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The Trembling Eyelid Post by :sandeep_c_27 Category :Essays Author :Lydia H. Sigourney Date :November 2011 Read :2373

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The Trembling Eyelid

It was the day before Christmas, in the year 1778, during our war of revolution, that an armed vessel sailed out of Boston. She was strongly built, and carried twenty guns, and a crew of one hundred and five persons; with provisions for a cruise of six months.

She made a fine appearance, as she spread her broad sails, and steered out of the harbour. Many hearts wished her success. And she bore as goodly a company of bold and skilful seamen, as ever braved the perils of the deep.

Soon the north wind blew, and brought a heavy sea into the bay. The night proved dark, and they came to anchor with difficulty, near the harbour of Plymouth. The strong gale that buffeted them became a storm, and the storm a hurricane.

Snow fell, and the cold was terribly severe. The vessel was driven from her moorings, and struck on a reef of rocks. She began to fill with water, and they were obliged to cut away her masts. The sea rose above her main deck, sweeping over it with its dark surges.

They made every exertion that courage could prompt, or hardihood endure. But so fearful were the wind and cold, that the stoutest man was not able to strike more than two or three blows, in cutting away the masts, without being relieved by another.

The wretched people thronged together upon the quarter-deck, which was crowded almost to suffocation. They were exhausted with toil and suffering, but could obtain neither provisions, nor fresh water. These were all covered by the deep sea, when the vessel became a wreck.

But, unfortunately, the crew got access to ardent spirits, and many of them drank, and became intoxicated. Insubordination, mutiny, and madness ensued. The officers, remained clear-minded, but lost all authority over the crew, who raved around them.

A more frightful scene, can scarcely be imagined: the dark sky, the raging storm, the waves breaking wildly over the rocks, and threatening every moment to swallow up the broken vessel; and the half-frozen beings who maintained their icy hold on life, lost to reason, and to duty, or fighting fiercely with each other.

Some lay in disgusting stupidity; others, with fiery faces, blasphemed God. Some, in temporary delirium, fancied themselves in palaces, surrounded by luxury, and brutally abused the servants, who, they supposed, refused to do their bidding.

Others there were, who, amid the beating of that pitiless tempest, believed themselves in the homes that they never more must see, and with hollow, reproachful voices, besought bread, and wondered why water was withheld from them by the hands that were most dear.

A few, whose worst passions were quickened by alcohol to a fiend-like fury, assaulted or wounded those who came in their way, making their shrieks of defiance, and their curses heard above the roar of the storm. Intemperance never displayed itself in more distressing attitudes.

At length, Death began to do his work. The miserable creatures fell every hour upon the deck, frozen, stiff, and hard. Each corpse, as it became breathless, was laid upon a heap of dead, that more space might be left for the survivors. Those who drank most freely, were the first to perish.

On the third day of these horrors, the inhabitants of Plymouth, after making many ineffectual attempts, reached the wreck, not without danger. What a melancholy spectacle! Lifeless bodies, hardened into every form that suffering could devise.

Many lay in a vast pile. Others sat, with their heads reclining on their knees; others, grasping the ice-covered ropes; some in a posture of defence like the dying gladiator: and others, with hands held up to heaven, as if deprecating their awful fate.

Orders were given to search earnestly for every mark or sign of life. One boy was distinguished amid a mass of dead, only by the trembling of one of his eyelids. The poor survivors were kindly received into the houses of the people of Plymouth, and every effort used for their restoration.

The captain and lieutenant, and a few others, who had abstained from the use of ardent spirits, survived. The remainder were buried, some in separate graves, and others in a large pit, whose hollow is still to be seen, on the south-west side of the burial ground in Plymouth.

The funeral obsequies were most solemn. When the clergyman, who was to perform the last services, first entered the church, and saw more than seventy dead bodies; some fixing upon him their stony eyes, and others, with faces, stiffened into the horrible expression of their last mortal agony, he was so affected as to faint.

Some, were brought on shore alive, and received every attention, but survived only a short time. Others, were restored after long sickness, but with limbs so injured by frost, as to become cripples for life.

In a village, at some distance from Plymouth, a widowed mother, with her daughter, were seen constantly attending a couch, on which lay a sufferer. It was the boy, whose trembling eyelid attracted the notice of pity, as he lay among the dead.

"Mother," he said in a feeble tone, "God bless you for having taught me to avoid ardent spirits. It was this that saved me. After those around me grew intoxicated, I had enough to do to protect myself from them.

"Some attacked, and dared me to fight; others pressed the poisonous draught to my lips, and bade me drink. My lips and throat were parched with thirst. But I knew if I drank with them, I must lose my reason as they did, and perhaps, blaspheme my Maker.

"One by one they died, those poor infuriated wretches. Their shrieks and groans, still seem to ring in my ears. It was in vain that the captain and their officers, and a few good men, warned them of what would ensue, if they thus continued to drink, and tried every method in their power, to restore them to order.

"They still fed upon the fiery liquor. They grew delirious. They died in heaps. Dear mother, our sufferings from hunger and cold, you cannot imagine. After my feet were frozen, but before I lost the use of my hands, I discovered a box, among fragments of the wreck, far under water.

"I toiled with a rope to drag it up. But my strength was not sufficient. A comrade, who was still able to move a little, assisted me. At length, it came within our reach. We hoped that it might contain bread, and took courage.

"Uniting our strength we burst it open. It contained only a few bottles of olive oil. Yet we gave God thanks. For we found that by occasionally moistening our lips with it, and swallowing a little, it allayed the gnawing, burning pain in the stomach.

"Then my comrade died. And I lay beside him, like a corpse, surrounded by corpses. Presently, the violence of the tempest, that had so long raged, subsided, and I heard quick footsteps, and strange voices amid the wreck, where we lay.

"They were the blessed people of Plymouth, who had dared every danger, to save us. They lifted in their arms, and wrapped in blankets, all who could speak. Then they earnestly sought all who could move. But every drunkard, was among the dead.

"And I was so exhausted with toil, and suffering, and cold, that I could not stretch a hand to my deliverers. They passed me again and again. They carried the living to the boat. I feared that I was left behind.

"Then I prayed earnestly, in my heart, 'Oh, Lord, for the sake of my widowed mother, for the sake of my dear sister, save me.' I believed that the last man had gone, and besought the Redeemer to receive my spirit.

"But I felt a warm breath on my face. I strained every nerve. My whole soul strove and shuddered within me. Still my body was immovable as marble. Then a loud voice said, 'Come back and help me out with this poor lad. One of his eyelids trembles. He lives!'

"Oh, the music of that voice to me! The trembling eyelid, and the prayer to God, and your lessons of temperance, my mother, saved me." Then the loving sister embraced him with tears, and the mother said, "Praise be to Him who hath spared my son, to be the comfort of my old age."

(The end)
Lydia H. Sigourney's essay: Trembling Eyelid

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