The Sea Rose
July 25, 1718
Another huge wave crashed into the ship sending Roselyn careening to the other side of the cramped cabin. The captain had ordered the lamps extinguished the minute the waves became robust and the rain began to pound against the windows in earnest. Now in the pitch black night, everything that hadn’t been bolted or tied down was flying around the room. Including Roselyn.
The prow of the ship dove into the trough of another wave. Her trunk slid across the planks of the floor and slammed into her back, knocking the wind from her lungs. The lady’s maid who’d accompanied her on this voyage had disappeared to her own quarters early in the storm, wanting to be sick in private. Before the storm became truly ferocious, the captain of the British merchant vessel had come to her cabin several times to inquire into her welfare. Though she hadn’t seen him in several hours now, she could just faintly make him out along with the rest of the crew shouting orders to each other over the roar of the wind and sea.
Roselyn struggled to her feet, working desperately to gain the bed before another wave hit. If she could manage to stay on top of the bunk she might not be so pummeled by the objects careening around on the floor. She clutched at her stomach and moaned. If everything would just hold still for a minute….
She reached the mattress, but was thrown off by a violent upheaval to starboard and bashed her head against the far bulkhead. This time the ship didn’t immediately right itself, and she remained dazed in a heap lying half on the wall. She reached up and felt her fingers become slick with the blood oozing from her tender temple and cheek. Roselyn pressed her hand against the wound and winced.
The cabin door burst open. Roselyn was confused when the door seemed to open from the floor. From his strange angle, the captain whipped his head around in the darkness, searching for her. Roselyn didn’t know what to make of her topsy-turvy world.
“Miss Weldon!” the captain hollered into the room. “Roselyn, are you in here?”
“Umph,” she grunted. “I’m over here.” She attempted to right herself but the canting of the room and the gash on her head made her woozy.
“You need to get up and come with me right away.” The captain scrambled across the slanted room and grabbed her by the arm. Rough fingers dug into her flesh when he yanked her off the floor.
“Ow!” she complained as he dragged her towards the door. “What’s happened? Is the ship on its side?”
The two of them made it out the doorway and into the hallway leading to the deck. She realized with dawning horror they were slogging through water midway up her calves.
“Is the ship sinking?” She tried to control the terror that was taking root. Up to this point, she’d done a fairly good job of it. Even while being thrown around the cabin with the wind howling, she had managed to keep some semblance of calm.
The captain didn’t answer her; whether he didn’t hear her or was too concerned with steering her out onto the deck, she didn’t know. The sailors staggered on the heaving deck, lowering skiffs and rowboats, their faces taut with fear and terrified determination. She was accustomed to organized activity on deck where the well-worn sailors moved with confidence, but this night they scrambled about verging on chaos. Their show of fear only served to panic her more.
She pulled on the captain’s arm until he turned around. “The ship is sinking isn’t it!” she screamed over the wind. “Oh dear God, we’re sinking.”
Roselyn was in full blown hysteria now. The blood coursing down her face and neck, which had caused such dismay before, was nearly forgotten and replaced by a premonition of the mighty British ship sinking and her body afloat and lifeless, tossed endlessly by the relentless waves.
“I can’t swim, Captain. Oh dear God, I can’t swim.” Her voice was a reedy scream as she clawed against his hand to free her arm from his powerful grasp. She was desperate to get away from him and return to the imagined safety of the cabin. Even an upside down cabin was better than a rowboat to her hysterical mind.
“Get in the boat. If you get into the boat you won’t have to swim.”
“No,” she shrieked. “That boat’s too small.” She dug in her heels and sunk into a squat to make it harder for the captain to drag her towards what she knew in her heart was certain death.
In an obvious demonstration of his fear and desire to get her across the deck and into a lifeboat, he slapped her–hard–across the face.
Roselyn inhaled sharply but stopped struggling. With wide eyed horror, she allowed the man to lead her to the boat. In a desperate attempt to take control of the chaos, he thrust her towards the boat and hurried off in the opposite direction.
“Come on, miss.” A grizzled old tar took her by the hand and wiped at the blood on her face with a rag. He spoke with a heavy accent making it difficult to understand him as he yelled over the wind. “The skiff is da best place for ya, if dis ole bitch goes down, we’ll be wantin’ ya safe and ou ‘o the drink.” With surprising gentlemanly solicitousness, he handed her into the boat. Roselyn clutched at the man’s hands not wanting to let go. She looked around frantically at the men running past and tried to locate her maid, but she was nowhere to be found. The wind whipped her black hair around her face gluing the long strands to her cheeks and forehead with the blood and making it nearly impossible to see anything.
A deafening crack followed by several loud crashes and the huge ship groaned under the weight as more water dumped on deck. Roselyn was doused from head to toe with frigid, salty water. Her scream wasn’t heard over the roar of the sea and the creaking of the wood as the ship came apart. The deck listed severely and, to her horror, several men lost their grip on the rails and fell into the ferocious sea. She grasped at her ancient sailor, terrified that he might also fall into the churning water and abandon her to a dreadful fate.
Roselyn could only wonder in mounting panic where her missing maid could be. It was clear to her now that this mighty merchant ship was sinking and her only hope was to stay in the tiny row boat and pray.
Time was running out. Another big wave or two and the crumbling ship would go under the sea and never re-emerge. The old sailor cut the lines holding the smaller boat to the deck. The skiff slid and the enormous wave he’d prophesied came and lifted the skiff into the water, turning the enormous ship fully on its side.
For one chilling moment, Roselyn thought for sure the old sailor would be lost, but she grasped whole handfuls of his shirt and hauled him on board just before the small vessel crashed broadside into the roiling ocean. Their tiny craft was drawn away from the sinking ship almost immediately and it tossed about in the water. Each time the skiff crested the top of a wave, they looked around wildly for a sign of the sinking ship or other survivors, but they saw no one. Eventually, even the remains of the ship were lost to them.
Roselyn sat on the bench at the stern of the row boat and peered out into the moonless night for signs of other survivors. She screamed out names into the horrific darkness until her voice gave out, her throat too sore to keep up the vigil. The sailor operated the oars and steered into the waves, doing his best to keep them upright.
She realized she didn’t even know his name. Hours later, while the sun rose on the calm sea, Roselyn lay curled up in the back of the boat. Her dress was heavy with water and ruined by salt. Her hair lay stringy and loose down her back. The sea washed the blood from her face and hair. Salt stung the cuts and abrasions until she was simply too numb to feel it. Her sailor lay slumped over on his side, seeming as weary and shocked from the ordeal as she was. When the sun rose, a giant fiery ball emerging from the watery horizon, Roselyn acknowledged to herself that it was the most beautiful sunrise she’d ever seen.
She was alive.
Granted, she was adrift in a tiny boat in the great Atlantic Ocean with a nameless stranger who saved her life, but still, she was alive.
That thought brought a faint smile to her lips as she finally fell into exhausted sleep.