“What a lovely place for a summer vacation,” sighed my twelve-year-old cousin Allison, as we stood on the bluffs of the Maine coast.
I nodded as my eyes swept over the glass-like water in the bay with numerous islands scattered beyond it. My gaze rested on the lighthouse erected on the edge of a steep rocky cliff connected to the mainland.
A clatter of stones above made us turn to see Allison’s sister, ten-year-old Jenny, skipping down the slope to meet us.
“Good morning!” she cried. “I thought I would find you here. Whatcha want to do? We have the whole day free.”
“What about rowing our boat out to the lighthouse?” I suggested.
The idea was met with favor and we descended the rest of the way down to the beach. There a sleek red-and-white boat, the Bonnie Belle, lay pulled up on the beach. Allison and Jenny quickly clambered into the boat as I shoved it into the calm waters.
Grabbing the oars, I set out at a leisurely pace toward the lighthouse. Allison manned the rudder and Jenny sat at the prow of the boat. The lighthouse was about two miles away and it was hardly a chore to row the boat. All the same I readily consented to Jenny’s request to row the boat “just a little distance” as she had said because, for her age, she was great at handling the oars. I leaned over the front of the boat, dangling my fingers in the water, not at all expecting the nightmarish experience that was to come.
We were about one-fourth of a mile away from the lighthouse when, to my surprise, Allison began turning the boat back the way we had come.
Jenny let out a wail of protest and I said sharply, “What do you think you are doing, Allison?”
“I’m turning back, Rebekah!” she said, just as sharply as I did.
Jenny, hoping to avoid a quarrel, said, “You’re not afraid of a little wind, are you?” for a gentle breeze had been blowing.
“No,” answered Allison. Then pointing southeast she continued, “But are you afraid of that?”
We looked and my heart almost stopped beating. An immense black cloud was forming out at sea and rapidly heading our way. I yelled at Jenny to get out of the way and, grabbing the oars, began rowing for shore at a pace which would have won any race I ever entered.
“Why not head for the lighthouse and beach the boat? We would be safe there, wouldn’t we?” questioned Jenny.
“No, Jen,” I answered. “There’s no place to beach the boat because the lighthouse is on a cliff. Remember?”
Jenny didn’t bother talking anymore. Foamy whitecaps danced on the sea which had been so calm barely an hour before.
“Better put your life vests on!” Allison advised.
Without hesitating Jenny reached under her seat and pulled out three life vests. She buckled one on, then handed one to Allison who, putting the tiller between her knees, quickly did the same. Rowing feverishly, I couldn’t stop to put mine on. Jenny performed the task.
I rowed for all I was worth, but with waves crashing against the boat it was no easy task.
The storm hit with all its force. Buckets of rain poured on us from all directions.
“Do you think we will tip over?” cried Allison’s voice above the wind.
How I wanted to say no. Instead I told the truth. “We might, so prepare to swim for it.”
Jenny didn’t say anything, but I knew she was scared. Suddenly she cried out, “Big wave off the port side!”
Allison tried to turn us so we would hit the wave head on, but it was in vain. The wave smacked into us, tipping the Bonnie Belle over. I tumbled into the sea and thought we were goners as the icy waters of the Atlantic closed over my head.
I came up choking and gasping for breath. To my surprise I wasn’t dead, nor were any of the others, for I could see them a little distance away. Swimming to Jenny’s side, I grasped her life vest and yelled into her ear, asking if she was OK. She nodded. Allison came struggling over. She, too, seemed all right. I calculated we were about a hundred yards from shore. I knew we had better reach land before we froze in the 54-degree water.
“Is the boat lost?” asked Allison.
“Yeah,” I answered.
The Bonnie Belle was already far from us, heading toward the jagged rocks. I told Jenny to grab my shoulder straps and Allison to hold Jenny’s. In that way we were together. I used my arms and swam toward the beach. Allison kicked and we made good progress going with the current. I was sure that I had swallowed half the ocean, since every time a wave washed over my head I would swallow some of it. I was thoroughly exhausted. First rowing, and now swimming, my arms felt like they were going to fall off.
We were about twenty-five yards from shore when my strength gave out and I could go no further. I begged my cousins to go on. They would not.
“Listen to me!” I cried. “Go on! If one of us doesn’t make it there’s no need for all of us not to!”
Through salt-filled eyes I saw them battling the waves. Dimly I remember being unmercifully washed back and forth by the surf. Once I felt the ground with my hands and I tried to hold on to it, but I was pulled away by the strong undertow. Totally giving myself up for lost, I vaguely realized someone was pulling on my shoulder strap. I felt the water trying to wrench me away, but my rescuer hauled me onto the beach. Dragging me to the side of Jenny, Allison (for it was she who had rescued me) flopped by my side. Everything went black and I knew no more.
When I awoke I didn’t know where I was. Finally I realized I was lying in my bed, and Allison and Jenny were sitting next to me.
“Gosh!” Jenny cried, when she saw I was awake. “I thought you would sleep forever!”
I smiled rather weakly. “What happened?” I asked.
“Well, as soon as we were on shore, Jenny fainted,” Allison began.
“I did not!” Jenny cut in angrily.
“OK, lay on the ground with your eyes closed,” continued Allison, winking at me. “After I got you on shore I ran up to your parents’ cottage, and they carried you and Jen up —’cause she fainted, you know,” she added hastily.
Jenny pushed her off her chair and, laughing, said, “The funny thing is that our parents weren’t worried a bit. You see, our parents thought Allison and I were here at your house, and your parents thought you were at our house!”
“So you see,” finished Allison from the ground, where Jenny made sure she stayed, “none of our parents knew the wonderful adventure that befell us.”
“Wonderful adventure!” scoffed Jenny. “It’s OK for you, but Rebekah nearly died and I fainted and . . .” she stopped suddenly. She had admitted fainting.
“Oh, ho!” Allison laughed, climbing onto her chair. “You did faint after all!”
“Well,” I said, “it’s a good thing we forgot to tell our parents where we were going.”
“Huh?” Jenny and Allison said questioningly.
“Don’t you see?” I went on. “If they did know they most likely would have had a heart attack.”
“I never thought of that,” Allison said. “But I still say it was a wonderful adventure.”
“Well, I say it was a pretty narrow escape. Don’t you agree, Jenny?” I asked.
“Yep,” she answered, pushing Allison off her chair for the second time. “It sure was a narrow escape!”