The Sea Empress
Thick black clouds blotted out the sun, almost turning day into night. The fearful tempest gathered strength and the surf broke in seething foam on the shore as a few dozen men dragged boats to
almost within reach of the grasping water.
“There she is!” shouted a short, burly man. “There’s the ship! She’s made it through the heads.”
The Sea Empress lee towards starboard as she battled her way towards the anchor point.
“Why is she under canvas?” yelled Finley over the roaring wind and crashing surf. “Is her captain completely mad! This storm will tear them to pieces!”
The burly man made his way towards Finley. “She’s not going to make it.”
“You there.” Finley pointed towards a man standing at the bow of his boat. “Get your crew and start rowing out to the ship.”
The man acknowledged with a nod and the four men plunged into the water, dragging the boat into the foam.
Finley followed with a boat and his three men. The wind pushed the boat sideways as the men heaved on the oars, battling to keep it on a course towards the ship.
The boats had not rowed a mile, not even half the distance to the ship, when the men witnessed the wind rip the sails from the ship’s masts, tearing them into useless strips and flinging them into
She’s in real trouble now, Finley thought to himself. The captain will have to weigh anchor or be dashed upon the rocks for sure.
The men pulled hard on the oars until their muscles burned and their lungs heaved in the salt-laden air with every breath.
One of Finley’s men stopped rowing and pointed to the ship. “Her anchor’s dragging. She’s being pushed towards the rocks.”
The huge ship had no more resistance to the fearful gale than a wooden cork. The boat crews watched as waves rose from the sea and impacted against the side of the ship, sending her helplessly
towards the sharp rocky outcrop. She tossed and turned on the water until her stern faced the brunt of the imminent impact.
The boat crews tried to summon more strength from their failing bodies, pulling on the oars against the grip of the fierce gale.
The vessel was doomed. The stern impacted the jagged edges and damaged and broken, slid up onto the rocks.
Finley and his men could hear the cracking of the ship’s timbers, even above the howling of the ferocious wind.
The vessel soon parted amidships with the stern held fast upon the rocks and the bow thrown about by the waves. The forepart broke apart and many of the steerage passengers and most of the crew
were swallowed mercilessly by the raging waters. The remainder of the ship’s company gathered with the last of the steerage passengers on the forecastle head awaiting rescue.
Finley’s men rowed up alongside a man being thrown about by the waves. Finley leaned over the side of the boat and grabbed his arm, turning him over onto his back. A gash in his forehead had
severed his skull in two, leaving little brain matter remaining in the cavity. Finley gasped and dropped the arm. “This one is already in God’s company,” he yelled to his expectant crew.
The boats battled to get alongside the rocks without being shattered into splinters. Finley and some of the men leapt upon the rocks and moved towards the passengers and crew, now departing the
stricken vessel by stepping onto a large rock formation almost level with her top deck.
The crew carried frightened children and helped the injured find safety upon the rocks. Finley approached one of the crew. “There’s more boats coming. Where’s your captain?”
“At the bottom of the ocean, I suspect,” the man said. “I’m the Boatswain, the highest rank left.”
“We have no time to waste. We have to get these people into the boats and safely onshore.”
“Well, then, we’ll put the children and injured on first, then the women and the men last of all.”
Finley nodded. “We’ll need the rest of your crew to get these passengers in order.”
The rain continued to belt down and water flung from the Boatswain’s lips as he shouted. “You bring the boats and I’ll get them filled.”
“Take the people down there,” Finley pointed. “There’s a low rock like a dock there.”
The Boatswain summoned a Shipwright with a wave of his arm. “Bring the children and injured. We’re going to get them on these boats.” The Shipwright nodded and headed towards the people
huddled against the rocks offering a little respite from the lashing rain. He and other crew members brought the allocated passengers and helped them into the boats. The boats headed back into the
raging surf and headed towards shore. The row back to shore was slow and treacherous. More boats passed by, heading out to the rocks to collect the remainder of the passengers and crew.
The stern half of the vessel remained fast upon the rocks. The waves crashed into it and carried off broken pieces while the passengers and crew waited for their rescuers.
Finley remained on the rocks and helped the passengers onto the boats. Another rescue boat arrived and Kit, wrapped in a sodden woolen shawl, was helped ashore by a crew member.
“Why are you here?” Finley shouted.
“I’ve come to help the injured.”
“It’s far too dangerous for you out here. What if Clara lost you too? Tom should never have let you come.”
“He didn’t let me come because he doesn’t know, and Clara understands that the work of a nurse is to be where people need help. Now stop scolding me and show me where the injured are.”
Finley hesitated before stepping up onto the rocks and holding out his hand to her.
Kit grasped his hand and he pulled her up the slopping wet rock face and onto the higher rocks.
“There’s an injured boy over there with his father.” Finley pointed to a teenage boy laying with his head in his father’s lap near the ship. “He lost his mother and sister when the steerage broke
away and sank. We tried to get him on the first boat but he said he’d wait until last. I think both of them have given up hope. They want to die.”
Kit moved across the slippery rocks and knelt beside the father and son. “My name is Kit, and I’m a nurse.” She glanced down at the blood soaking through the leg of the boy’s breeches. “May I look
at your leg?”
“Do what you want,” murmured the boy. He looked away from her.
The man covered his face with his hand and wept openly.
When the leg was exposed Kit could see a sharp shard of bone protruding. She stood and faced Finley. “We have to get him on the next boat.”
“We’ve already tried, they won’t move.”
Kit placed her hands on her hips and addressed the father.
“What makes you so special? Do you think you are the only one to have lost someone? I buried my husband next to my infant son this morning and I haven’t given up. Did I feel like it? You mark my
words I did, but I still have a daughter, and you two have each other, and you owe it to each other to keep going. So, Finley here is going to carry your boy to the boat and you are going to
accompany him and go ashore. Life will be different now for you both, but it will go on.”
The two men looked at her blanked faced. Silently the man moved from beneath his son and nodded to Finley. Effortlessly Finley lifted the boy from the ground. He screamed in pain and Finley
stopped, but Kit urged him to keep moving.
The boy was placed in a boat next to the injured. A little girl stood nearby with her mother, ready to board. She clung to her mother and buried her head in her shoulder each time an angry wave
crashed into the boat.
“You can leave now, Kit,” Finley said. “There are no more injured left here. Get in the boat and get back to shore.”
“Yes, I will. They'll need me in the hospital by now.”
Just as the mother stepped into the boat with the clinging child, a piece of a mast from the stricken ship smashed into the side of the boat. The little girl screamed and wriggled in her mother’s
arms. The mother lost her grip on her and the girl fell over the side of the boat and plunged into the water.
Kit rushed to the side and tried to grab a handful of her dress but she went under. Kit looked back to the rocks and met Finley’s eyes with her own.
He dived into the raging surf and swam to the side of the boat. Upon not seeing a sign of the girl, he ducked under the water.
Kit placed an arm around the shoulders of the mother who sat in the boat, reciting a prayer and staring at the place her daughter had disappeared.
“There’s a fierce undertow near these here rocks,” the local owner of the boat said.
The mother screamed.
“Hold your tongue, you fool,” Kit scolded.
A small boy stood up in the boat and pointed before his father dragged him back to his seat. “I saw them,” he shouted. He pointed again. “Just out there. He’s got her!”
Finley and the girl were a ship’s length from the stern of the boat and were being tossed about on the waves like unwelcome intruders in the ocean’s world.
The men heaved on the oars and made for the two helpless figures. Finley held her with an arm across her chest, barely keeping her head above the water’s everchanging surface level.
As the boat drew near, Finley lifted the girl as high as he could.
Kit and the mother reached out and grabbed at her, dragging her back on board. The little girl coughed and vomited water and bile onto the bottom of the boat.
Kit quickly examined the girl for breaks or cuts. “She’s taken in some water, but she’s going to be all right. Did you hear that, Finley?” Kit twisted in her seat to look back at Finley but he was
no longer near the boat. “Finley?” Finley!” Kit screamed his name across the water.
A strong hand grabbed her arm. “He’s gone, ma’am.”
Kit turned to look into the face of the boat’s owner. “We have to get to shore,” the man said. “We have injured onboard.”
“No, we can’t leave Finley out here.” She shook off his grip and scoured the surrounding waters for any sign of him.
“The undertow has taken him down. He won’t be coming back.”
“Finley!" Kit screamed again. She remained standing, gripping the side of the boat and staring into the faces of the passengers and boat crew. “Don't you give up on him. We have to keep
“It’s no use,” said an old woman with blackened teeth. “We’ve all had a long and misery-filled trip, we want to get onshore. Your man is gone. Sit down now and let us get to shore.”
“How can you be so selfish?” Kit said. “That’s a man’s life you’re talking about.”
The owner stood and looked Kit in the eyes. “I’m taking this boat back to shore. You can continue to scream out as long as you like, but I must get these passengers to safety. Now, if you don’t sit
down you’ll be meeting the fish at the bottom of the ocean.” His voice rose with the last words and Kit sat down. She continued to look around her and as far into the distance as she could as the
boat was rowed back to shore.
© Copyright 2023 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.