I do not know how long I made a fight of it in reality; it must have been for hours—alternately swimming, alternately resting myself by floating. I had queer thoughts. It was then about the time that some men were attempting to swim the Channel. I remember laughing grimly, wishing them joy of their job—they were welcome to mine! I remember, too, that at last in the darkness I felt that I must give up, and said my prayers; and it was about that time, when I was beginning to feel a certain numbness of mind as well as weariness of body, that as I struck out in the mechanical and weakening fashion which I kept up from what little determination I had left, I came across my salvation—in the shape of a piece of wreckage that shoved itself against me in the blackness, as if it had been some faithful dog, pushing its nose into my hand to let me know it was there. It was no more than a square of grating, but it was heavy and substantial; and as I clung to and climbed on to it, I knew that it made all the difference to me between life and death.
THE SAMARITAN SKIPPER
I clung to that heaven-sent bit of wreckage, exhausted and weary, until the light began to break in the east. I was numbed and shivering with cold—but I was alive and safe. That square yard of good and solid wood was as much to me as if it had been a floating island. And as the light grew and grew, and the sun at last came up, a ball of fire out of the far horizon, I looked across the sea on all sides, hoping to catch sight of a sail, or of a wisp of smoke—of anything that would tell me of the near presence of human beings. And one fact I realized at once—I was further away from land than when I had begun my battle with death. There was no sign of land in the west. The sky was now clear and bright on all sides, but there was nothing to break the line where it met the sea. Before the fading of the light on the previous evening, I had easily made out the well-known outlines of the Cheviots on one hand and of Says Law on the other—now there was not a vestige of either. I knew from that fact that I had somehow drifted further and further away from the coast. There was accordingly nothing to do but wait the chance of being sighted and picked up, and I set to work, as well as I could on my tiny raft, to chafe my limbs and get some warmth into my body. And never in my life did I bless the sun as I did that morning, for when he sprang out of bed in the northeast skies, it was with his full and hearty vigour of high springtide, and his heat warmed my chilled blood and sent a new glow of hope to my heart. But that heat was not an unmixed blessing—and I was already parched with thirst; and as the sun mounted higher and higher, pouring his rays full upon me, the thirst became almost intolerable, and my tongue felt as if my mouth could no longer contain it.