Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Final Rescue
By George Eliot (1819–1880)

AT that moment Maggie felt a startling sensation of sudden cold about her knees and feet; it was water flowing under her. She started up; the stream was flowing under the door that led into the passage. She was not bewildered for an instant; she knew it was the flood!  1
  The tumult of emotion she had been enduring for the last twelve hours seemed to have left a great calm in her; without screaming, she hurried with the candle up-stairs to Bob Jakin’s bedroom. The door was ajar; she went in and shook him by the shoulder.  2
  “Bob, the flood is come! it is in the house! let us see if we can make the boats safe.”  3
  She lighted his candle, while the poor wife, snatching up her baby, burst into screams; and then she hurried down again to see if the waters were rising fast. There was a step down into the room at the door leading from the staircase; she saw that the water was already on a level with the step. While she was looking, something came with a tremendous crash against the window and sent the leaded panes and the old wooden framework inwards in shivers, the water pouring in after it.  4
  “It is the boat!” cried Maggie. “Bob, come down to get the boats!”  5
  And without a moment’s shudder of fear she plunged through the water, which was rising fast to her knees, and by the glimmering light of the candle she had left on the stairs she mounted on to the window-sill and crept into the boat, which was left with the prow lodging and protruding through the window. Bob was not long after her, hurrying without shoes or stockings, but with the lantern in his hand.  6
  “Why, they’re both here,—both the boats,” said Bob, as he got into the one where Maggie was. “It’s wonderful this fastening isn’t broke too, as well as the mooring.”  7
  In the excitement of getting into the other boat, unfastening it, and mastering an oar, Bob was not struck with the danger Maggie incurred. We are not apt to fear for the fearless when we are companions in their danger, and Bob’s mind was absorbed in possible expedients for the safety of the helpless in-doors. The fact that Maggie had been up, had waked him, and had taken the lead in activity, gave Bob a vague impression of her as one who would help to protect, not need to be protected. She too had got possession of an oar and had pushed off, so as to release the boat from the overhanging window frame.  8
  “The water’s rising so fast,” said Bob, “I doubt it’ll be in at the chambers before long,—th’ house is so low. I’ve more mind to get Prissy and the child and the mother into the boat, if I could, and trusten to the water,—for th’ old house is none so safe. And if I let go the boat—but you!” he exclaimed, suddenly lifting the light of his lantern on Maggie, as she stood in the rain with the oar in her hand and her black hair streaming.  9
  Maggie had no time to answer, for a new tidal current swept along the line of the houses, and drove both the boats out on to the wide water with a force that carried them far past the meeting current of the river.  10
  In the first moments Maggie felt nothing, thought of nothing, but that she had suddenly passed away from that life which she had been dreading; it was the transition of death without its agony,—and she was alone in the darkness with God.  11
  The whole thing had been so rapid, so dream-like, that the threads of ordinary association were broken; she sank down on the seat clutching the oar mechanically, and for a long while had no distinct conception of her position. The first thing that waked her to fuller consciousness was the cessation of the rain, and a perception that the darkness was divided by the faintest light, which parted the overhanging gloom from the immeasurable watery level below. She was driven out upon the flood,—that awful visitation of God which her father used to talk of, which had made the nightmare of her childish dreams. And with that thought there rushed in the vision of the old home, and Tom, and her mother,—they had all listened together.  12
  “O God, where am I? Which is the way home?” she cried out, in the dim loneliness.  13
  What was happening to them at the Mill? The flood had once nearly destroyed it. They might be in danger, in distress,—her mother and her brother, alone there, beyond reach of help! Her whole soul was strained now on that thought; and she saw the long-loved faces looking for help into the darkness, and finding none.  14
  She was floating in smooth water now,—perhaps far on the over-flooded fields. There was no sense of present danger to check the outgoing of her mind to the old home; and she strained her eyes against the curtain of gloom that she might seize the first sight of her whereabouts,—that she might catch some faint suggestion of the spot towards which all her anxieties tended.  15
  Oh, how welcome the widening of that dismal watery level, the gradual uplifting of the cloudy firmament, the slowly defining blackness of objects above the glassy dark! Yes, she must be out on the fields; those were the tops of hedgerow trees. Which way did the river lie? Looking behind her, she saw the lines of black trees; looking before her, there were none; then the river lay before her. She seized an oar and began to paddle the boat forward with the energy of wakening hope; the dawning seemed to advance more swiftly, now she was in action; and she could soon see the poor dumb beasts crowding piteously on a mound where they had taken refuge. Onward she paddled and rowed by turns in the growing twilight; her wet clothes clung round her, and her streaming hair was dashed about by the wind, but she was hardly conscious of any bodily sensations,—except a sensation of strength, inspired by mighty emotion. Along with the sense of danger and possible rescue for those long-remembered beings at the old home, there was an undefined sense of reconcilement with her brother: what quarrel, what harshness, what unbelief in each other can subsist in the presence of a great calamity, when all the artificial vesture of our life is gone, and we are all one with each other in primitive mortal needs? Vaguely Maggie felt this, in the strong resurgent love towards her brother that swept away all the later impressions of hard, cruel offense and misunderstanding, and left only the deep, underlying, unshakable memories of early union.  16
  But now there was a large dark mass in the distance, and near to her Maggie could discern the current of the river. The dark mass must be—yes, it was—St. Ogg’s. Ah, now she knew which way to look for the first glimpse of the well-known trees—the gray willows, the now yellowing chestnuts—and above them the old roof! But there was no color, no shape yet; all was faint and dim. More and more strongly the energies seemed to come and put themselves forth, as if her life were a stored-up force that was being spent in this hour, unneeded for any future.  17
  She must get her boat into the current of the Floss, else she would never be able to pass the Ripple and approach the house: this was the thought that occurred to her, as she imagined with more and more vividness the state of things round the old home. But then she might be carried very far down, and be unable to guide her boat out of the current again. For the first time distinct ideas of danger began to press upon her; but there was no choice of courses, no room for hesitation, and she floated into the current. Swiftly she went now, without effort; more and more clearly in the lessening distance and the growing light she began to discern the objects that she knew must be the well-known trees and roofs; nay, she was not far off a rushing muddy current that must be the strangely altered Ripple.  18
  Great God! there were floating masses in it, that might dash against her boat as she passed, and cause her to perish too soon. What were those masses?  19
  For the first time Maggie’s heart began to beat in an agony of dread. She sat helpless, dimly conscious that she was being floated along, more intensely conscious of the anticipated clash. But the horror was transient; it passed away before the oncoming warehouses of St. Ogg’s. She had passed the mouth of the Ripple, then; now, she must use all her skill and power to manage the boat and get it if possible out of the current. She could see now that the bridge was broken down; she could see the masts of a stranded vessel far out over the watery field. But no boats were to be seen moving on the river,—such as had been laid hands on were employed in the flooded streets.  20
  With new resolution Maggie seized her oar, and stood up again to paddle; but the now ebbing tide added to the swiftness of the river, and she was carried along beyond the bridge. She could hear shouts from the windows overlooking the river, as if the people there were calling to her. It was not till she had passed on nearly to Tofton that she could get the boat clear of the current. Then with one yearning look towards her uncle Deane’s house that lay farther down the river, she took to both her oars and rowed with all her might across the watery fields, back towards the Mill. Color was beginning to awake now, and as she approached the Dorlcote fields, she could discern the tints of the trees, could see the old Scotch firs far to the right; and the home chestnuts,—oh, how deep they lay in the water,—deeper than the trees on this side the hill! And the roof of the Mill—where was it? Those heavy fragments hurrying down the Ripple,—what had they meant? But it was not the house,—the house stood firm; drowned up to the first story, but still firm;—or was it broken in at the end towards the Mill?  21
  With panting joy that she was there at last,—joy that overcame all distress,—Maggie neared the front of the house. At first she heard no sound; she saw no object moving. Her boat was on a level with the up-stairs window. She called out in a loud piercing voice:—  22
  “Tom, where are you? Mother, where are you? Here is Maggie!”  23
  Soon, from the window of the attic in the central gable, she heard Tom’s voice:—  24
  “Who is it? Have you brought a boat?”  25
  “It is I, Tom,—Maggie. Where is mother?”  26
  “She is not here; she went to Garum the day before yesterday. I’ll come down to the lower window.”  27
  “Alone, Maggie?” said Tom, in a voice of deep astonishment, as he opened the middle window, on a level with the boat.  28
  “Yes, Tom; God has taken care of me, to bring me to you. Get in quickly. Is there no one else?”  29
  “No,” said Tom, stepping into the boat, “I fear the man is drowned; he was carried down the Ripple, I think, when part of the Mill fell with the crash of trees and stones against it; I’ve shouted again and again, and there has been no answer. Give me the oars, Maggie.”  30
  It was not till Tom had pushed off and they were on the wide water,—he face to face with Maggie,—that the full meaning of what had happened rushed upon his mind. It came with so overpowering a force,—it was such a new revelation to his spirit of the depths in life that had lain beyond his vision, which he had fancied so keen and clear,—that he was unable to ask a question. They sat mutely gazing at each other,—Maggie with eyes of intense life looking out from a weary, beaten face; Tom pale, with a certain awe and humiliation. Thought was busy though the lips were silent; and though he could ask no question, he guessed a story of almost miraculous, Divinely protected effort. But at last a mist gathered over the blue-gray eyes, and the lips found a word they could utter,—the old childish “Magsie!”  31
  Maggie could make no answer but a long, deep sob of that mysterious, wondrous happiness that is one with pain.  32
  As soon as she could speak, she said:—“We will go to Lucy, Tom; we’ll go and see if she is safe, and then we can help the rest.”  33
  Tom rowed with untired vigor, and with a different speed from poor Maggie’s. The boat was soon in the current of the river again, and soon they would be at Tofton.  34
  “Park House stands high up out of the flood,” said Maggie. “Perhaps they have got Lucy there.”  35
  Nothing else was said; a new danger was being carried towards them by the river. Some wooden machinery had just given way on one of the wharves, and huge fragments were being floated along. The sun was rising now, and the wide area of watery desolation was spread out in dreadful clearness around them; in dreadful clearness floated onward the hurrying, threatening masses. A large company in a boat that was working its way along under the Tofton houses observed their danger, and shouted, “Get out of the current!”  36
  But that could not be done at once; and Tom, looking before him, saw death rushing on them. Huge fragments, clinging together in fatal fellowship, made one wide mass across the stream.  37
  “It is coming, Maggie!” Tom said, in a deep, hoarse voice, loosing the oars and clasping her.  38
  The next instant the boat was no longer seen upon the water, and the huge mass was hurrying on in hideous triumph.  39
  But soon the keel of the boat reappeared, a black speck on the golden water.  40
  The boat reappeared, but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted; living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together.  41
  NATURE repairs her ravages,—repairs them with her sunshine, and with human labor. The desolation wrought by that flood had left little visible trace on the face of the earth, five years after. The fifth autumn was rich in golden cornstacks, rising in thick clusters among the distant hedgerows; the wharves and warehouses on the Floss were busy again, with echoes of eager voices, with hopeful lading and unlading.  42
  And every man and woman mentioned in this history was still living, except those whose end we know.  43
  Nature repairs her ravages, but not all. The uptorn trees are not rooted again; the parted hills are left scarred; if there is a new growth, the trees are not the same as the old, and the hills underneath their green vesture bear the marks of the past rending. To the eyes that have dwelt on the past, there is no thorough repair.  44
  Dorlcote Mill was rebuilt. And Dorlcote church-yard—where the brick grave that held a father whom we know, was found with the stone laid prostrate upon it after the flood—had recovered all its grassy order and decent quiet.  45
  Near that brick grave there was a tomb erected, very soon after the flood, for two bodies that were found in close embrace; and it was visited at different moments by two men who both felt that their keenest joy and keenest sorrow were forever buried there.  46
  One of them visited the tomb again with a sweet face beside him; but that was years after.  47
  The other was always solitary. His great companionship was among the trees of the Red Deeps, where the buried joy seemed still to hover, like a revisiting spirit.  48
  The tomb bore the names of Tom and Maggie Tulliver, and below the names it was written:—
  “In their death they were not divided.”

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