« PreviousContinue »
Co a nearer tie, his base spirit revolted from the very thought, but bow otherwise to accomplish his purpose was a difficulty which sadly perplexed him. He felt confident that she would not listen for an instant to any proposal that would continue her in her degradation, and yet he could not consent to abandon an object, who had already yielded up to him her affection and her virtue, and whom he was still anxious to retain upon any terms short of those by which alone he could repair the wrong he had done her. His approaching marriage he contemplated with complacency, as it would place large funds at his disposal, a power of which he was extremely anxious to avail himself. As to what opinion the deluded being whom be was about to make his wife might eventually entertain of him, he did not consider it to be an object worth his attention, deeming her sufficiently repaid for the transfer of her affections and fortune to him, by the honor of an alliance which would make her, whose pedigree was anything but remote, a member of an old and distinguished family.
As these reflections were passing through his mind, he gazed, scarcely conscious of the objects before him, at the gradual advance of the tide, seeing, indeed, but not observing the crested surges as they curled and rippled at his feet, and gathering every now and then, with a half vacant look of indifference, the variegated shells with which the strand abounded. He became at length so deeply absorbed in that maze of perplexing reflection, which sometimes distracts the thoughs when the known past and the unknown future mingle in our minds the uncertain with the doubful, that he did not perceive the waves had considerably increased in volume, and were rapidly advancing over the sand. His eye had long apparently watched their progress, and yet he was really unconscious of their appoach. His abstraction for the moment was so intense, that the external world seemed to have faded before him, until his attention was roused by a sudden cry of distress to the reality of the scene before him. He raised his head and listened. Again it came, borne on the rising breeze, before he had time to determine whether it was real or imaginary. He, no longer doubted, after hearing the second cry, as the shrill tone was too familiar to his ear to be easily mistaken. He knew not what to think. His first impression was, that his dear betrothed had rashly ventured upon a precipitous part of the bank, and been swept into the embrace of some ungentle hillow. The golden harvest, which was so full and fair for the gathering in, was perhaps about to be swallowed up in the insatiable ocean. What a possihility! To lose so rich a prize in the lottery of life !— dreadful ! What was to be done ? Impelled by a sudden impulse of selfish heroism, he rushed forward to save the fair object of his anxiety, not doubting but that he was about to see his worst surmises realized.
Upon gaining the-most elevated part of the sand-bank, he discovered to his dismay that the tide had risen so rapidly as to separate the portion upon which he stood from the main body, there being a considerable indentation on that side over which the water hnd imperceptibly flowed, so that all communication was cut off between him and his companions. He attempted to ford the channel, but when he found the water to be above his waist before he reached^rne centre of the passage, he was repelled by his fear from proceeding, and retreated disappointed and alarmed.
By this time the wind blew at intervals in sudden gusts, while the rack was beginning to gather and pass rapidly over the declining sun. The sand was occasionally raised in small vortices, and scattered profusely over him. The air was becoming chill, which the sudden sense ot'danger made more obvious, though Stanley had been hitherto too much absorbed in his'uuquiet meditations to give it much heed. He was now sensible that his situation wag extremely hazardous, and that nothing could save him from destruction if he were left to his own exertions for escape. He looked with an expression of dismay at the rapidly accumulating tide, and in proportion as the creek enlarged which separated him from his friends, his apprehensions of peril increased. It was evident that the small insular mass upon which he stood would be soon covered, as no part of it was much elevated above the rising tide, which was visibly encroaching. He watched it with painful earnestness; it momentarily narrowed the limits of his little realm. The billows now rose into something like commotion, as their course was impeded by the uneven surface of the channel through which they passed, and their white foaming crests indicated the approach of a fiercer conflict.
Stanley's alarm at finding himself so unexpectedly separated from his companions, was not a little aggravated at perceiving that the boat which had conveyed them to the island had broken from her moorings, and was tossing about at the mercy of the waves. She was drifting fast towards the land, and there was evidently no possihility of regaining her. This was indeed a new source of apprehension to the terrified Stauley. All hope of assistance seemed at once to vanish, as it was evident that his friends were as much in jeopardy as himself. This, however, could afford no consolation to him. He saw them running with an air of distraction along the margin of the rising sea, throwing up their arms as if supplicating assistance, and evidently making signals to the shore.
There happened to be no cottage on the part of the beach opposite to which he was standing. He could consequently encourage no hopes that any signal made by him would be observed, and his voice, however loudly he might shout, was still less likely to be heard. His only chance was to communicate his distress, if possible, to those who were in a similar state of peril with himself, so that if assistance reached them from the land, it might by their means be extended to him. He was satisfied they would not leave him to his fate, if they were released from theirs. He felt assured that Julia's affections were too deeply rooted not to urge her to put everything to the hazard for his safety. He was, however, for once deceived, since the only being upon earth -whom she sincerely -and exclusively loved was herself. Ho nevertheless derived a momentary consolation from the reflection that relief would quickly reach them from the land, and that they would immediately hasten to his rescue ; but he was soon doomed to witness the disappointment of his most anxious expectations.
While he was waving his handkerchief as a signal of distress, he perceived a boat approach his companions in peril. In their deliverance he anxiously anticipated his own. His suspense had a speedy but fearful termination. He raised his voice to its extrcmest pitch, shouting with all that impatient eagerness which a consciousness of danger naturally induces; he was however unheeded : in fact he was not heard. He fixed his eye with intense interest on the friends from whom he had been separated, until they had all entered the boat. It was very small, and by the time the whole party were safe on board was so overloaded, that any delay in disembarking must have been attended with no small hazard. Stanley saw her direct her course towards the land. His heart sickened. He waved his handkerchief, and shouted again in vain. She altered not her course, and he was left to the agonies of an almost hopeless disappointment. He struck his forehead in agony. The tide in the meanwhile had rapidly risen, and his peril was pro portion ably increased. He hitterly lamented his folly, in having so thoughtlessly wandered from the party merely to indulge a morose humor, for which, as it appeared, ho was about to pay a most fearful penalty. His lamentations, however, reached no mortal ear but his own.
The sky now began to darken, and the rays of the declining sun were only occasionally seen to slant upon the frothy waters. The air was becoming opaque and heavy, while the distant line of the horizon was broken by gathering masses of deep purple cloud, which rose rapidly to the zenith, gradually overspreading the whole circumference of the heavens. The gusts increased in frequency and force, swelling every now and then into u momentary howl, while the waves, lashed into commotion by their augmenting violence, rose, and gurgled around him, assuming a most angry aspect, and beginning to cxpurul into fierce and formidable array. Their agreeable ripple had subsided, and was succeeded by a confused clashing, like the distant champing of the war-horse, ready and eager for the battle.
The clouds still thickened, and gathered with deep expansion over the setting sun. In a short time the mass was so dense, that there no longer remained any indication of his presence above the horizon, except the golden tinge that hung upon the vapory skirts of the clouds, as their huge fantastic forms were impelled through the murky firmament. The progress of the coming storm was quick, and fearfully menacing. Stanley gazed upon the spreading vapors which rolled in dusky volumes above, and the increasing agitation of the waters below, with the roost vivid apprehensions. The clouds, were at times so low, that it almost appeared as if he could dart his band into them, and grasp the lightning which he imagined just ready to explode within their teeming bosoms. He felt a chill creeping through his frame which seemed nearly to paralyse him, while the pulses of his heartbeat so violently as to be almost audible. His throat became dry. The perspiration started from his temples, and gathering into large drops, hung quivering upon his brows. He felt a suffocating sensation, which caused him to gasp as if suffering under strangulation. Thissudden revulsion nearly distracted him. All these agonising sensations became stronger in proportion as his hopes of deliverance grow weaker, until at length the excitement of his mind was all but maddening. His spirits sunk, his limbs tottered, he panted with terror. It was indeed an awful visitation, the more awful because so sudden and unexpected.
The shore had by this time almost melted into the darkness, so that he could no longer define objects so remote. He looked with an anxious eye towards that part of the beach where the boat, which had so lately rescued his companions, had directed her course. He could no longer distinguish her. She had faded into the twilight, or she might perhaps have given up her living freight to the merciless ocean, and he only might remain to be the last of many sufferers. What an agonising thought! was there no rescue? He listened, but the rising conflict of the elements excluded all other sounds. He heard no dash of oars, he saw no boat approaching. What was to be done? Where were his chances of escape, and what could exertion avail him? Peril surround ring at the end of the shank, determined, with the aid of a rope which was attached to the ring, to secure his footing against the assaulting flood so long as he should have strength to resist ; since while there remained even the most distant possihility of rescue, he was resolved to relinquish no chance of preservation. It required no little mental energy to keep him firm in this resolution, for as the waves continued to approach, the apprehension of destruction broke fiercer and fiercer upon his troubled spirit. They were already at his feet—those waves which were about to swallow him; while the wild roar above and around him only magnified his horror. Still there was a struggle of hope within him, and every now and then a faint gleam pierced through the darkness of his growing despair, buoying up his bewildered soul amid those agonising throes of dismay with which it was conflicting.
There is perhaps no situation, however perilous, in which hope deserts us altogether. So long as the excitement of terror or of dreadful apprehension does not overpower the mind and destroy the balance of reason, hope clings to the soul, like light to the sun, and never entirely quits it until quenched in the darkness of death. It is that mysterious agency which operates more or less upon all our actions, which is the incentive of everything we do, and which lights us forward to that goal where 'the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.' Stanley now felt its influence strongly. He stood upon the ring of the anchor, his foot firmly locked within the circle as upon the verge of eternity. The sea-gull flew by him as if in mockery of his misery, screaming his discordant song to the awakened tempest, and thus adding to the wild dissonance of the clashing elements. He put up his supplications to heaven for the first time since he had ceased to lisp his infant orisons upon a parent's knee, yet with an awful presentiment that they would not be heard. They were, however, offered with a tremendous sincerity. They nevertheless, fell upon his soul with a most astounding recoil, like the reverberation of terrible echoes upon the ear among the mountains of the wilderness* When he thought of his God, it was only in connexion with his own peril. It was not love that induced him to supplicate the divine forgiveness. It was that abject terror which arises from a consciousness of unexpiated guilt, ond a consequent dread of punishment. He could find, therefore, no resource in prayer. His aspirations went not up with acceptance to the throne of mercySuch was the stern announcement of his affrighted conscience. It told him, in that 'still small voice,' which is the more terrible, because it reaches not the outward ear, but appears only to tl;e impassive soul, that God had deserted him—that the King of Terrors, and the lord of the damned, were about to secure their victim. Ho felt no lenger security. Every instant diminished his -chance of deliverance. He ceased at length to cling even to tho slender thread of possihility. He was becoming bewildered. His senses were f«st lapsing into confusion, and he seemed as if scarcely conscious of his own indentity. The crisis of his fate was at hand. He was in the very gorge of destruction. A violent peal of thunder for a moment recalled his energies, and re-awakened the dying spark of hope, which had ceased indeed to glow, butwas nevertheless not utterly extinguished, us the living fire is within the conl when the surface is black and ray less
The waters had gradually risen, and by this time reached his knees, booming around him and over him with u violence absolutely astounding. The wind raised the spray above his head, scattering the white