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UNFORESEEN OCCURRENCE AT SAINT GOAR.—THE GENTLEMAN IN BLACK DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF.
THE bell sounded from St. Goar. The steamer slacked speed, and presently a little boat put out from the land. The only passengers it brought us were a woman and a child. The woman seemed to be of the middle class, and the child, a little boy, who was apparently asleep on her lap, might have been about six years old. Our captain shouted, "Ease her! Stop her!" from the paddle-box. The paddles stopped their play, and the vessel drifted leisurely with the stream. The vast waves that welled up from under her flanks, as if they were surprised at, and ashamed of, their own existence in that calm water, dashed off in a desperate hurry to reach the shore, and there hide themselves among the rushes. The little boat danced, and rocked, and dipped among these unnatural undulations.
My thoughts were still coquetting with the Lady Witch, when I was startled by a sharp and piercing scream from the water.
"Jesu Maria! my child, my child!"
At the same moment all the passengers rushed in violent agitation to that side of the vessel where I was standing by the step-ladder. I at once saw that
the little boat had capsized; but how this had happened I could only guess.
It appeared that the boatman, in attempting to catch the rope from the steamer, had lost his balance, and in the struggle of his fall had brought his clumsy and rickety little craft on her beam-ends. I saw him hauled up the sides of the vessel, while a sailor who had leaped from the ladder succeeded in rescuing the poor woman just at the moment when she was being sucked under the paddle-wheel, and must, but for this timely rescue, have soon perished.
But the child? Where was the child? The steamer had drifted some way down with the current, and we could only see a long way off a small straw hat floating smoothly on the surface of the stream, with its bright blue ribbon fluttering in the wind.
After an instant of intense silence, however, there was a suppressed groan of anxiety from all on board. We could distinctly see the poor little fellow himself struggling desperately, and beating vainly with his tiny hands the headstrong water. His strength seemed to give way. He submerged, and we lost sight of him. No! now there is a loud cry from every soul on board; the little golden head reappears once more above the surface of the stream.
And now, again, there is a deep, agonizing silence. Every eye is strained, every face is sharply stretched in one direction; for in that direction two dark arms of an audacious swimmer can now be seen slowly cutting the waves.
Quite calmly, quite at his ease, with no haste, no precipitation, making each stroke with mathematical
precision, as though he were swimming solely for his own pleasure, yet nevertheless with steady strength, as we all can see, leisurely gaining head against the sturdy current, with perfect placidity and undisturbed self-composure, slowly, methodically, onward swims the dark swimmer. I must say there was something almost provoking in the extreme tranquillity, not to say indifference of his movements, upon which we all felt that the life of a human being depended; and the singular and instantaneous accuracy with which the common sentiment of a crowd is always impressed upon the mind of each of its members made me conscious that at that moment the swimmer was an object rather of indignant impatience than of grateful admiration. We all felt that he was not putting forth half the strength which he obviously possessed.
Now, now! he is within but a few arm-lengths of the sinking child. One last effort, one bold stroke, and the poor child is saved! No! Unconcerned, he has let the last desperate chance escape him. One stretch of that strong arm would have done it. One grasp of that firm hand might have easily seized the last patch of the blue blouse which has now sunk from our sight. Too late! The child has disappeared. There is a groan of angry sorrow from the crowd. But it can not reach the swimmer. He too has disappeared from our gaze. My eyes are still fixed upon the spot where we last saw him. There is a silence of intolerable suspense. You can only hear the suppressed breathing of the crowd all round, and the careless sighing of the stream beneath.
That silence seemed as though it would last for
ever; but after a few moments, which felt like many ages, a loud shout of exultation bursts forth. Far, far away from the spot on which all eyes were fixed. far away he rises again. They rise again. "Saved, thank God!" is the universal exclamation.
Now he is swimming back to the steamer more leisurely even than before. He leans upon the current, and lets it quietly bear him along with it. He is lazily pushing his rescued burden before him as if it were a dead thing. He gives it only an occasional impulsion with his hand whenever it seems to interfere with the comfort of his easy and convenient progress. And only an occasional convulsive movement in the limbs of the little body shows that life is not yet extinct. He seems to care nothing for the child he has saved, nothing for the intense interest of which he is himself the object. He appears utterly unconcerned.
And thus the Gentleman in Black regains the
All this passed rapidly under my eyes. The whole occurrence occupied only a few moments of timethey appeared an eternity. With that keen insight which belongs to strong emotion, I saw clearly into the inmost mind of all those who were around me at that moment. I recognized on every countenance my own agony; I detected in every eye my own thought. In all that crowd there was only one face on which I saw not the reflection of my own feelings; only one eye in which I could discover nothing akin to the sensations either of myself or my fellow-travelAnd suddenly, thrilled as I was by the unutter