The following is from my historical novel, “Indian Summer” (available from Second Wind Publishing). Gabriella Deza, her sisters & younger brother, Marcos, are in St. Augustine, Florida waiting for their parents to come back from Jamaica. The weather is awful, a storm brewing out over the water. Suddenly, the sky darkens, hail falls and the sea turns angry & wrathful. Caught on the way home from church, many of the townspeople seek refuge in the Deza home.
Just as we were sorting ourselves out, there was more pounding at the door. I couldn’t imagine who would have braved such weather. Then Manual, drenched to the skin, hair clinging to his face, burst in!
“The ship!” He managed to gasp. “Your parents’ ship is foundering! They need all able bodied men to come to the wharf immediately. Hurry!”
He left to spread the word. I heard the church bell ringing, calling all men to give aid. The men in the room leapt to their feet. Ana rounded up the servants to help. They gathered stout ropes carrying them to the docks.
Marcos wanted to go help his Mamá, but I insisted he stay home. “A boy of five, though he’s big and strong, can’t go out in this weather! I forbid it. Go to your room, change into a dry nightshirt and get into bed at once.”
“I’m not a baby, Bella! I want to go help Mamá and Papa! I’m strong!”
“Marcos, you would simply get in the way. There is nothing you can do. If you won’t go voluntarily to your room, I shall take you there myself!”
He stuck out his tongue, crossed his arms and plopped on the floor, ready to have a temper tantrum for me. With that, I lifted him, kicking and screaming, into my arms, carried him up to his room and plopped him unceremoniously on the bed. I should have locked the door behind me, but I didn’t have the key. I went down to see to the preparations being made, grabbed my cloak and was ready to run out in the rain when I heard the front door slam.
“Marcos!” I screamed, for I knew it was he. “Marcos! Oh, God, why didn’t I lock his door!?” Dropping my cloak, I ran after him, calling his name.
The rain was so heavy, I soon lost track of him in the storm. I knew he’d be heading to the wharf, so I found my way there as best I could. Once I reached the shore I began to call him. My voice was drowned by the sound of the wind.
“Please,” I begged of the men that I knew. “Will you help me find my brother?”
But all were too busy to listen to a young lady who was too foolish to stay out of the storm. I could see Papa’s ship in the ocean heading toward the wharf, as the waves pounded it on all sides. It looked ready to break apart! I began to pray as I ran looking for my little brother.
“Oh Lord, protect them and help me find my brother!” I repeated over and over as I ran through the crowd, pushing my way in the press of men.
It was then I saw Marcos. He was trying to help deploy ropes. The men on the shore tied off stout hemp lines to the pier and were roping themselves in to wade out into the storm. They formed a life line should the ship break apart. Other men were standing and holding the ropes to bring in the others if they foundered in the waves. No one was watching my brother. They were all too busy with their appointed tasks.
I saw the approaching wave before he did, for he was not looking at the sea. He had turned briefly to implore the men once more to let him help, but none gave him their ear.
“Marcos!” I called, though he couldn’t possibly hear me. “Marcos, behind you!”
The wave moved faster than I could, with all my damp skirts around my legs. I knew I couldn’t reach him and he was going to die. Despite his faults, I realized I dearly loved my little brother. I didn’t want to lose him. I couldn’t even think what his death would do to Papa.
As I ran, I watched the wave build higher. It rose until I could hardly see the top. The ship rode the crest. The men on shore saw the swell approaching. They dropped the ropes, running inland as fast as they could in the wet sand. Several fell and were swept away by the waters. The ropes held them and they were able to pull themselves out of the waves.
Marcos was calling to them. “Where are you going? My mamá is on that ship!”
He hadn’t turned around, distracted by their flight. The ship loomed nearer and the wave grew. I couldn’t reach him through the wet sand and the press of men running against me.
“God, I beg you please save him! I swear I’ll be good to him all my days! Oh, Mother of God, protect him! I promised Papa!”
Lightning flashed across the sky illuminating the beach, lighting Marco’s face like a ghost! It was then he turned and saw the ship as the wave approached him. He froze.
“Marcos!” I screamed, “Marcos run!”
He heard my voice, but he was paralyzed with fear. I ran, screaming for him to move. There was no way he could escape. The water was too deep, its pull stronger than he. The darkness and rain enveloped him, obscuring my view. In the next flash of lightning, I saw the ship looming ever closer and screamed for all I was worth!
Suddenly, another figure appeared on the beach. A man, large and strong, was running toward my brother, a rope around his waist. He came upon Marcos just as the wave broke on the shore, grabbing him securely. He dropped to the ground, tucking the little head against his massive chest, holding my brother with an inhuman strength. He turned his body, taking the brunt of the wave on his back and powerful shoulders. Marcos grasped his
waist just before the wave’s surge covered them.
The ship swerved hard to starboard, hitting the corner of the pier not far away, shuddering to a halt. The water rushed around the ship, up the beach, over my brother and the man. I couldn’t see what happened next, for I had to retreat out of the wave’s reach. The greedy fingers of water clutched my dress, determined to drag me into the fray. Were it not for the aid of the men on shore, who held me fast, I would have been spirited away and surely drowned.
I babbled every prayer I knew, calling on God to help them. Little by little the waves receded and I could move closer, looking for them. I saw the rope tied to the pier, taut with weight, and began to pull. Men from the shore saw me and raced to my side. Together we hauled them in. I feared both were surely drowned. Finally, their sodden forms broke the surface of the waves. I rushed forward, but the men held me back, for the currents were wild and treacherous.
I couldn’t yet see the man’s face, as his back was to me. He clung to Marcos who was very white and still. I felt strong hands grasping me from behind. If it was a scene of death, then it was no fit place for a young lady. A man detached himself from the crowd, pushing his way up to them. I heard James’ clear baritone bite through the wind. “Clear off, you lot! Let me through!”
Wrenching away from the hands holding me, I followed James through the press of men. James got there as the men were lifting them to higher ground, cutting the rope around the man’s waist. His hair hung in black snake like tendrils across his face. I could see little of him or Marcos, but both were pale as death. I couldn’t tell whether or not they breathed. My prayers continued, ceaseless, intense.
“Turn them on their stomachs,” James ordered. “Quickly now, we may still have time! You there!” He yelled at some nearby men. “Get a couple barrels.” They worked without questioning his orders. The authority in James’ voice was unmistakable. Marcos and the man were laid over the sides of barrels. James took their heads, turning them gently to the side.
“Now look,” he said to one of the men. “Do as I do. You take him.” He pointed to the man. “I’ll take the boy.”
He placed his hands on Marcos back and pushed gradually, rolling him up over the side of the barrel as he went. He started slowly and then worked a little faster, but always in the same rhythm. The man copied his movements exactly.
We waited perhaps a minute, but it seemed like a lifetime. First the man and then Marcos gasped, choked and began to vomit up water; gallons of it! They were alive! I ran to James, thanking him, thanking God, and anyone else who would listen. I wanted to grab Marcos into my arms and hold him forever, but James held me gently back.
“Not yet, Miss Gabriella. He must expel the water or he’ll choke to death. Let him be until the retching stops and then you may gently roll him over.” He smiled proudly as I hugged him, kissed his wet cheek and thanked him again.
Our eyes on the two still figures before us, none of us noticed the wind had lessened, the rain and hail ceasing completely. All we could do was watch the scene before us play itself out. As the man stopped retching, strong hands slowly rolled him over. I was too busy helping my brother to notice right away. As I turned to see who it was had saved Marcos’ life, I looked into the dark, smoldering eyes of Manuel!
“You?” I gasped. “Thanks is not enough! Oh, bless you!”