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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 23. Sinking
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 23. Sinking Post by :Des_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :1706

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 23. Sinking

CHAPTER XXIII. SINKING

Isabel Marlay's first care had been to see that little Katy had a good hold. Helen Minorkey was quite as self-possessed, but her chief care was to get into a secure position herself. Nothing brings out character more distinctly than an emergency such as this. Miss Minorkey was resolute and bent on self-preservation from the first moment. Miss Marlay was resolute, but full of sympathy for the rest. With characteristic practical sense, she did what she could to make herself and those within her reach secure, and then with characteristic faith she composed her mind to death if it should come, and even ventured with timid courage to exhort Katy and Miss Minorkey to put their trust in Christ, who could forgive their sins, and care for them living or dying. Even the most skeptical of us respect a settled belief in a time of trial. There was much broken praying from others, simply the cry of terror-stricken spirits. In all ages men have cried in their extremity to the Unseen Power, and the drowning passengers in Diamond Lake uttered the same old cry. Westcott himself, in his first terror, prayed a little and swore a little by turns.

The result of self-possession in the case of Isa Marlay and Helen Minorkey was the same. They did not waste their strength. When people drown, it is nearly always from a lack of economy of force. Here was poor little Katy so terrified at thoughts of drowning, and of the cold slimy bed at the bottom of the lake, and more than all at thoughts of the ugly black leeches that abounded at the bottom, that she was drawing herself up head and shoulders out of the water all the time, and praying brokenly to God and Brother Albert to come and help them. Isa tried to soothe her, but she shuddered, and said that the lake was so cold, and she knew she should drown, and Cousin Isa, and Smith, and all of them. Two or three times, in sheer desperation, little Katy let go, but each time Isa Marlay saved her and gave her a better hold, and cheered her with assurances that all would be well yet.

While one party on the shore were building a raft with which to reach the drowning people, Albert Charlton and George Gray ran to find the old boat. But the young men who had rowed in it, wishing to keep it for their own use, had concealed it in a little estuary on the side of the lake opposite to the village, so that the two rescuers were obliged to run half the circumference of the lake before they found it. And even when they reached it, there were no oars to be found, the party rowing last having carefully hidden them in the deep grass of the slough by the outlet. George Gray's quick frontiersman's instinct supplied the deficiency with sticks broken from a fallen tree. But with the time consumed in finding the boat, and the time lost in searching for the oars, and the slowness of the progress made in rowing with these clumsy poles, and the distance of the boat's starting-point from the scene of the disaster, the raft had greatly the advantage of them, though Charlton and Gray used their awkward paddles with the energy of desperation. The wrecked people had clung to their frail supports nearly a quarter of an hour, listening to the cries and shouts of their friends ashore, unable to guess what measures were being taken for their relief, and filled with a distrustful sense of having been abandoned by God and man. It just then occurred to Westcott, who had recovered from his first fright, and who for some time had neither prayed to God nor cursed his luck, that he might save himself by swimming. In his boyish days, before he had weakened his texture by self-indulgence and shattered his nerves by debauchery, he had been famous for his skill and endurance in the water, and it now occurred to him that he might swim ashore and save Katy Charlton at the same time. It is easy enough for us to see the interested motives he had in proposing to save little Katy. He would wipe out the censure sure to fall on him for overloading the boat, he would put Katy and her friends under lasting obligations to him, he would win his game. It is always easy to see the selfish motive. But let us do him justice, and say that these were not the only considerations. Just as the motives of no man are good without some admixture of evil, so are the motives of no man entirely bad. I do not think that Westcott, in taking charge of Katy, was wholly generous, yet there was a generous, and after a fashion, maybe, a loving feeling for the girl in the proposal. That good motives were uppermost, I will not say. They were somewhere in the man, and that is enough to temper our feeling toward him.

Isa Marlay was very unwilling to have Katy go. But the poor little thing was disheartened where she was--the shore did not seem very far away, looking along the water horizontally--the cries of the people on the bank seemed near--she was sure she could not hold on much longer--she was so anxious to get out of this cold lake--she was so afraid to die--she dreaded the black leeches at the bottom--she loved and trusted Smith as such women as she always love and trust--and so she was glad to accept his offer. It was so good of Smith to love her so and to save her. And so she took hold of his coat-collar as he bade her, and Westcott started to swim toward the nearest shore. He had swam his two miles once, when he was a boy, testing his endurance in the waters of the North River, and Diamond Lake was not a mile wide. There seemed no reason to doubt that he could swim to the shore, which could not in any event be more than half a mile away, and which seemed indeed much nearer as he looked over the surface of the water. But Westcott had not taken all the elements into the account. He had on his clothing, and before he had gone far, his boots seemed to fetter him, his saturated sleeves dragged through the water like leaden weights. His limbs, too, had grown numb from remaining so long in the water, and his physical powers had been severely taxed of late years by his dissipations. Add to this that he was encumbered by Katy, that his fright now returned, and that he made the mistake so often made by the best of swimmers under excitement, of wasting power by swimming too high, and you have the causes of rapid exhaustion.

"The shore seems so far away," murmured Katy. "Why don't Albert come and save us?" and she held on to Smith with a grasp yet more violent, and he seemed more and more embarrassed by her hold.

"Let go my arm, or we'll both drown," he cried savagely, and the poor little thing took her left hand off his arm, but held all the more firmly to his collar; but her heart sank in hopelessness. She had never heard him speak in that savage tone before She only called out feebly, "Brother Albert!" and the cry, which revealed to Westcott that she put no more trust in him, but turned now to the strong heart of her brother, angered him, and helped him to take the resolution he was already meditating. For his strength was fast failing; he looked back and could see the raft nearing the capsized boat, but he felt that he had not strength enough left to return; he began to sink, and Katy, frightened out of all self-control as they went under the water, clutched him desperately with both hands. With one violent effort Smith Westcott tore her little hands from him, and threw her off. He could not save her, anyhow. He must do that, or drown. He was no hero or martyr to drown with her. That is all. It cost him a pang to do it, I doubt not.

Katy came up once, and looked at him. It was not terror at thought of death, so much as it was heart-break at being thus cast off, that looked at him out of her despairing eyes. Then she clasped her hands, and cried aloud, in broken voice: "Brother Albert!"

And then with a broken cry she sank.

Oh! Katy! Katy! It were better to sink. I can hardly shed a tear for thee, as I see thee sink to thy cold bed at the lake-bottom among the slimy water-weeds and leeches; but for women who live to trust professions, and who find themselves cast off and sinking--neglected and helpless in life--for them my heart is breaking.

Oh! little Katy. Sweet, and loving, and trustful! It were better to sink among the water-weeds and leeches than to live on. God is more merciful than man.

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