Ridgeway, dimly realizing that the end had come, staggered to his feet and instinctively reached for the body of the woman who lay before him. He did not know that she was conscious, nor did he know whether the ship was afloat or sinking. A gigantic wave swept over her, tons of water pouring in upon them. Blankly he dragged her to the opening which led to the watery deck, clinging to a railing with all his might. He was gasping for breath, his life almost crushed out of his body. It required all his strength to drag the limp form safely away from the passage, through which now poured their crazed companions, rushing headlong into the sea.
“In the name of God what shall we do?” he heard a hoarse voice shout in his ear. It was Veath, also burdened with the helpless form of a woman.
“It is death here and death there. I am going to trust to the life preservers,” gasped Ridgeway, as another wave struck. The constant crackling and crashing told him that the Tempest Queen was being ground to pieces on the rock and that she had but a few minutes to live.
“Wait, Hugh, we may get off in a boat,” cried the other, but he was not heard. Hugh was in the sea!
Just as Veath began his anguished remonstrance the ship gave a tremendous lurch, an overpowering wave hurled itself upon the frail shell and Hugh Ridgeway’s frenzied grasp on the rail was broken. When he saw that he was going, he threw both arms about the girl he had brought to this awful fate, and, murmuring a prayer, whirled away with the waters over the battered deck-house and into the black depths.
They shot downward into the sea and then came to the hideous surface, more dead than alive. His one thought was that nobody in the world would ever know what had become of Hugh Ridgeway and Grace Vernon.
THE NIGHT AND THE MORNING
Gasping for breath, blinded, terrified beyond all imagination, crying to God from his heart, Hugh gave up all hope. Fathoms of water beneath them, turbulent and gleeful in the furious dance of destruction; mountains of water above them, roaring, swishing, growling out the horrid symphony of death! High on the crest of the wave they soared, down into the chasm they fell, only to shoot upward again, whirling like feathers in the air.
Something bumped violently against Ridgeway’s side, and, with the instinct of a drowning man, he grasped for the object as it rushed away. A huge section of the bowsprit was in his grasp and a cry of hope arose in his soul. With this respite came the feeling, strong and enduring, that he was not to die. That ever-existing spirit of confidence, baffled in one moment, flashes back into the hearts of all men when the faintest sign of hope appears, even though death has already begun to close his hand upon them. Nature grasps for the weakest straw and clings to life with an assurance that is sublime. The hope that comes just before the end is the strongest hope of all.