“Seize this oar,” vociferated the waterman.
“First take the child,” cried Darrell, holding up the infant, and clinging to the oar with a dying effort.
“Give it me,” returned the carpenter; “all’s safe. Now lend me your own hand.”
“My strength fails me,” gasped the fugitive. “I cannot climb the boat. Take my child to—it is—oh God!—I am sinking—take it—take it!”
“Where?” shouted Wood.
Darrell attempted to reply. But he could only utter an inarticulate exclamation. The next moment his grasp relaxed, and he sank to rise no more.
Rowland, meantime, alarmed by the voices, snatched a torch from his attendant, and holding it over the side of the wherry, witnessed the incident just described.
“Confusion!” cried he; “there is another boat in our wake. They have rescued the child. Loose the wherry, and stand to your oars—quick—quick!”
These commands were promptly obeyed. The boat was set free, and the men resumed their seats. Rowland’s purposes were, however, defeated in a manner as unexpected as appalling.
During the foregoing occurrences a dead calm prevailed. But as Rowland sprang to the helm, and gave the signal for pursuit, a roar like a volley of ordnance was heard aloft, and the wind again burst its bondage. A moment before, the surface of the stream was black as ink. It was now whitening, hissing, and seething like an enormous cauldron. The blast once more swept over the agitated river: whirled off the sheets of foam, scattered them far and wide in rain-drops, and left the raging torrent blacker than before. The gale had become a hurricane: that hurricane was the most terrible that ever laid waste our city. Destruction everywhere marked its course. Steeples toppled, and towers reeled beneath its fury. Trees were torn up by the roots; many houses were levelled to the ground; others were unroofed; the leads on the churches were ripped off, and “shrivelled up like scrolls of parchment.” Nothing on land or water was spared by the remorseless gale. Most of the vessels lying in the river were driven from their moorings, dashed tumultuously against each other, or blown ashore. All was darkness, horror, confusion, ruin. Men fled from their tottering habitations, and returned to them scared by greater dangers. The end of the world seemed at hand.
At this time of universal havoc and despair,—when all London quaked at the voice of the storm,—the carpenter, who was exposed to its utmost fury, fared better than might have been anticipated. The boat in which he rode was not overset. Fortunately, her course had been shifted immediately after the rescue of the child; and, in consequence of this movement, she received the first shock of the hurricane, which blew from the southwest, upon her stern. Her head dipped deeply into the current, and she narrowly escaped being swamped. Righting, however, instantly afterwards, she scudded with the greatest rapidity over the boiling waves, to whose mercy she was now entirely abandoned. On this fresh outburst of the storm, Wood threw himself instinctively into the bottom of the boat, and clasping the little orphan to his breast, endeavoured to prepare himself to meet his fate.