The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Book 7: The Final Rescue: Chapter 5 - The Last Conflict

But now there was a large dark mass in the distance, and near to her Maggie could discern the current of the river. The dark mass must be — yes, it was — St. Ogg's. Ah, now she knew which way to look for the first glimpse of the well-known trees — the gray willows, the now yellowing chestnuts — and above them the old roof! But there was no color, no shape yet; all was faint and dim. More and more strongly the energies seemed to come and put themselves forth, as if her life were a stored-up force that was being spent in this hour, unneeded for any future.

She must get her boat into the current of the Floss, else she would never be able to pass the Ripple and approach the house; this was the thought that occurred to her, as she imagined with more and more vividness the state of things round the old home. But then she might be carried very far down, and be unable to guide her boat out of the current again. For the first time distinct ideas of danger began to press upon her; but there was no choice of courses, no room for hesitation, and she floated into the current. Swiftly she went now without effort; more and more clearly in the lessening distance and the growing light she began to discern the objects that she knew must be the well-known trees and roofs; nay, she was not far off a rushing, muddy current that must be the strangely altered Ripple.

Great God! there were floating masses in it, that might dash against her boat as she passed, and cause her to perish too soon. What were those masses?

For the first time Maggie's heart began to beat in an agony of dread. She sat helpless, dimly conscious that she was being floated along, more intensely conscious of the anticipated clash. But the horror was transient; it passed away before the oncoming warehouses of St. Ogg's. She had passed the mouth of the Ripple, then; now, she must use all her skill and power to manage the boat and get it if possible out of the current. She could see now that the bridge was broken down; she could see the masts of a stranded vessel far out over the watery field. But no boats were to be seen moving on the river, — such as had been laid hands on were employed in the flooded streets.

With new resolution, Maggie seized her oar, and stood up again to paddle; but the now ebbing tide added to the swiftness of the river, and she was carried along beyond the bridge. She could hear shouts from the windows overlooking the river, as if the people there were calling to her. It was not till she had passed on nearly to Tofton that she could get the boat clear of the current. Then with one yearning look toward her uncle Deane's house that lay farther down the river, she took to both her oars and rowed with all her might across the watery fields, back toward the Mill. Color was beginning to awake now, and as she approached the Dorlcote fields, she could discern the tints of the trees, could see the old Scotch firs far to the right, and the home chestnuts, — oh, how deep they lay in the water, — deeper than the trees on this side the hill! And the roof of the Mill — where was it? Those heavy fragments hurrying down the Ripple, — what had they meant? But it was not the house, — the house stood firm; drowned up to the first story, but still firm, — or was it broken in at the end toward the Mill?

With panting joy that she was there at last, — joy that overcame all distress, — Maggie neared the front of the house. At first she heard no sound; she saw no object moving. Her boat was on a level with the upstairs window. She called out in a loud, piercing voice, —

"Tom, where are you? Mother, where are you? Here is Maggie!"

Soon, from the window of the attic in the central gable, she heard Tom's voice, —

"Who is it? Have you brought a boat?"

"It is I, Tom, — Maggie. Where is mother?"

"She is not here; she went to Garum the day before yesterday. I'll come down to the lower window."

"Alone, Maggie?" said Tom, in a voice of deep astonishment, as he opened the middle window, on a level with the boat.

"Yes, Tom; God has taken care of me, to bring me to you. Get in quickly. Is there no one else?"

"No," said Tom, stepping into the boat; "I fear the man is drowned; he was carried down the Ripple, I think, when part of the Mill fell with the crash of trees and stones against it; I've shouted again and again, and there has been no answer. Give me the oars, Maggie."

It was not till Tom had pushed off and they were on the wide water, — he face to face with Maggie, — that the full meaning of what had happened rushed upon his mind. It came with so overpowering a force, — it was such a new revelation to his spirit, of the depths in life that had lain beyond his vision, which he had fancied so keen and clear, — that he was unable to ask a question. They sat mutely gazing at each other, — Maggie with eyes of intense life looking out from a weary, beaten face; Tom pale, with a certain awe and humiliation. Thought was busy though the lips were silent; and though he could ask no question, he guessed a story of almost miraculous, divinely protected effort. But at last a mist gathered over the blue-gray eyes, and the lips found a word they could utter, — the old childish "Magsie!"

Maggie could make no answer but a long, deep sob of that mysterious, wondrous happiness that is one with pain.

As soon as she could speak, she said, "We will go to Lucy, Tom; we'll go and see if she is safe, and then we can help the rest."

Tom rowed with untired vigor, and with a different speed from poor Maggie's. The boat was soon in the current of the river again, and soon they would be at Tofton.

"Park House stands high up out of the flood," said Maggie. "Perhaps they have got Lucy there."

Nothing else was said; a new danger was being carried toward them by the river. Some wooden machinery had just given way on one of the wharves, and huge fragments were being floated along. The sun was rising now, and the wide area of watery desolation was spread out in dreadful clearness around them; in dreadful clearness floated onward the hurrying, threatening masses. A large company in a boat that was working its way along under the Tofton houses observed their danger, and shouted, "Get out of the current!"

But that could not be done at once; and Tom, looking before him, saw death rushing on them. Huge fragments, clinging together in fatal fellowship, made one wide mass across the stream.

"It is coming, Maggie!" Tom said, in a deep, hoarse voice, loosing the oars, and clasping her.

The next instant the boat was no longer seen upon the water, and the huge mass was hurrying on in hideous triumph.

But soon the keel of the boat reappeared, a black speck on the golden water.

The boat reappeared, but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted; living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together.

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