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)