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   Chapter 10 THE STORM

The Visionary: Pictures From Nordland By Jonas Lie Characters: 9329

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It was late in the afternoon of the Saturday after Twelfth Night that the terrible two days' storm began, which is still spoken of by many as one of the most violent that has visited Lofoten within the memory of man.

It was fortunate that the fishing had not yet begun-the storm raged with grey sky, sleet, and tremendous seas from the south-west right up the West Fjord-or perhaps as large a number of wrecks might have been heard of as in the famous storm of 1849, when in one day several hundred boats were lost. This time only a few boats were wrecked on their way to the fishing, and several yachts and a couple of larger vessels were stranded.

The storm increased during the night; we could feel how the house yielded at each burst, groaning at every joist, and we all sat up and watched with lights, as if by silent agreement.

All window-shutters, doors, and openings were carefully closed. The tiles rattled noisily at each gust, so that we were afraid the roof would be broken in, and the wind in the chimney made a deep, weird, growling noise, which in the fiercest attacks on the house sounded like a loud, horrible monster voice out in the night, sometimes almost like a wild cry of distress.

We sat in the sitting-room in a silence that was only now and then broken by some remark about the weather, or when one or other of the men came in from making the round of the house to see how things were going on.

My father sat in restless anxiety about the storehouse, and about his yacht lying down in the bay, which, because of the heavy seas which came in, in spite of the harbour's good position, had been trebly moored in the afternoon. I saw him several times fold his hands as if in prayer, and then, as if cheered, walk up and down the room for a while, until anxiety again overcame him, and he sat down looking straight before him, gloomy and pale as before.

The storm rather increased than abated. Once we heard a dull thud, which might well have come from the storehouse. I saw drops of perspiration standing on my father's forehead, and was deeply pained to see his anguish of mind, without being able to do anything to help him.

A little while after he went out into the office with a candle and came back with an old large-type prayer-book, in which he turned to a prayer and a hymn to be sung during a storm at sea.

All the servants without being called, gathered in the parlour for family worship.

My father sat with the prayer-book in his great rough hands, which he had folded on the table before him, between the two candles. First he read the prayer, and then sang all the verses of the hymn, while those of us who knew the tune joined by degrees in the refrain. It was altogether as if we were holding prayers in a ship's cabin while the vessel was in danger, and my father must have had the idea from some such scene in his hard youth. During prayers we all thought the storm abated a little, and that it only began again after they were ended.

We found the elder Martinez on his knees by his bedside, perpetually crossing himself before a crucifix. He had less reason for anxiety than we, for his brig lay with extra moorings under land in a little creek sheltered from the wind and waves. He very much regretted now, however, that he had not gone on board to his son and the men.

Towards morning the storm abated a little, and, tired as we were, we went to bed, while two of the servants still sat up.

It was about ten o'clock in the morning, when it began to grow light, that we could first see the destruction done. Several hundred tiles from the house roof lay spread over the yard, part of the outer pannelling of the wall on the windward side was torn away, and the end of the pier lay on one side down in the sea, a couple of piles having been displaced by the waves. The storehouse, too, had suffered some damage.

Our yacht, however, was most evidently in danger. Two of her ropes had given way, the anchors having lost their hold, and everything now depended upon the third and longest rope, which was fastened to the mooring ring on the rock at the mouth of the bay. There was only the ship's dog on board, a large white poodle, which stood with its fore-paws on the stern bulwarks and barked, without our being able to hear a sound in the wind, while the waves washed over the yacht's bows.

The situation was desperate, for the long rope was stretched as tight as a violin string, and the middle of it scarcely touched the water. It was blowing so hard, too, that a man could hardly stand upright, but was obliged to creep along the clean-swept snow-field, so that there could be

no thought of helping.

I had crept up the hill at the back of the house, and stood in the shelter of a rocky knoll, from which I could see both out over the sea and down into the bay.

West Fjord on this wintry day lay as if covered with a silvery grey smoke from the spray that was driving across the sea. Beneath the cliffs the waves came in like great, green, foam-topped mountains, breaking on the shore with a noise like thunder, and then retreating an immense distance, leaving a long stretch of dry beach.

At one place, where a rock went perpendicularly down to the sea, a great, broad jet of spray was sent straight up every time a wave broke, and was driven in over the land by the wind like smoke. At another place the waves stormed in a Titanic way a sloping rock, which lay, now in foam, now high and dry, and I saw a poor exhausted gull, which had probably got out from its mountain cliff into the wind, fighting and battling in it, often with its wings almost twisted.

In anxious suspense I watched the yacht down in the bay. To my astonishment, I saw a man on board, and recognised the stalwart Jens, who had ventured out with one of the men, from the windward side, in a six-oared boat. After a short stay on board he stepped down alone into the boat with a rope round his waist, and began the dangerous work of hauling the boat against the waves, along the tight land-rope, out towards the rock.

I expected every instant that the boat would fill, and it seemed to me that the waves washed in several times. As the boat slowly worked its way along, father and all the servants followed it anxiously with their eyes, from the beach.

When Jens had got up on to the rock, over which the waves washed one after another, so that he often stood in water up to his knees, he secured the boat, and began to haul in the line, drawing after it through the water a thick cable, which the man on board was paying out gradually. He had just begun to fasten it to the mooring ring, and had only the last two knots in the rope to make, when we all became aware of three tremendous waves that would infallibly break over the rock.

Jens's life was evidently in danger, and the yacht too, which, with her one overstrained rope, would scarcely be able to bear the pressure.

I saw French Martina, his fiancée, clasp her hands above her head and run out into the surf, almost as if she thought of throwing herself into the water to go to him, and I think that not one of the others looking on dared to draw breath.

It appeared that Jens had noticed the danger himself; he hastened down to the boat, in which he could still shelter himself, but it was only to take up from it the line, which he calmly wound several times round his body and through the mooring ring, as he could no longer rely upon his own giant strength.

He had scarcely completed these preparations, when the first wave, which he faced with bent head, broke right over him and the rock. The interval before the second came he employed in making another knot in the land-rope.

Again came a wave, and again Jens stood firm, and he now made the final knot in the rope that saved the yacht.

He had now made trial of what the force of a wave could be. He threw the line from his back up round his great broad shoulders, turned his strong pale face towards our house for a moment, as if it were quite possible that he was now bidding it farewell, and bent his head towards the third and last wave, which was advancing with a foaming crest, as usual, larger than its two predecessors.

When the wave had broken in foam, and gone by, no Jens stood on the rock.

I ran down in horror to the others. When I got there, they had recovered, besides the boat, which had been torn from the rock, the apparently lifeless body of Jens, and were now carrying it to the house.

The wave had dragged him along, the line that he had round his shoulders having slipped up to his neck, and taken clothes and skin with it. He now lay unconscious from the pressure of the water, and with one arm, torn and bleeding from the line, in a twisted position: it was laid bare, at one place even to the bone.

Father walked with a pale face and supported him while they carried him up and put him to bed.

When he recovered consciousness, he began spitting blood, and had a difficulty in speaking; but father, who examined his chest, said joyfully that there was no danger.

By this exploit of saving the yacht Jens became famed as a hero far and wide; from that day forward, he was one of my father's trusted men, and in the following summer he and French Martina were married.

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