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Chapter 8


So they took up Jonah, and cast him

forth into the sea: and the sea ceased

from her raging.

Jonah 1: 15

I WAS comfortable and did not want to wake up. But a slight throb in my head was annoying me and, willy-nilly, I did wake. I shook my head to get rid of that throb and got a snootful of water. I snorted it out.

'Alec?' Her voice was nearby.

I was on my back in blood-warm water, salt water by the taste, with blackness all around me - about as near to a return to the womb as can be accomplished this side of death. Or was this death? 'Margrethe?'

'Oh! Oh, Alec, I am so relieved! You have been asleep a long time. How do you feel?'

I checked around, counted this and that, twitched that and this, found that I. was floating on my back between Margrethe's limbs, she being also on her back with my head in her hands, in one of the standard Red-Cross life-saving positions. She was using slow frog kicks, not so much moving us as keeping us afloat. 'I'm all right. I think. How about you?'

'I'm just fine, dearest! - now that you're awake.'

'What happened?'

'You bumped your head against the berg.'

'Berg

'The ice mountain. Iceberg.'

(Iceberg? I tried to remember what had happened.) 'What iceberg?'

'The one that wrecked the ship.'

Some of it came tumbling back, but it still did not make an understandable picture. A giant crash as if the ship had hit a reef, then we were dumped into water. A struggle to get clear - I did bump my head. 'Margrethe, we're in the tropics, as far south as Hawaii. How can there be icebergs?'

'I don't know, Alec.'

'But-' I started to say 'impossible,' then decided that, from me, that word was silly. 'This water is too warm for icebergs. Look, you can quit working so hard; in salt water I float as easily as Ivory soap.'

'All right. But do let me hold you. I almost lost you once in this darkness; I'm frightened that it might happen again. When we fell in, the water was cold. Now it's warm; so we must not be near the berg.'

'Hang onto me, sure; I don't want to lose you, either.' Yes, the water had been cold when we fell into it; I remembered. Or cold compared with a nice warm cuddle in bed. And a cold wind. 'What happened to the iceberg?'.

'Alec, I don't know. We fell into the water together. You grabbed me and got us away from the ship; I'm sure that saved us. But it was dark as December night and blowing hard and in the blackness you ran your head into the ice.

'That is when I almost lost you. It knocked you out, dear, and you let go of me. I went under and gulped water and came up and spat it out and couldn't find you.

'Alec, I have never been so frightened in all my life. You weren't anywhere. I couldn't see you; I reached out, all sides, and could not touch you; I called out, you did not answer.'

'I'm sorry.'

'I should not have panicked. But I thought you had drowned. Or were drowning and I was not stopping it. But in paddling around my hand struck you, and then I grabbed you and everything was all right - until you didn't answer. But I checked and found that your heart was steady and strong, so everything was all right after all, and I took you in the back carry so that I could hold your face out of water. After a long time you woke, up - and now everything is truly all right.'

'You didn't panic; I'd be dead if you had. Not many people could do what-you did.'

'Oh, it's not so uncommon; I was a guard at a beach north of K0benhavrt two summers - on Fridays I gave lessons. Lots of boys and girls learned.'

'Keeping your head in a crunch and doing it in pitch darkness isn't learned from lessons; don't be so modest. What about the ship? And the iceberg?'

'Alec, again I don't know. By the time I found you and made sure that you were all right and then got you into towing position - by the time I had time to look around, it was like this. Nothing. Just blackness.'

'I wonder if she sank? That was one big wallop she took! No explosion? You didn't hear anything?'

'I didn't hear an explosion. Just wind and the collision sounds you must have heard, then some shouts after we were in the water. If she sank, I did not see it, but - Alec, for the past half hour, about, I've been swimming with my head pushed against a pillow or a pad or a mattress. Does that mean the ship sank? Flotsam in the water?'

'Not necessarily but it's not encouraging. Why have you been keeping your head against it?'

'Because we may need it. If it is one of the deck cushions or sunbathing mats from the pool, then it's stuffed with kapok and is an emergency lifesaver.'

'That's what I meant. If it's a flotation cushion, why are you just keeping your head against it? Why aren't you on it, up out of the water?'

'Because I could not do that without letting go of you.'

'Oh. Margrethe, when we get out of this, will you kindly give me a swift kick? Well, I'm awake now; let's find out what you've found. By Braille.'

'All right. But I don't want to let go of you when I can't see you. I

'Honey, I'm at least as anxious not to lose track of you. Okay, like this: You hang onto me with one hand; reach behind you with the other. Get a good grip on this cushion or whatever it is. I turn over and hang onto you and track you up to the hand you are using to grip the pillow thing. Then we'll see -we'll both feel what we have and decide how we can use it.'

It was not just a pillow, or even a bench cushion; it was (by the feel of it) a large sunbathing pad, at least six feet wide and somewhat longer than that - big enough for two people, or three if they were well acquainted. Almost as good as finding a lifeboat! Better - this flotation pad included Margrethe. I was minded of a profane poem passed around privately at seminary: 'A jug 'of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou - '

Getting up onto a mat that is limp as an angleworm on a night as black as the inside of a pile of coal is not merely difficult; it is impossible. We accomplished the impossible by my hanging on to it with both hands while Margrethe slowly slithered up over me. Then she gave me a hand while I inched up and onto it.

Then I leaned on one elbow and fell off and got lost. I followed Margrethe's voice and bumped into the pad, and again got slowly and cautiously aboard.

We found that the most practical way to make best use of the space and buoyancy offered by the mat was to lie on our backs, side by side, starfished like that Leonardo da Vinci drawing, in order to spread ourselves as widely as possible over the support.

I said, 'You all right, hon?'

'Just fine!'

'Need anything?'

'Not anything we have here. I'm comfortable, and relaxed - and you are here.'

'Me, too. But what would you have if you could have -anything you want?'

'Well ... a hot fudge sundae.'

I considered it. 'No. A chocolate sundae with marshmallow syrup, and a cherry on top. And a cup of coffee.'

'A cup of chocolate. But make mine hot fudge. It's a taste I acquired in America. We Danes do lots of good things with ice cream, but putting a hot sauce on an ice-cold dish never occurred to us. A hot fudge sundae. Better make that a double.'

'All right. I'll pay for a double if that's what you want. I'm a dead game sport, I am - and you saved my life.'

Her inboard hand patted mine. 'Alec, you're fun - and I'm happy. Do you think we're going to get out of this alive?'

'I don't know, hon. The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive. But I promise you this: I'm going to do my best to get you that hot fudge sundae.'

We both woke up when it got light. Yes, I slept and I know Margrethe did, too, as I woke a little before she did, listened to her soft snores, and kept quiet until I saw her eyes open. I had not expected to be able to sleep but I am not surprised (now) that we did - perfect bed, perfect silence, perfect temperature, both of us very tired ... and absolutely nothing to worry about that was worth worrying about because there was nothing, nothing whatever, to do about our problems earlier than daylight. I think I fell asleep thinking: Yes, Margrethe was right; a hot fudge sundae was a better choice than a chocolate marshmallow sundae. I know I dreamt about such a sundae - a quasinightmare in which I would dip into it, a big bite... lift the spoon to my mouth, and find it empty. I think that woke me.

She turned her head toward me, smiled and looked about sixteen and utterly heavenly. (like two young roes that are twins. Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.) 'Good morning, beautiful.'

She giggled. 'Good morning, Prince Charming. Did you sleep well?'

'Matter of fact, Margrethe, I haven't slept so well in a month. Odd. All I want now is breakfast in bed.'

"Right away, sir. I'll hurry!'

'Go along with you. I should not have mentioned food. I'll settle for a kiss. Think we can manage a kiss without falling into the water?'

'Yes. But let's be careful. Just turn your face this way; don't roll over.'

It was a kiss mostly symbolic rather than one of Margrethe's all-out specials. We were both quite careful not to disturb the precarious stability of our make-do life raft. We were worried about something more important than being dumped into the ocean - at least I was.

I decided to broach it, take it out where we could worry about it together. 'Margrethe, by the map just outside the dining room we should have the coast of Mexico near Mazatl'an just east of us. What time did the ship sink? If it sank. I mean, what time was the collision?'

'I don't know.'

'Nor do I. After midnight, I'm sure of that. The Konge 'Knut was scheduled to arrive at eight a.m. So that coast* line could be over a hundred miles east of us. Or it could be almost on top of us. Mountains over there, we may be able to see them when this overcast clears away. As it did yesterday, so it probably will today. Sweetheart, how are you on long-distance swimming? If we can see mountains, do you want to try for it?'

She was slow in answering. 'Alec, if you wish, we will try it.'

'That wasn't quite what I asked.'

'That is true. In warm sea water I think I can swim as long as necessary. I did once swim the Great Belt, in water colder than this. But, Alec, in the Belt are no sharks. Here there are sharks. I have seen.'

I let out a sigh. 'I'm glad you said it; I didn't want to have to say it. Hon, I think we must stay right here and hold still. Not call attention to ourselves. I can skip breakfast - especially a shark's breakfast.'

'One does not starve quickly.'

'We won't starve. If you had your druthers, which would you pick? Starvation? Or death by sunburn? Sharks? Or dying of thirst? In all the lifeboat and Robinson Crusoe stories I've ever read our hero had something to work with. I don't have even a toothpick. Correction: I have you; that changes the odds. Margrethe, what do you think we ought to do?'

'I think we will be picked up.'

I thought so, too, but for a reason I did not want to discuss with Margrethe. 'I'm glad to hear you say that. But-why do you think so?'

'Alec, have you been to Mazatl'an before?'

'No.

'It is an important fishing port, both commercial fishing and sport fishing. Since dawn hundreds of boats have put out to sea. The largest and fastest go many kilometers out. If we wait, they will find us.'

'May find us, you mean. There is a lot of ocean out here. But you're right; swimming for it is suicide; our best bet is to stay here and hold tight.'

'They will be looking for us, Alec.'

'They will? Why?'

'If Konge Knut did not sink, then the Captain knows when and where we were lost overboard; when he reaches port - about now - he will ask for a daylight search. But if she did sink, then they will be scouring the whole area for survivors.'

'Sounds logical.' (I had another idea, not at all logical.)

'Our problem is to stay alive till they find us, avoiding sharks and thirst and sunburn as best we can - and all of that means holding still. Quite still and all the time. Except that I think we should turn over now and then, after the sun is out, to spread the burn.'

'And pray for cloudy weather. Yes, all of that. And maybe we should not talk. Not get quite so thirsty

She kept silent so long that I thought she had started the discipline I had suggested. Then she said, 'Beloved, we may not live.'

'I know.'

'If we are to die, I would choose to hear your voice, and I would not wish to be deprived of telling. you that I love you - now that I may! - in a futile attempt to live a few. minutes longer.'

'Yes, my sweetheart. Yes.'

Despite that decision we talked very little. For me it was enough to touch her hand; it appeared to be enough for -her, too.

A long time later - three hours at a guess - I heard Margrethe gasp.

'Trouble?'

'Alec! Look there!' She pointed. I looked.

It should have been my turn to gasp, but I was somewhat braced for it: high up, a cruciform shape, somewhat like a bird gliding, but much larger and clearly artificial. A flying machine

I knew that flying machines were impossible; in engineering school I had studied Professor Simon Newcomb's well-known mathematical proof that the efforts of Professor Langley and others to build an aerodyne capable of carrying a man were doomed, useless, because scale theory proved that no such contraption large enough to carry a man could carry a heat-energy plant large enough to lift it off the ground - much less a passenger.

That was science's final word on a folly and it put a stop to wasting public monies on a will-o'-the-wisp. Research and development money went into airships, where it belonged, with enormous success.

However, in the past few days I had gained a new angle on the idea of 'impossible'. When a veritable flying machine showed up in our sky, I was not greatly surprised.

I think Margrethe held her breath until it passed over us and was far toward the horizon. I started to, then forced myself to breathe calmly - it was such a beautiful thing, silvery and sleek and fast. I could not judge its size, but if those dark spots in its side were windows, then it was enormous.

I could not see what pushed it along.

'Alec... is that an airship?'

'No. At least it is not what I meant when I told you about airships. This I would call a "flying machine ".'That's all I can say; I've never seen one before. But I can tell you -one thing, now - something very important.'

'Yes?'

'We are not going to die... and I now know why the ship was sunk.'

'Why, Alec?'

'To keep me from checking a thumbprint.'




Chapter 7 | JOB: A Comedy of Justice | Chapter 9



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