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One Hand Is Missing, 1871

by Charlotte Maria Tucker

"Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." Galatians 6:7

A large crowd assembled on the beach near Ramsgate on a wild stormy day, when the rolling billows were white with foam and the wind blew so fiercely that the women could scarcely keep their footing. What brought the crowd together in the midst of that raging storm? What made the young and tender leave the shelter of their homes to stand in the pelting rain and brave the furious wind? The sound of guns of distress had been borne on the blast. Tidings had spread through the town that a homeward-bound vessel had struck on the Goodwin Sands and that she would be likely to go to pieces during the night which would soon close in!

The life-boat was manned, its gallant crew being ever ready to go to the relief of the shipwrecked, even at the hazard of their lives. But upon this occasion it appeared that their services would not be needed. The ship, though of considerable size, had contained so few passengers that her large boat had been able to hold all. Over the heaving billows it came, bending under the force of the gale, laden with its precious freight. First, like a tiny speck on the sea, it appeared to the anxious eyes that were watching it from the shore. Then it grew larger and larger, till at length even the forms of those who crowded the deck could be distinguished.

"See, see!" exclaimed a woman, "There stands one man with his hands raised towards heaven, as if her were returning thanks for deliverance from a watery grave!"

"Well may he return thanks," said an old sailor near, "for the storm is increasing and the night coming on. Had these poor souls not had the means of leaving the vessel at once, they'd have had but a poor chance of ever seeing the morning."

A joyous cheer burst from the crowd when the heavily-laden boat, after rude tossing on the waves, reached the mouth of the friendly harbor and floated into quiet waters! Everyone was eager to give hearty welcome to the shipwrecked band and proffer the help which the exhausted crew so sorely required. They had been able to bear nothing with them but the dripping clothes in which they stood. It was for them a sad landing in England, after long absence from their dear native land.

"Are all saved—all?" asked John Bolder, the steersman of the life-boat, as he helped a feeble passenger to shore.

"Yes, all—except one," was the answer given by several voices at once.

"One hand is missing," said the boatswain, who had called over the names of the crew.

"Was the poor fellow washed overboard in the storm?" asked a gentleman near.

No one could give a decided answer. The sailor might have been down in the hold at the time when the boat put off and have been forgotten in the confusion. Or he might have been swept off the deck by one of the great billows that had dashed over the stranded vessel. All that was certainly known was that one man was missing. That he had never entered the boat and that, if not dead already, he must certainly perish with the ship in the course of the night.

John Bolder looked up at the stormy sky, then over the dark billows towards the distant vessel. "Let's put off in the life-boat," he said, "we may yet be in time to save the poor fellow."

"No use—too late—he must have been washed overboard," such were the exclamations from many voices around. Few seemed willing that precious lives should be risked on the faint hope of saving one. Amongst the crowd stood John Bolder's mother, a pale, sad widow, yet mourning for her son Ned, whose vessel had been lost off the coast of Bombay. John was the only child now left to her, the sole support and comfort of her age.

"If the rest will go with me," said Bolder, glancing at the sturdy crew of the life-boat, "we'll pull for the vessel yonder. We'll never give up the poor fellow while there's a chance of saving him!" He caught the eye of the widow fixed on him in silent anguish. She laid her hand upon his arm, but it was not to stay him. "Go—and God protect you!" faltered the poor mourner, "perhaps he too has a mother!"

John's nine brave comrades shared his spirit. They filled the life-boat and in a few minutes, amidst the cheer and prayers of anxious spectators, she was tossing on the heaving waves. Dark loomed the clouds above, loud roared the angry blast, the seamen strained at their oars. Often was the life-boat quite hidden from the gaze of those on shore in the trough of the sea, then again she was seen, in the increasing distance, rising on the crest of a wave.

"Ha!" cried John Bolder, "What's that yonder?—a dark object moving on the water!"

"Some floating cask," guessed a companion, resting a moment on his oar and turning round to gaze.

"'Tis the head of a man swimming!" exclaimed Bolder. "Pull on—pull on hard, my hearties! None can swim long in such a sea!"

The strong men bent to their oars. Each rowed as if his own life depended on the efforts which he made. John Bolder at the helm directed the course of the boat, watching with intense interest the head of the swimmer.

"He has sunk—no—there he is again!—he must see us—God have mercy upon him! If he can hold on five minutes longer, we'll have him safe in the boat!"

Every muscle was strained. On—on sped the boat over the billows! A tremendous surge struck the stranded vessel as the life-boat approached her! Down went masts and spars, the furious waves rushed over their prey and nothing remained of the gallant vessel but a few floating bits of timber, whirled round in the seething waters.

But the last of the crew was saved! Dripping, exhausted, senseless, he lay in the life-boat, but living still. He had been reached just as his own strength failed him, and the gallant seamen were now rowing back for the shore, exulting in their success.

But none had such cause to exult as John Bolder! Why are his strong hands trembling with emotion, as he chafes the cold limbs of the half-drowned man? why are the glad tears rising to his manly eyes? He knows now, what he little guessed when he launched forth in the storm to save a fellow-creature, that the man who was in danger—the man whom he went to rescue from death—is his brother! Yes, the shipwrecked sailor has a mother! It is she who stands now on the shore in the wind and rain, straining her eyes to see the return of the life-boat, praying for the safety of one brave son in it, unconscious that it holds two!

Very loud was the cheer which greeted the noble crew of the life-boat as they sprang on shore. Loud were the praises and congratulations that greeted them from every side. But John Bolder could hear nothing at that moment but a mother's wild cry of delight, as she clasped to her heart the long-lost son just snatched from a watery grave!

Rejoicings over the rescued! How the words carry our thoughts to greater dangers and nobler efforts! How many of our poor fellow-creatures are stranded on the fatal sands of ignorance and sin! How many are in danger of the destruction not only of the body but the soul! Brave efforts are made to save them. Sabbath schools, Ragged schools are like life-boats put out to the rescue, manned by those who nobly give their time and strength to the work. Have we done nothing to assist? Have we never tried to save even one? Those who cannot give time may give money. Those who cannot give money may give prayers! Oh, let God's servants be cheered by the thought that they are all members of one family, bound for one glorious home! When the rescued and the rescuers stand together on the bright strand where life's storms can reach them no more, when glad voices of welcome resound, he who has enabled to snatch a poor sinner from destruction by showing him the one way to heaven will find with delight that he has been made the means of delivering a brother!

This story was originally titled, ARE ALL SAVED?

Edited by Pam Takahashi


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