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A windy day on the big lake.

Reprinted from The Weirs Times

Originally Printed in The Granite Monthly - May, 1910 edition

by Ilga E. Herrick

One October, my uncle and I were staying at The Weirs, a popular vacation resort on Lake Winnipesaukee. Most of the summer visitors had gone home, and after its short period of bright activity, the little place was settling back into the winter
dullness. So, in order to keep from being bored to death, we went on frequent excursions by land or water, carrying with us
enough food for a meal or two. Most of these picnics have merged into a pleasant but indistinct recollection.
One, however, stands out in my memory with startling vividness.

On a bright, breezy morning, we rowed out of Weirs bay to a pretty little island, which we explored leisurely. In a sunny nook
on the further side, we ate a hearty lunch, with appetites sharpened by the breeze. After resting an hour or two, we recrossed the island. What was our surprise and dismay on finding that the breeze had increased to a stiff gale, striking on our island with full force! To return to The Weirs in our frail boat was entirely out of the question; but we hoped that the wind would go down with the sun. So we went back to our sheltered nook and tried to wait patiently.

For several hours, we “sped the time with stories old, wrought puzzles out and riddles told”; but still the wind howled and raged away at our island. Soon darkness fell, and it became evident that we must spend the night where we were. Fortunately, we had a little luncheon left, and with that we satisfied the worst of our hunger. Then we sought out as protected
a spot as there was on our wind-swept bit of land, and there made beds of hemlock boughs.

The chill of that late October night by the lake was like that of a Boston winter. Suddenly my uncle, who was rubbing his hands briskly, exclaimed: “Well, little girl, what’s the use of freezing to death? Let’s make a fire.” The suggestion met with entire approval, and we quickly gathered a large quantity of dead wood and pine cones. As I was arranging them, I heard a sharp whistle, and on looking up, saw my uncle diving into one pocket after another, with growing dismay on his face. Finally he found two matches in his very last pocket. He regarded them with mingled joy and apprehension.

“Well, my dear,” he drawled, “if these things won’t go, we’ll have the distinction of freezing to death in October, after all!”

I tried to smile at his melancholy joke, but the chattering of my teeth prevented. He bent over the pile, with his back to the
wind so as to shelter the precious flame, and struck one of the matches. A puff of wind-the light flickered and went out! I held my breath while he tried the second. Oh joy! It lit, and soon the pine cones were crackling merrily. With rising spirits, we huddled close to the cheery blaze and warmed our blue hands.

Soon I grew drowsy, and my generous companion threw his coat over me and wished me pleasant dreams. Before long, I fell into a light slumber, in the intervals of which I was dimly conscious that the wind was shrieking wildly, and that Uncle was pacing to and fro, beating his arms and stamping his feet.

At midnight, according to a promise that I had extorted from him, he woke me; for I was to watch the fire till three. The numbing influence of the cold quickly put him to sleep; and I sat cowering over the fire, comforted in my loneliness by his loud, cheerful snoring. As I was thinking wistfully of my cozy bedroom at the hotel, a sudden stray blast from a new direction caught the embers and in a second snuffed out our precious flame. My cry of dismay roused Uncle and he stared sleepily, first at the faintly glowing ashes, then, in surprise, at me. For, cold and miserable as I was, I had begun to sob wildly: “It wasn’t my fault truly, Uncle! The wind - But the blessed man cut me short by kissing me, and patting my shoulder he said: “‘There, it’s only three hours or so till light, and then home for The Weirs and breakfast! The wind’s going down.”

Sure enough, there was a pleasant lull in the gale, and with it came a little moderation of the cold; so that by alternating rest with vigorous walking, we managed to pass the rest of the night.

With the first light we crossed the island toward our boat; but on reaching the top of the little knoll beneath which we had found shelter, we were greatly disappointed to find that the wind, instead of having died down, had merely changed its direction somewhat, so that it now blew straight down the lake, with an uninterrupted sweep of fifteen miles. Uncle looked doubtful, but my downcast face, and the thought of breakfast at The Weirs, settled the matter.

“I’ll get you there, girlie, if it breaks my back,” he said with determination. We put off from land, and immediately the battle began. I crouched in the bottom of the boat, and watched Uncle straining away with all his strength, his face set, the big muscles in his arms swelling with his powerful strokes. Suddenly, he stopped and gave a quick glance around. “I can’t make it!” he shouted above the roaring of wind and waves. “Our only chance is in gaining Welsh Island.”

Our only chance! It seemed a queer expression, and while he began rowing again, before the wind, I pondered over the
words. Chance for what’? All at once I understood-he meant a chance for life! He had found it impossible even to keep headed for The Weirs, it was equally out of the question to return to the island; and we were now being swept surely and with terrifying rapidity- straight toward the Broads. In that most dreaded section of the lake, where no island offers shelter, a frail craft like ours could not live in the tremendous sea.

Welsh Island lay to the right of the course along which we were being driven; and to turning the boat in that direction Uncle
now bent all his energy. Soon I could see the high land in the middle of Welsh Island, still at our right, and coming to be more nearly in front-but oh! so slowly! I clenched my hands and prayed despairingly.

Suddenly, a terrific blast struck us, and we shot ahead with fearful speed. I had just time to see the point of Welsh Island come alongside a rod away. Then it was left behind, and with it, our “last chance!” I shut my eyes with a sickening sense of horror and utter despair. Instantly, I felt Uncle’s strong arms around me and the next moment we were in the water! I gasped and tried to struggle but he held me fast; and before I knew what had happened, he was wading out on the beach. We were saved!

Standing then on the shore, in safety, we turned, by common impulse, to see our boat. It was already far out, upside down and tossing like an eggshell on the huge waves. We realized then what our fate must have been, had not Uncle jumped at the right moment. With a shudder of horror at the thought, I clung to him, and, now that the danger was all over, began to cry. Indeed, I had good excuse for tears, not only because of past dangers but also for present wretchedness; for we were wet, shivering with cold, and without food or shelter. There is now a good-sized house on the island; but then there was only an abandoned hut, tightly closed. We knew that no boats were likely to come by upon pleasure trips that blustering day. We were virtually marooned on a desert island.

Uncle rose to the occasion splendidly. At the suggestion we walked about briskly, letting the sun and wind dry our clothes; and all the while he kept up a running fire of cheerful nonsense, making sundry allusions to Robinson Crusoe, and laughing heartily at his own jokes. In the midst of a merry ‘ Ha, ha.’ he broke off and pointed toward the mainland, crying out: “ My dear, we are rescued! There’s a launch!”

Sure enough, a little boat was coming, heading for the rocky side of the island, and signaling from time to time. I laughed and cried, I was so happy at the prospect of rescue. But when the boat was opposite us, it stopped, and a commotion began on board. We could see the men gesticulating in a way that indicated that they were calling to us, but their voices were
drowned in the thunder of the waves on the rocky shore.

“They can’t make a landing,” groaned Uncle. “The wind would drive them on the rocks on this side of the island and sweep them out to the Broads on the other.”

“But they can’t be going to leave us!” I cried aghast.

This, however, they were forced to do, and with sinking hearts we watched them beat slowly across the waves, back to The Weirs. This time, Uncle had no jest ready. His own disappointment was too keen to be laughed off. With a very grave face, he walked slowly along the beach, leaving me to gaze longingly at the shore of the mainland.

My unhappy meditations were interrupted by a joyful cry, and I saw Uncle running up with a large zink cask in his arms. “See,” he called, “they set this afloat, and it landed at the very lip of the point. There’s food in it for an army!”

I jumped up, clapping my hands in a very abandon of glee; for aside from the trifling remnant eaten the night before, we had tasted no food for over thirty hours. What a feast we had - somewhat water-soaked, to be sure, but as delicious to us as if it had been the food of the gods.

For a time, we forgot cold and lack of shelter, but the quick descent of the darkness brought our plight home to us all too soon. The wind, it is true, had largely gone down; but on the other hand we had no fire. On the piazza of the cottage, I passed another wretched night, relieved only by the warmth of Uncle’s affection and the genial glow of his unfailing humor.

In the early morning, however, we were awakened from fitful sleep by a shouting from the Shore. Our would be rescuers of
the day before had returned. Before long, we were drinking steaming hot tea in a cozy room at the hotel, while an interested group of listeners heard the tale of our “picnic gone wrong.”



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