For many days we had been tempest-tossed. Six times had the darkness closed over a wild and terrific scene, and returning light as often brought but renewed distress, for the raging storm increased in fury until on the seventh day all hope was lost.
We were driven completely out of our course; no conjecture could be formed as to our whereabouts. The crew had lost heart, and were utterly exhausted by incessant labour. The riven masts had gone by the board, leaks had been sprung in every direction, and the water, which rushed in, gained upon us rapidly.
Instead of reckless oaths, the seamen now uttered frantic cries to God for mercy, mingled with strange and often ludicrous vows, to be performed should deliverance be granted. Every man on board alternately commended his soul to his Creator, and strove to bethink himself of some means of saving his life.
My heart sank as I looked round upon my family in the midst of these horrors. Our four young sons were overpowered by terror. `Dear children,' said I, `if the Lord will, He can save us even from this fearful peril; if not, let us calmly yield our lives into His hand, and think of the joy and blessedness of finding ourselves for ever and ever united in that happy home above. Even death is not too bitter, when it does not separate those who love one another.'
At these words my weeping wife looked bravely up, and, as the boys clustered round her, she began to cheer and encourage them with calm and loving words. I rejoiced to see her fortitude, though my heart was ready to break as I gazed on my dear ones.
We knelt down together, one after another praying with deep earnestness and emotion. Fritz, in particular, besought help and deliverance for his dear parents and brothers, as though quite forgetting himself. Our hearts were soothed by the never- failing comfort of child-like confiding prayer, and the horrors of our situation seemed less overwhelming. `Ah,' thought I, `the Lord will hear our prayer! He will help us.'
Amid the roar of the thundering waves I suddenly heard the cry of `Land! land!', while at the same instant the ship struck with a frightful shock, which threw everyone to the deck, and seemed to threaten her immediate destruction. Dreadful sounds betokened the breaking up of the ship, and the roaring waters poured in on all sides.
Then the voice of the captain was heard above the tumult, shouting,
`Lower away the boats! We are lost!'
`Lost!' I exclaimed, and the word went like a dagger to my heart; but seeing my children's terror renewed, I composed myself, calling out cheerfully, `Take courage, my boys! We are all above water yet. There is the land not far off, let us do our best to reach it. You know God helps those that help themselves! Remain with your mother, while I go on deck to see what is best to be done now.' With that, I left them and went on deck.
A wave instantly threw me down; another followed, and then another, as I contrived to find my footing. The ship was shattered on all directions, and on one side there was a large hole in the hull.
Forgetting the passengers, the ship's company crowded into the lifeboats, and the last who entered cut the davit ropes to cast each boat into the sea.
What was my horror when through the foam and spray I beheld the last remaining boat leave the ship, the last of the seamen spring into her and push off, regardless of my cries and entreaties that we might be allowed to share their slender chance of preserving their lives. My voice was drowned in the howling of the blast, and even had the crew wished it, the return of the boat was impossible, for the waves were mountain-high.
Casting my eyes despairingly around, I became gradually aware that our position was by no means hopeless, inasmuch as the stern of the ship containing our cabin was jammed between two high rocks, and was partly raised from among the breakers which dashed the fore-part to pieces. As the clouds of mist and rain drove past, I could make out, through rents in the vaporous curtain, a line of rocky coast, and, rugged as it was, my heart bounded towards it as a sign of help in the hour of need.
Yet the sense of our lonely and forsaken condition weighed heavily upon me as I returned to my family, constraining myself to say with a smile, `Courage, dear ones! Although our good ship will never sail more, she is so placed that our cabin will remain above water, and tomorrow, if the wind and waves abate, I see no reason why we should not be able to get ashore.'
These few words had an immediate effect on the spirits of my children, for my family had the habit of trusting in my assurances. The boys at once regarded our problematical chance of escaping as a happy certainty, and began to enjoy the relief from the violent pitching and rolling of the vessel.
My wife, however, perceived my distress and anxiety in spite of my forced composure, and I made her comprehend our real situation, greatly fearing the effect of the intelligence on her nerves. Not for a moment did her courage and trust in Providence forsake her, and on seeing this, my fortitude revived.
`We must find some food, and take a good supper,' said she, `it will never do to grow faint by fasting too long. We shall require our utmost strength tomorrow.'
Night drew on apace, the storm was as fierce as ever, and at intervals we were startled by crashes announcing further damage to our unfortunate ship. We thought of the lifeboats, and feared that all they contained must have sunk under the foaming waves.
`God will help us soon now, won't He, father?' said my youngest child.