The Dressmaker

Free The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Book: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kate Alcott
man to lead them.

    Lord, the cold. Tess could not feel her feet or her fingers now. There was nothing, nothing, not even a groan or a complaint from the others; they floated between sea and sky.
    Then a hoarse cry—a sailor, the darkness lifting, had spied a ship. Tess peered in the breaking dawn and saw other lifeboats for the first time. People began to shout to one another, women shrieking names of husbands and children. Are you there? Please answer, please be there! One voice, over and over: “Is my Amy in your boat? Amy, Amy, answer your mother.” Tess waited to hear a child’s answering shout, but there was none.
    And then, yes, there was a ship emerging from the dark, coming directly toward them. Tess squinted, barely making out the name on the ship’s hull—
. It wasn’t a fantasy. “We’ve made it,” Mrs. Brown said quietly. Tears of relief fell, then froze on her cheeks.
    They were the second load of survivors brought on board. Canvas bags were lowered into the jammed first lifeboat, and mothers began stuffing struggling, frightened children inside them, trying to console them, then trusting them to the sailors above. Tess put Michel and Edmond in one bag at their insistence, wishing she could comfort them with her halting French. The exhausted women were next.They hung limply, dangling from ropes looped around their waists, as they were slowly hauled upward.
    When it was Tess’s turn, she fastened the loop around her waist, tightened the rope, and turned to the sailor who had first helped row. She nodded in the direction of the still figures at the bottom of the boat. “Help me, please,” she said. “Don’t let them be dumped over the side of the lifeboat.”
    “Bring them up only to be buried at sea?” he said, surprised.
    “That’s a bit balmy. I’m not doing it.”
    “Yes, you are,” she said calmly, not flinching. “I don’t want either of them abandoned. You’ll make sure that doesn’t happen, won’t you?”
    He hesitated. “I’ll send them up last,” he promised.
    Tess began rising in the air, swinging a few times against the hull of the ship, looking up to see dozens of people watching her progress, many with mouths gaping. How good it felt to look at them, to see their faces, their quick movements, their
. Then, swinging free, up and onto the deck. When her numbed legs began to buckle, a woman in a moleskin coat grabbed her.
    “There, dear,” she murmured. “You’ll be all right—we’re so happy our captain got here in time. These are your children? But they speak no English, just French.” She nodded at Edmond and Michel, clinging to her skirts.
    “They aren’t mine, and I fear their father didn’t make it.”
    “I’m French—I’ll take care of them, dear.” She looked past Tess and pointed curiously at the next boat now bumping against the ship’s hull. “The other boats were terribly crowded, but that one is almost empty. Odd, isn’t it? How did that happen?”
    Tess glanced down at the sea, and felt her heart leap. There it was, the lifeboat holding the Duff Gordons—they were safe. A sailor was helping Lucile into one of the slings, and soon she would be on board. Tess trembled with relief.
    And there was the sailor, the one named Bonney; he was safe, too. He glanced upward, and their gazes caught. She waved, and he brokeinto a grin. She saw Jean Darling; was that her husband with her? Cosmo was holding on to a sailor’s shoulder, trying to steady himself. Lucile was on her way up, swaying back and forth in the sling. They were all saved; Madame was saved. Tess waved again, still dizzy with relief. As Lucile stepped onto the
, Tess rushed forward, hugging her impulsively.
    “Oh, my dear,” gasped Lucile, patting her lightly on the back and quickly stepping away.
    More lifeboats were unloading—more people were swung up high in the slings, then deposited onto the deck of the

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