her steadily down nearer to where the white fangs of those breakers were set in the brown throat of the Neck.

She felt comfortably safe, for the water upon which she had launched her boat, and, indeed, for nearly half a mile offshore where she was aimlessly rowing about, though choppy and white-capped, was not dangerously rough, not so rough but that she could turn back and land again when she chose, for the Sugarloaf sand-dunes whose highest peak rose to two hundred feet above sea-level acted as a windbreak, so that the tremendous, ever-increasing force of the squally gusts only struck outside that half-mile belt of comparative calmness.

How hard they hit when they did strike, lashing the middle of the river into a whirlpool, angered by the tide which had just turned and was feebly opposing them, the dreaming Morning-Glory, exulting in being mistress of them and of her boat, did not know.

She never meant to be foolhardy. She knew that to obey that stringent point of the Camp Fire Law: “Hold on to Health!” she must not only care for her body and steer clear of sickness when she could, but that over and above that, far more important still, she must avoid unnecessary and aimless danger, for in the latter case, nine times out of ten, she would imperil not her own life alone, but some other life more mature and in the world’s estimate more valuable—as has sadly happened once among Camp Fire ranks—a life that might be nobly given in trying to save her.

In what followed she was largely the victim of ignorance—because the word-pictures to which she had listened, painting squalls upon the tidal river near its mouth, fell so short of the reality—and of the absence of Captain Andy who had taken a party of other campers up the river in his motor-boat, as well as of her desire to work off, in rowing, the grieving depression which had clung to her on the beach.

She did fling it overboard; as the choppy waves belabored the dory’s nose she presently laughed aloud as she chastised them with her painted oars, feeling that theirs was just rough play, the wild, boisterous sport of a young dog, proud of his strength, who shows all his teeth in his gambols, but will never close them upon his friends.

She laughed and chanted exultantly a line of some old sea-song while the gusts tore at the green pompon of her woolen Tam O’Shanter and tried to snatch the jaunty, tight-fitting cap itself off her head.

“‘The wind she blow a hurricane,
By ’n’ by she blow some more!’

I’m having lots of fun with you!” she sang to them. “And now I guess it’s high time for me to turn back; it must be almost dinner-hour; Gheezies, our Guardian, and the girls may be getting anxious about me! Goodness! how the wind is whipping up the fine sand of the dunes; it’s hovering like pale clouds over the Sugarloaf.”

This sand-fog spreading its storm-wings above the white hills that formed the background of Camp Morning-Glory looked ominous. She caught her breath; it tickled her throat, suddenly, with a feather of fear. She wished she had not come out so far.
“‘It’s a long, long way to yonder shore now!
But my heart’s right there!’”

she sang, all in a flutter, determined to keep her courage up, gazing shoreward toward the distant camp under whose sheltering roof her Camp Fire Sisters must be even now gathering for the midday meal.

“Whew! I must be getting into the really rough water, out toward the middle of the river. This—this is no joke!” she cried aloud wildly the next minute as a larger wave than any she had encountered yet not only boisterously showed its teeth, but seemed to fasten them cruelly in the dory, shaking the little boat until its planks creaked as she tried to turn it and drenching her from pompon to shoe-tip with spray.

“Never mind:
“‘When perils gather round,
All sense of danger’s drowned,
We despise it to a man!
We sing a little and laugh a little....’”

And even while she tried to sing and laugh the Peril was upon her.

A raving, squalling gust swooped out from that sand-fog swirling over the pale hills of the Sugarloaf; it seemed to mount in delirium to the lowering sky—from which all the sun-rays had fled to hide—and kick over a bucket of fresh water there. Then it roared as it shook its wet wings over the sea; its dripping tail struck the puny dory, just far enough out to be so struck with overwhelming force—and not all the strength of girl or boy, either, could stand or make headway against it.

“Oh-h! there goes my green Tam.” It was such a heart-broken wail, such a sob, that the wild, wet gust must have had the heart of a fiend to withstand it and sweep the green Tam O’Shanter, which depended for safety upon the clinging fit of its woven wool, mockingly away from the boat’s side.

It was beyond girl-nature not to make a frantic attempt to recover it—to row after it for a few battling strokes.

But those wheeling strokes were the death-knell of safety, of safety’s last chance.

The now terrified rower saw the pretty, warm head-gear, which she had bought out of the little pocket-money given her from time to time by Cousin Anne, dance upon the wave for a moment—a green blossom upon a white tendril of foam—just beyond her reach.

She did not see its soaked collapse; she lost sight of it, of everything without and within her, except a blinding aching terror, for, all in a moment, the dory and she were whirling at the heart of a water-spout.

The rain let loose by that last fierce gust drenched her sweater and short skirt.

A second gust blowing with equal ferocity offshore, and yet another, turned loose by the descending squall, spun her boat out toward the whirlpool heart of the river where the baby tide, like a lion’s whelp, fought the tiger gusts.

A reeling minute, the spray as well as the rain soaking and blinding her, the wind tearing loose her drenched hair, driving it across her face as if it would steal that, too, and whipping the breath out of her body, while the decorated oars wavered in her wet grasp that desperately tried to hold on to them, slipping between the racked row-locks which shook like chattering teeth!

Then those mad gusts rushed on to continue their fight with the incoming tide nearer to the mouth of the river, dragging the dory in their train, or brother-gusts, following, spun and drove it, really it mattered not which—nothing mattered now—for the fierce, wet onslaught of wind had taken, not a girl’s streaming hair, indeed, but something far more precious at the moment—one of her painted oars.

“Oh! what’s to become of me? I can’t row—I couldn’t, anyway! Will anybody see me from shore? Captain Andy might put off in a boat to save me, but he’s away up the river! The Boy Scouts! Their camp is far over among those other dunes, near the open sea, on the farther side of them!” Wildly Jessica’s gaze swept the pale beach and dunes lining the opposite shore of the river from the Sugarloaf as she drew in her second symbol-painted oar, now helpless, while the wind gnashed at its emblems and the foam hissed Sally’s flame.

Nowhere along the drab, rain-pelted line of beach, sands-pit and tall dune on either side of her was there a sign of a boat putting off—any indication that somebody saw her plight and would make an attempt, at least, to rescue her.

Indeed, along the whole coast of Massachusetts, north and south, no wilder or more lonely spot could be picked out than the mouth of this tidal river, left for nearly two-thirds of the year entirely to the harbor-seals and an occasional sportsman or professional gunner!

“Oh, I’ll be swept down—down—among the breakers on the bar!” The girl’s fingers interlocked convulsively as she cowered upon the middle thwart-seat of the boat, her eyes blindfolded by spray, her face working, discolored by fear, her wet knees groveling at the swollen roar of those breakers, heard even when they were farther off and invisible, among the crystalline sand-mounds of the Sugarloaf.

They crisped and curled and reared themselves through transparent sheets of rain like a pale wall between her and another world. Beyond them, even if by a miracle she should be swept past and through them alive, was the foamy vastness of the open sea where such frail things as a girl and a dory must surely be swallowed up in the tumult and tumble.

“Oh! I can’t be drowned. I can’t be drowned.” Frightened to a frenzy, her bent knees stiffened, she made a movement to stand up in the wildly rocking boat, to shout, scream, shriek for help to one shore, or both—shriek her loudest against the roar of wind, rain and spray.

The fatal impulse almost overcame her. She was stumbling, staggering to her feet, when like a wave from nowhere, flooding her agonized consciousness, came a memory of Captain Andy’s instructions to her and her Camp Fire Sisters, how to act if ever, by any most unlikely chance, they should be caught in such a peril.

“Lie flat,” he said. “Flat as a flounder! Slip down under the thwart-seats, make yourself one with the dory’s bottom. In such a ‘fearsome fix’ a girl who couldn’t keep a grip of herself would stand up and holler! A Camp Fire Girl, with presence of mind, would know enough to lie flat!”

Trembling, this Camp Fire Girl sank back upon the shaking thwart. She closed her eyelids tight, the bursting tears mingling with the spray behind them. And the roar of the breakers was lost in the voice of prayer crying passionately in her own young heart.

As on one July day, nearly two months before, she had prayed desperately for physical strength to carry the dripping, bowing weight of a deaf-and-dumb child out of a playground pool, so now she prayed for soul-strength to carry her torch of presence of mind through these swirling, drowning waters—for self-grip!

And self-control came to her.

Down she slipped, down, until her shuddering body pressed the boat’s bottom, until she lay on her back, flattened out under the dripping, shiny cross-seats.

And with the obedient action came a gleam of hope, like a play of lightning through the rain, for Captain Andy had given a reason for his advice: that the dory being flat-bottomed the waves by themselves would never capsize her; neither was it likely that she would ship enough water even among the breakers to swamp her; that a girl in her—even though carried out to sea—would stand a fair chance, if she could only “hold on to herself,” of being picked up when the squall was over.

So Morning-Glory, flattened to a flounder—and wet as ever was flounder-fish yet—“held on to herself” and prayed and thought of her Camp Fire Sisters.

“I wonder if they miss me—they must—and whether they see the boat drifting down to the breakers on the bar?” she questioned as the roar of those breakers swelled to a crash in her ears, as she could see the white wave-tops rising furiously on either side of the boat, plucking off their ghastly head-feathers of spray and tossing them in upon her like a watery coverlet, while she lay on her back in her cradle, the boat’s bottom.

That was just before a change came.

Yes, her Camp Fire Sisters and their Guardian did see the driven dory, were at this moment plucking their hearts out in anguish.

They were rending the streaming heavens with their cries, scouring the sodden Sugarloaf to find another boat and somebody strong to go after her while the dearest girl in their camp was being swept in a curtained drive of rain, upon a roaring bed of waves, out toward the mouth of the roar, the Bar, where the breakers curled in an ecstasy, piling white on white, pale as climbing death.


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