Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

more violence than to dry up almost every vestige of last night's deluge, in the higher streets of Glasgow. The bells rung for sermon, and the well-dressed crowds passed calmly along as I apparelled myself— with something like deliberation. It seemed impossible that any thing could have happened to Isabella's home, since not one vestige of all the crashing havoc we had heard appeared in the broad and sunny light of day: the few chimney tops and slates which had accidentally been overthrown with noise so disproportionate to the real danger and destruction, having been decorously removed from the Sabbath path of the church-going crowds. I began to feel in daylight almost ashamed of my midnight apprehensions-and, however rapid my gait might be as I proceeded down the High-Street, I did no more than walk. I even paused for a moment to answer an interrogatory from a passing friend so assured was I willing to think myself, that my fears had been visionary. The city cross was at length passed—but I ran as I approached that bend in the Saltmarket which, when turned, permitted me to see the building that held all I loved on earth. A crowd hid its lower part from me, but a glance told that all was secure on its roof. The throng extended, as it seemed, so far above her residence, as to block up the street at where it opens to St. Andrew's Square. I was but a moment in penetrating its outer rank-and finding myself, a few steps farther on, on the verge of a vast body of sullen and muddy water, which stretched thus far up, and onwards beyond where had stood the opposite end of the distant bridge, that now, in vain, I looked for! It had been swept away in the rapid and mighty current which threw its superabundant streams thus far into the city streets. All was desolation below where I stood. I was horror-struck at the sight of houses before me whose first floor windows, from the declivity of the descent towards the river, were almost under water, and the thought that Isabella and her father might have perished in seeking to escape in terror from

a flood that, though it could not reach their own apartments, might yet endanger the safety of the whole tenement, and, at the best, imprison them, and separate her from me until it had subsided. The inhabitants who had not escaped from the shops and lower floors of the houses between where I was and the river, were all crowded in the upper flats, whose windows, crammed with a terrified population, contrasted strangely with the utter solitude nearer the street, where every opening was closed, and not a living thing visible. The carcases of drowned domestic animals, filth, and fragments of furniture, floated around; but, beneath the second story of the houses, vestige of animated being there was none. Boats could not be procured from the harbour, and carts did not then, as now in similar emergencies, ply through the stream; indeed the water was much too deep for them, even if they had had a dry spot to resort to after passing through. The wailing of women and children, driven from their houses, and the chattering inquiries of idlers asking for particulars which those who knew were too deeply affected to communicate, prevented my eager questions as to Mr. Oswald and family's safety meeting with an answer. At length I found one who said—blessed words that he could assure me that they were still in their own houseand in a security their elevated position insured them. But then he also told me that it was but three or four hours since it became impossible to reach them by the increase of the flood; so that my delay-my confidencemy hope—had exiled me during her danger from my sweetheart's side! Had I hastened at an earlier hour to assure myself of her safety, I would have shared her imprisonment, and been at her side in case of peril! This was indeed a bitter thought.

After as careful a survey as my perturbation and selfreprobation would permit of the position and depth of the water, and being assured that a boat was hourly expected from some quarter, I judged that if I could procure a horse I might ride so far down as to obtain a glimpse of the windows of Mr. Oswald, and perhaps see Isabella at one of them. A proffer of about as much as the value of the brute, procured me the loan of a miserable creature from a carter who unharnessed the animal, and on its naked back I rode into the water till it reached my knees and the girths of the hack, who then would go no farther. I however attained my purpose. The jeers of the crowd, and the awkward spluttering of the animal, unaccustomed equally to water and being rode on, attracted to the windows all who could spare a thought from their own fears. Isabella opened the casement of her room and looked out. A glance showed me that she was safe, and her that I was an object of not uncalled-for merriment to the gazers. I perceived this myself—but not till the wave of her ’kerchief told me all was well and the arch nod of her head showed she was sufficiently at her ease to smile. I returned to the shore, as I may call it, happy-yet, shall I confess it, almost angry too.

The waters continued to rise-and, as the wind had abated, it was obvious that the melting of the snow was the cause. Of course it was impossible to guess at what hour there was a chance of them subsiding. I hesitated for a time whether to exhibit any further violence of anxiety to reach Mr. Oswald's, or wait for the expected boat which was to be employed in carrying provisions to the besieged who might need a supply. The delay of its arrival at length became intolerable as I paced to and fro upon the margin, on which the rising waters still seemed to encroach. The day wore on the churches emptied their crowds to throng to the scene and return again to sermon with a tranquillity that I envied. At length, chafed to contempt for even the titter of a hundred gazers, or the deprecatory smile of my mistress herself, I retraced my steps to the Trongate, and pursued its westward course towards the Broomielaw, anticipating the possibility of procuring there a boat and a couple of rowers

from one of the vessels in that harbour. In my anxious haste, I had forgotten that the same river which leapt over its bounds at a higher part of its course, was not likely to confine itself within them so much farther down the level of its channel. As I might have anticipated, I found the scene at the Jamaica-Street bridge-which the elevation of its roadway enabled me to reach-one of wider desolation, but far more awful grandeur than the circumscribed one I had left. Placed on its centre arch, and looking upward, it seemed as if some mighty transatlantic stream, and not an island river, rolled along in terrible depth and irresiste ible might, between banks whose edges were steep and abrupt, indeed, for, defined only by the fronts of the farseparated lines of houses that stood many hundred feet distant from its usual channel, but close beside which it now rushed furiously by in boiling eddies of clay-coloured waves, fearful in their silent, unfoamy turbulence, which no wind stirred up-as is the angry malice of a man, for whose fury we perceive no present cause. Beneath the bridge, the water roared with thundering turmoil, and all of it that could not escape through the roomy arches, curled up into yeast by the resistance of the abutments, raged noisily and fiercely through the ornamental circular openings placed above them. Looking down the stream, if there was less turbulence, because greater room for expansion, the prospect was not less terrible and uncommon. Between the houses far remote from the breast-work of the harbour and those on the opposite shore, still more widely separated from the broad and level bank of the river, on that side, by a pasture park and road, there was but one vast channel for the sea-like stream that filled it brimmingly. The water was even seen to extend far up the streets, which on either side opened laterally from what seemed now but the stone edging of this gigantic canal, or vast basin; and the long line of vessels, secured to their usual rings and fastenings on the quay, and either riding close to its front, or over its top, as their cables

gave them space, looked but a large fleet at anchor in the middle of the stream. At the moment I turned my face westward, a little sloop had broke from its fastenings with apparently but an old man and a boy on board, and was reeling down the eddying current in drunken-like whirls, while the ear shrunk from the screams of these helpless extremes of existence, as did the eye from their peril-a peril from which they could only escape by the miracle of their bark being speedily driven on the level shore, or running foul of some larger vessel that could stand the shock. Of yawl or pinnace, there was not one in view. Every thing without a mast that was not swamped, had been hoisted up into snug security on the deck of the larger vessels they attended; and to my hurried, and, I fear, incoherent inquiries whether I could hire a boat and some rowers to proceed to the Saltmarket and carry me to a building insulated by the water, I only procured in answer the stare of vacant astonishment, or vulgar jesting and fresh-water-sailors' slang. It soon became obvious even to myself, that it was altogether hopeless to expect effecting communication with Mr. Oswald's family by such means, and there was obviously nothing for me but patience-a sufficient punishment. I strained my eyes to watch if there was any perceptible declension in the height of the water, and almost blessed a person who assured me that he thought it had begun to ebb, although even my eagerness could not perceive its recession.

I returned again to my station in the street where Isabella lived. The waters had not subsided; but the wind had again risen, and at six o'clock-it was now four--the tide would be full, and, consequently, the flood greater. In my absence, I learned with regret, but without self-reproach, that the expected boat had arrived from the neighbouring canal basin; but, after carrying assistance to many sufferers, had swamped upon a bulk, hidden under water, and it was not thought worth while to cart

« ПредишнаНапред »