From Miss Helen Jelliffe to Miss Jane Van Zandt
Dearest Aunt Jennie:
Why does the world sometimes seem to turn the wrong way, so that everything becomes miserably topsy-turvy? I have often had to struggle to keep awake when writing you these long letters, which you say you are so glad to get. But now I am writing because I am so dreadfully awake that I don’t feel as if I ever could sleep again.
It is now a week since Stefansson came up to the house, and the water dripping from him ran down and joined the baby rivers that were rushing down the little road before our house.
“I’ve come for orders, Mr. Jelliffe,” he said.
“Orders! What orders?” asked Daddy, irascibly. “I’d like to know what orders I can give except to wait till this fiendish weather gets better. You don’t expect to start in such a gale, do you?”
“We couldn’t make it very well, sir, and that’s a fact. I don’t even think I could take her out of the cove. If we could only get her clear of the coast we’d be all right enough, but I wouldn’t like to take chances.”
“Who wants to take chances? Do you suppose I’m so anxious to go that I’m going to risk all our lives? Come back or send word as soon as you think it safe to start. That’s all I want. I suppose everything is all right in the engine room now.”
Our skipper confirmed this and left. All day the storm gathered greater fury, and has kept it up ever since. At times the rain stops, and the great black clouds race desperately across the sky while the world outside our little cove is a raging mass of spume that becomes wind-torn and flies like huge snow flakes high up in the air. And then the rain begins again, slanting and beating down wickedly, and I feel that no such thing can ever have existed as clear skies and balmy breezes.
A number of hours ago, I don’t really know how many, I was sitting with Daddy, who looked very disconsolate. I am afraid that this long storm has got on his nerves, or perhaps the poor dear is worrying about me. I think he has been afraid that I might catch the disease from that sick child. And now I am sure that his worries have increased ever so much, but what can one do when it really becomes a matter of life and death to go out and help, to the best of one’s poor abilities? How could any one stand on a river bank, with a rope, however frail, in one’s hands, and obey even one’s father if he forbade you to throw it to a drowning child?
I am afraid I have again wandered off, as I so often do when I write to you, Aunt Jennie. Well, we were there, and the lamp flickered, and the rain just pelted the house so that it looked as if it were trying to wash us down into the cove. But I heard a knock at the door, and listened, and it came again. So I went and opened it to find Yves, with his long black hair disheveled and his face a picture of awful anxiety. In the gesture of his hands there was pitiful begging, and his voice came hoarsely as he sought to explain his coming.