Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems

Chapter 1
Swinging in the Rain

Waves smashed across the bow of the SS Yokohama Maru, sending sheets of water racing back across the deck. None of the passengers aboard noticed. They were too sick to care. Most were gathered in the ship’s saloon, too scared to stay below deck as the ship shuddered and rolled violently from side to side. The smell of vomit was everywhere.

Amy Carmichael, a young Irish woman, sat in the corner sicker than she’d ever been before in her life. It felt to her as though she had been aboard ship forever, but it had been only four days. The voyage from Shanghai en route to Japan had been so calm. Halfway across the Yellow Sea, though, the ship had run into a typhoon, and as a result, she was now being mercilessly battered by storm-ravaged seas. All Amy wanted to do was get her feet back on solid ground, and soon.

Just when she thought she could not stand to be thrown around by the sea any longer, the captain, wrapped in an oilskin parka, stumbled into the saloon. He spoke first in Japanese, reeling short, sharp sentences off his tongue. Then he turned to Amy and in broken English announced the good news. The Yokohama Maru was directly offshore from Shimonoseki, their destination port. Amy breathed a sigh of relief. Then the captain told her the bad news. Because of the wind and huge waves, there was no way the ship could dock at Shimonoseki. They would simply have to stay offshore and ride out the typhoon.

As the captain left the saloon, Amy vomited into the bucket beside her. She wondered how long they’d have to wait for the storm to die down. She felt so wretchedly ill. Still, she was tired of sitting and feeling sick, so she decided a walk might help settle her churning stomach. She knew it wouldn’t, though. It hadn’t any of the other times she’d tried it. Still, she had to get away from the gagging air of the saloon. She wrapped her woolen shawl around her shoulders and clambered to her feet. Stumbling out onto the deck, she took a deep breath. She gripped the ship’s railing tightly as seawater washed around her ankles and spray lashed against her cheeks. She looked longingly in the direction of Shimonoseki and hoped it wouldn’t be long before the wind and sea calmed enough for the ship to berth.

As she gazed towards Shimonoseki, Amy saw a most unusual sight, at least for the middle of a typhoon. A steam tugboat emerged through the blinding rain and billowing seas. It came within twenty feet of the starboard side of the SS Yokohama Maru, bobbing up and down in time to the waves. One of the sailors yelled to the captain, and soon a crowd of passengers and crew had spilled out on deck for a closer look.

The captain of the Yokohama Maru and the captain of the tugboat yelled and gestured at each other. Amy couldn’t understand a word of what they said, but she hoped it had something to do with towing the SS Yokohama Maru into dock. But apparently, towing wasn’t what they had been talking about. Instead, the captain announced that the passengers were going to be transferred to the tugboat and taken into Shimonoseki. The starboard arm of the ship’s derrick was lowered, and a rope net was attached to the winch line on the derrick arm. As the first passenger was placed in the rope net and hoisted into the air, Amy looked on in horror. She wanted to get her feet on solid ground in Shimonoseki as soon as possible, but this was definitely not what she had in mind. The derrick arm swung over the side of the Yokohama Maru toward the tugboat. The man in the rope net looked terrified as he dangled over the frothing ocean before being dumped onto the deck of the pitching, rolling tugboat. A crewman on the tug helped the passenger out of the rope net, which was then hoisted back aboard the Yokohama Maru for the next passenger.

One by one, the passengers were lowered aboard the tugboat until finally it was Amy’s turn. Reluctantly, she stepped into the net. Before she had a chance to change her mind, the crewman operating the winch pulled a lever, and the rope net gathered around Amy. Suddenly, she was dangling above the deck. With a jerk, the end of the derrick arm moved over the side of the ship. Amy swung like a pendulum in the rain. She looked down at the angry waves snarling up at her. Frothy spray soaked through her clothes. Then she was over the aft deck of the tug, and as she swung from side to side, the winch slowly lowered her. One of the tug’s crewmen grabbed the net and steadied it as Amy was dumped bottom first onto the deck. The crewman helped her out of the net, and she huddled with the other passengers.

Finally, when all the passengers had been lowered aboard the tug, their luggage was also loaded into the net and transferred to the tugboat. After some more yelling between the captain of the tugboat and the captain of the Yokohama Maru, and a loud hoot of the tug’s steam horn, the two boats parted.

If the trip on the Yokohama Maru had been treacherous, the ride on the tugboat was downright dangerous. Amy prayed frantically throughout the journey. The small tug didn’t cut through the stormy seas like the larger ship had. Instead, it rode up and over the mountainous waves. At the crest of each wave, the tug tipped forward or rolled sideways so much that Amy thought it would capsize for sure. Finally, the outline of the Japanese coast came into view, and a cheer went up from the passengers.

Amy’s feet were soon back on solid ground. As the rain dripped from her felt hat and formed rivulets that ran down her cotton dress, she breathed a deep breath and slowly exhaled. For the first time in several days, she didn’t feel like vomiting. She had made it to Japan. She had traveled halfway around the world, and now she was finally here. What an adventure it had been! There had been so many risks along the way. But then, risks and adventure were nothing new to Amy Carmichael. She’d always been willing to take risks to get what she wanted.

Chapter 2
Shadows in the Attic

Amy—Amy Carmichael. Are you listening?” Amy looked up at the teacher and scrambled to get her mind back on trigonometry. But the truth was, she hadn’t been listening for quite a while. She had more important things than math on her mind. It was September 12, 1882, a once-in-a-lifetime day, and Amy was not about to miss the event! How cruel it had been of the astronomy teacher to tell his students all about the “great September comet,” when he knew none of the girls at Marlborough House boarding school would be allowed to stay up to watch it. Amy had tried everything she could think of to get around the rule that dormitory girls were not allowed to stay up past 9 p.m. But nothing had made any difference. She had even gone to Miss Kay, the school principal, and begged her to let the girls stay up. But comet or no comet, Miss Kay had no intention of bending the rules one bit.

Amy hadn’t wanted to ask Miss Kay, but as usual, she had been the one voted to do it. Being only fourteen years old meant there were lots of older girls in the school, but Amy was a natural leader. She had courage the other girls envied. Even when she’d knocked firmly on Miss Kay’s door, she hadn’t been one bit afraid. And when Miss Kay dismissed what Amy thought was a well-balanced argument for being allowed to stay up to view the comet, Amy had left the office with her head held high. The other girls were depending on her, and she would find another way for them to watch the comet.

That was the problem occupying her mind during trigonometry class. As she thought about it, a plan began to form in her mind. What was to stop them from sneaking up and watching the comet from the attic skylight? That way they wouldn’t even have to go outside, and if they were very quiet, the dormitory mistress wouldn’t hear them. It was a plan Amy was sure would work. Now all she had to do was figure out a way to keep the other girls awake until midnight. Amy knew she could stay awake herself; the excitement of seeing a comet wouldn’t let her sleep. But if some of the other girls fell asleep, it would be hard to wake them, and it could be noisy, too.

By the time the girls were all dressed in their long, white flannel nightgowns ready for bed, Amy knew just how they’d do it. She cleared her throat, twisted her long, dark brown hair behind her head, and told the girls about her disappointing visit to Miss Kay. Several of the girls hung their heads. Amy paused a moment for dramatic effect, and then she produced a reel of sewing thread she’d sneaked from embroidery class. “This is our answer,” she said jubilantly, holding the thread in the air. The girls looked puzzled.

Again Amy paused for effect before going on. “Everyone will get a long piece of thread. After the lamps are blown out, you will tie one end of it to your big toe.”

A ripple of giggles flowed from the girls.

Amy continued. “After you have tied the thread to your big toe, creep over to me and give me the other end and go back to bed. I will hold the other end of all of the pieces of thread and tug on them every so often to keep you all awake. When I hear the bells chime out twelve o’clock, I’ll give a double tug on the thread. That will be the signal. We’ll all get out of bed and creep up to the attic and watch the comet through the skylight. Just be sure to skip the third step on the way up the stairs. It creaks.”

The girls all giggled and nodded and set about tying the thread to their big toes. Every so often, after the lamps were blown out, Amy jerked the threads to keep everyone awake. Finally, the clock struck twelve, and Amy gave the threads a double tug. The girls all sat up straight in bed and untied the thread from their big toes. Quietly, they formed a line by the door. They did this without even thinking, because everywhere they went at boarding school, from chapel to dinner, they walked in a line. They filed out the door, past the dormitory mistress’s room, and up the stairs. Each girl stepped carefully over the third step. They all glided up to the attic like a silent row of ghosts. With great care, Amy turned the brass knob on the huge oak door at the top of the stairs. The knob didn’t squeak. Amy slowly pushed the door open and motioned the girls to go in. Once the door was shut behind them, the girls gathered in silence under the skylight.

As her eyes adjusted to the dim moonlight that spilled into the attic through the skylight, Amy had an odd feeling. She looked around. The attic was filled with shapes. There were the shapes of old furniture and piles of books, but there were some other shapes, too, clustered in the corner. Amy peered into the darkness to make them out, and as she did, the shapes became the outlines of people. Then dread of dreads, they became the shape of Miss Kay and three other teachers.

At that moment, Miss Kay lit a candle. Several of the girls screamed. Amy’s heart sank. Miss Kay would know that Amy had planned this adventure. After all, Amy planned most of the mischief that occurred at Marlborough House.

Fortunately, the comet was due to pass overhead at any moment, so Miss Kay just waved her hand at the girls, and sternly said, “Silence.” And so, Amy and all the girls in her dormitory got to see the comet, but not in the company they would have liked.

Once the comet was past, Miss Kay looked directly at Amy. “I will see you in my office straight after breakfast.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Amy, with a curtsy.

The girls trudged back to their room, not bothering to skip the creaking third step this time.

For the rest of the night, Amy hardly slept. She didn’t mind being punished; she’d been punished plenty of times before. But what if I’m expelled and sent back to Ireland this time? What will my parents say? She hated the thought of going home in disgrace. Her parents would be so disappointed in her, and she had six younger brothers and sisters to set an example for. If only she weren’t Irish. That was the trouble. With her flashing brown eyes and lively imagination, she just didn’t seem to fit into an English girls’ school. It was all too confining. Everything was done to bells and timetables. She hardly ever got to go outdoors. If it weren’t for the box of chrysanthemums her mother, Catherine Carmichael, had sent her and the white lily one of the older girls had left behind, Amy would hardly get to see nature at all. It was no wonder she had to see the comet. At home in Ireland, she could have watched it from the second-story nursery window, with the Irish Sea crashing against the rocks at Millisle in the background.