While he was thus occupied, he felt a rough grasp upon his arm, and presently afterwards Ben’s lips approached close to his ear. The waterman sheltered his mouth with his hand while he spoke, or his voice would have been carried away by the violence of the blast.
“It’s all up, master,” groaned Ben, “nothin’ short of a merracle can save us. The boat’s sure to run foul o’ the bridge; and if she ’scapes stavin’ above, she’ll be swamped to a sartainty below. There’ll be a fall of above twelve foot o’ water, and think o’ that on a night as ’ud blow a whole fleet to the devil.”
Mr. Wood did think of it, and groaned aloud.
“Heaven help us!” he exclaimed; “we were mad to neglect the old sailor’s advice.”
“That’s what troubles me,” rejoined Ben. “I tell ’ee what, master, if you’re more fortinate nor I am, and get ashore, give old saltwater your fare. I pledged my thumb that, dead or alive, I’d pay the wager if I lost; and I should like to be as good as my word.”
“I will—I will,” replied Wood hastily. “Was that thunder?” he faltered, as a terrible clap was heard overhead.
“No; it’s only a fresh gale,” Ben returned: “hark! now it comes.”
“Lord have mercy upon us, miserable sinners!” ejaculated Wood, as a fearful gust dashed the water over the side of the boat, deluging him with spray.
The hurricane had now reached its climax. The blast shrieked, as if exulting in its wrathful mission. Stunning and continuous, the din seemed almost to take away the power of hearing. He, who had faced the gale, would have been instantly stifled. Piercing through every crevice in the clothes, it, in some cases, tore them from the wearer’s limbs, or from his grasp. It penetrated the skin; benumbed the flesh; paralysed the faculties. The intense darkness added to the terror of the storm. The destroying angel hurried by, shrouded in his gloomiest apparel. None saw, though all felt, his presence, and heard the thunder of his voice. Imagination, coloured by the obscurity, peopled the air with phantoms. Ten thousand steeds appeared to be trampling aloft, charged with the work of devastation. Awful shapes seemed to flit by, borne on the wings of the tempest, animating and directing its fury. The actual danger was lost sight of in these wild apprehensions; and many timorous beings were scared beyond reason’s verge by the excess of their fears.
This had well nigh been the case with the carpenter. He was roused from the stupor of despair into which he had sunk by the voice of Ben, who roared in his ear, “The bridge!—the bridge!”
Old London Bridge.