Summer Reading: The Easton’s Honeymoon (9)

Van Ransaeller refused to let go while Easton struggled to wrench free. Unable to shake off the chief mate, Ansel finally squirmed out of his coat, leaving the heavy garment in Van Ransaeller’s hands, and the poor man drifted away and drowned.

Although the legality of his act was not on Easton’s mind, common law precedent would support his actions.

Surely Ansel Easton was shaken. As he looked aboutm he saw desperate survivors clinging to floating deris, shouting encouragement to each other.

When Ansel spied “a large plank which had been the front of the berth,” he seized it. This would be his floating refuge for the next eight hours. He was in a semi-stupor, senses dulled, when lights appeared. Is this a ship? Was he seeing things?

He was not delirious. The Norweigian bark Ellen plucked him and 48 other survivors out of the sea. He was given dry clothing and Adeline said he “went to work assisting in caring for those who were saved and calling out the names of every one he knew, hoping to get a response” from any additional survivors in the water.

But there was no point looking for 44-year-old Captan Herndon. It was known by all that he had remained at the wheel of the ship just as he pledged he would. In the great tradition of the sea, Captain Herndon had gone down with his ship.

(Next Part 10)

Summer Reading: The Easton’s Honeymoon (8)

In the blurry panic that followed, somone handed Ansel Easton a life-preserver and a coat, a garment he wore loosely about the shoulders but buttoned tightly around his neck.

“Give me your cigar,” Easton, for the lst rocket,” said Captain Herndon, referring to a final gesture to attract a rescue ship.

As the cigar exchanged hands, the silence of the sea was broken as the waves once more crashed over her deck. The Central America plunged into the black menacing waters.

During those last grim moments some of the passengers had life preservers but the majority didnot, and as many as 450 souls were sucked down with the sinking ship.

Some with life preservers lost them as the powerful suction of the sea tore them from their grip.

Ansel Easton held his breath and desperately clung to his life preserver as he was drawn down into the sea. His vision was impaired and he felt disoriented. Finally he popped to th surface, grasping for air, and was horrified to discover a man’s arms about his neck struggling for the life preserver.

Easton recognized him as Van Ransaeller, the steamer’s chief mate. Ansel Easton had a life- preserver. Van Ransaeller did not. One life-preserver could not sustain both, only one could survive. The two grappled in the turbulent water under dark skies.

(Next Part 9)

Summer Reading: The Easton’s Honeymoon (7)

Adeline Mills Easton must have recounted her horror story a thousand times, and at this critical point in the tale, the Burlingame grande dame must have paused for dramatic effect.

Captain Burt of the brig Marine welcomed the women and children abord, said Adeline, but “he afterwards told me he feared we’d left one stinking ship for another.”

By 6 p.m. all the women and children had found safety aboard the Marine, its destination Norfolk, but their eyes searched the horizon in the failing light for the mortally wounded Central America.

Under dark and ominous skies Ansel Easton stood with Captain Herndon on the wheelhouse of the Central America. It’s safe to say that awaiting doom, they were still troubled by the action of chief engineer Ashby, who had been seen fleeing the stricken vessel in one of the rescue boats reserved for the women and children–a despicable act that would cause great anger and controversy.

Ansel had alrady formed a negative opinion of the chief engineer. Earlier, when the steam engines stopped operating, Adeline had asked, “What does this mean, Ansel?”

“It means, I fear, that the engineer has not done his duty,” he replied, referry to Ashby’s negligence in allowing the pumps to become inoperable.”

To many, the popular Captain Herndon had been heroic. During the last attempts to save the ship, Herndon was ever present, bringing blankets and tools, chores he should have delegated to men under his command. But in those final hours the crew worried only about its own survival, failing to construct a large raft that some say could have saved many lives.

At 8 p.m. aboard the Central America there was an eerie silence, and waves had stopped breaking over the deck. The vessel’s fate was certain and her end near.

(Next Part 8)