Stars of the Sea

12 December 2017

The music of the ship was howling around him. The low whistling; the tortured rumbles; the wheezy sputters of breeze flowing through It. The clatter of loose wainscoting. The clank of chains. The groaning of boards. The blare of wind.

Never before had he felt rain quite like it. It seemed to spew from the clouds, not merely to fall. He watched the wave rise up from a quarter of a mile away. Rolling. Foaming. Rushing. Surging.

Beginning to thicken and swell in strength. Now it was a battlement of ink-black water, almost crumpling under its own weight; but still rising, ND now roaring.It smashed into the side of the bucking Star, like a punch thrown by an invisible god. He was aware of being flung backwards into the edge of a bench, the dull crack of metal against the base of his spine. The ship creaked violently and pitched into a tilt, downing slowly, almost on to beam ends. A glamour of terrified screams rose up from steerage. A hail of cups and splintering plates.

A man’s bellow: Knockdown! Knockdown! ‘ One of the starboard lifeboats snapped from its bow-chain and swung loose like a mace, shattering through the wall of the wheelhouse.The boom of the billows striking the prow a second time. A blind of salt lashed him; drenched him through. Waves churning over his body. The slip of his body down the boards towards the water. A shredding creekers metal on metal. The grind of the engine ripped from the ocean.

The ship began to right itself. Snapping of wood filled the air like gunshots. The wail of the klaxon being sounded for clear-all-decks. The man with the club-foot was helping a sailor to grab a woman who was being swept on her back towards the broken rail. She was screaming in terror; grasping; latching.Somehow they seized her and dragged her below. Hand by hand, gripping the slimy life-rope like a mountaineer, Dixon made it back to the First-Class dosshouses.

Two stewards were in the passageway distributing canisters of soup. Passengers were to retire to their quarters immediately. There was no need for concern. The storm would pass. It was entirely to be expected. A matter of the season. The ship could not capsize; It never had In eighty years.

The lifebelts were merely a matter of precaution. But the Captain had ordered everyone to remain below.Laura looking pleadingly at him from the end of the corridor, her terrified sons bawling into her skirts. The three of them being grabbed by an angry-faced Meredith and dragged into her cabin like sacks. ‘Inside, sir. Inside! Don’t come out until you’re called. ‘ He had found dry clothes and eaten all his soup.

After an hour, the storm had leveled down a little. The Chief Steward had knocked on his door with a message from the Captain. All passengers were strictly confined for the rest of the day. No exceptions whatsoever were permitted. The hatches were about to be battened down.

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