« ÎnapoiContinuați »
That I brought a dread burden down here;
This misty mid-region of Weir,-
GOING DOWN THE ABYSS (From "A Descent Into the Maelström)
T is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to tell you occurred. It was on the 10th of July, 18-; a day which the people of this part of the world will never forget, for it was one in which blew the most terrible hurricane that ever came out of the heavens. And yet all the morning, and indeed until late in the afternoon, there was a gentle and steady breeze from the southwest, while the sun shone brightly, so that the oldest seaman among us could not have foreseen what was to follow.
"The three of us-my two brothers and myself— had crossed over to the islands about two o'clock P.M., and soon nearly loaded the smack with fine fish; which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day than we had ever known them. It was just seven, by my watch, when we weighed and started for home, so as to make the worst of the Ström at slack water, which we knew would be at eight.
"We set out with a fresh wind at our starboard quarter, and for some time spanked along at a great rate, never dreaming of danger; for, indeed, we saw not the slightest reason to apprehend it. All at once we were taken aback by a breeze from over Helseggen. This was most unusual; something that had never happened to us: and I began to feel a little uneasy, without exactly knowing why. We put the
boat on the wind, but could make no headway at all for the eddies; and I was upon the point of proposing to return to the anchorage, when, looking astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with a singular copper-colored cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity.
"In the meantime the breeze that had headed us off fell away, and we were dead becalmed, drifting about in every direction. This state of things, however, did not last long enough to give us time to think about it. In less than a minute the storm was upon us; in less than two the sky was entirely overcast; and what with this and the driving spray, it became suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in the smack.
"Such a hurricane as then blew, it is folly to attempt to describe. The oldest seaman in Norway never experienced anything like it. We had let our sails go by the run before it cleverly took us; but at the first puff, both our masts went by the board as if they had been sawed off-the mainmast taking with it my youngest brother, who had lashed himself to it for safety.
"Our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon water. It had a complete flush deck, with only a small hatch near the bow; and this hatch it had always been our custom to batten down when about to cross the Ström, by way of precaution against chopping seas. But for this circumstance we should have foundered at once; for we lay entirely buried for some moments. How my elder brother escaped destruction I cannot say, for I never had an opportunity of ascertaining. For my part, as soon as I had let the foresail run, I threw myself flat on deck, with my feet against the narrow gunwale of the bow, and with my hands grasping a ring-bolt near the foot of the foremast. It was mere instinct that prompted me to do this, which was undoubtedly the
very best thing I could have done; for I was too much flurried to think.
"For some moments we were completely deluged, I say; and all this time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands, and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave herself a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and thus rid herself in some measure of the seas. I was now trying to get the better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my senses so as to see what was to be done, when I felt somebody grasp my arm. It was my elder brother, and my heart leaped for joy, for I had made sure that he was overboard; but the next moment all this joy was turned into horror, for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed out the word 'Muskoe-ström !'
"No one will ever know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook from head to foot as if I had the most violent fit of the ague. I knew what he meant by that one word well enough-I knew what he wished to make me understand. With the wind that now drove us on, we were bound for the whirl of the Ström, and nothing could save us!
"You perceive that in crossing the Ström channel, we always went a long way above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then had to wait and watch carefully for the slack; but now we were driving right upon the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! To be sure,' I thought, 'we shall get there just about the slack,—there is some little hope in that;' but in the moment I cursed myself for being so great fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew pretty well that we were doomed, had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship.
"By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or perhaps we did not feel it much as
we scudded before it; but at all events the seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and lay flat and frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular change, too, had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still as black as pitch; but nearly overhead there burst out all at once a circular rift of clear sky,-as clear as I ever saw, and of a deep bright blue, and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a luster that I never before knew her to wear. She lit up everything about us with the greatest distinctness-but O God, what a scene it was to light up!
"I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother; but in some manner which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I could not make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top of my voice in his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale as death, and held up one of his fingers, as if to say, 'Listen!'
"At first I could not make out what he meant; but soon a hideous thought flashed upon me. I dragged my watch from its fob. It was not going. I glanced at its face by the moonlight, and then burst into tears as I flung it far away into the ocean. It had run down at seven o'clock! We were behind the time of the slack and the whirl of the Ström was in full fury!
"When a boat is well built, properly trimmed, and not deep laden, the waves in a strong gale, when she is going large, seem always to slip from beneath her -which appears very strange to a landsman; and this is what is called riding, in sea phrase.
"Well, so far we had ridden the swells very cleverly; but presently a gigantic sea happened to take us right under the counter, and bore us with it as it rose-up-up-as if into the sky. I would not have believed that any wave could rise so high. And then down we came with a sweep, a slide, and a plunge,
that made me feel sick and dizzy, as if I was falling from some lofty mountain-top in a dream. But while we were up I had thrown a quick glance around; and that one glance was all-sufficient. I saw our exact position in an instant. The Moskoe-ström whirlpool was about a quarter of a mile dead ahead; but no more like the every-day Moskoe-ström than the whirl as you now see it is like a mill-race. If I had not known where we were, and what we had to expect, I should not have recognized the place at all. As it was, I involuntarily closed my eyes in horror. The lids clenched themselves together as if in a spasm.
"It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half-turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek; such a sound as you might imagine given out by the water pipes of many thousand steam-vessels, letting off their steam altogether. We were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss -down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we were borne along. The boat did not seem to sink into the water at all, but to skim like an air bubble upon the surface of the surge. Her starboard side was next the whirl, and on the larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. It stood like a huge writhing wall between us and the horizon.
"It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the gulf, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung my nerves.