Chapter XVIII. The Storm
 

When Uncle William Minturn came in from the city that evening he had some mysterious news. Everybody guessed it was about Nellie, but as surprises were always cropping up at Ocean Cliff, the news was kept secret and the whispering increased.

"I had hard work to get her to come," said Uncle William to Mrs. Bobbsey, still guarding the mystery, "but I finally prevailed upon her and she will be down on the morning train."

"Poor woman, I am sure it will do her good," remarked Mrs. Bobbsey. "Your house has been a regular hotel this summer," she said to Mr. Minturn.

"That's what we are here for," he replied. "We would not have much pleasure, I am sure, if our friends were not around us."

"Did you hear anything more about the last vessel?" asked Aunt Emily.

"Yes, I went down to the general office today, and an incoming steamer was sure it was the West Indies vessel that was sighted four days ago."

"Then they should be near port now?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

"They ought to be," replied Uncle William, "but the cargo is so heavy, and the schooner such a very slow sailer, that it takes a long time to cover the distance."

Next morning, bright and early, Dorothy had the donkeys in harness.

"We are going to the station to meet some friends, Nellie," she said. "Come along?"

"What! More company?" exclaimed Nellie. "I really ought to go home. I am well and strong now."

"Indeed you can't go until we let you," said Dorothy, laughing. "I suppose you think all the fun went with Harry," she added, teasingly, for Dorothy knew Nellie had been acting lonely ever since the carnival. She was surely homesick to see her mother and talk about the big prize.

The two girls had not long to wait at the station, for the train pulled in just as they reached the platform. Dorothy looked about a little uneasily.

"We must watch for a lady in a linen suit with black hat," she said to Nellie; "she's a stranger."

That very minute the linen suit appeared.

"Oh, oh!" screamed Nellie, unable to get her words. "There is my mother!" and the next thing Dorothy knew, Nellie was trying to "wear the same linen dress" that the stranger appeared in--at least, that was how Dorothy afterwards told about Nellie's meeting with her mother.

"My daughter!" exclaimed the lady, "I have been so lonely I came to bring you home."

"And this is Dorothy," said Nellie, recovering herself. "Dorothy is my best friend, next to Nan."

"You have surely been among good friends," declared the mother, "for you have gotten the roses back in your cheeks again. How well you do look!"

"Oh, I've had a perfectly fine time," declared Nellie.

"Fine and dandy," repeated Dorothy, unable to restrain her fun-making spirit.

At a glance Dorothy saw why Nellie, although poor, was so genteel, for her mother was one of those fine-featured women that seem especially fitted to say gentle things to children.

Mrs. McLaughlin was not old,--no older than Nan's mother,--and she had that wonderful wealth of brown hair, just like Nellie's. Her eyes were brown, too, while Nellie's were blue, but otherwise Nellie was much like her mother, so people said.

Aunt Emily and Mrs. Bobbsey had visited Mrs. McLaughlin in the city, so that they were quite well acquainted when the donkey cart drove up, and they all had a laugh over the surprise to Nellie. Of course that was Uncle William's secret, and the mystery of the whispering the evening before.

"But we must go back on the afternoon train," insisted Mrs. McLaughlin, who had really only come down to the shore to bring Nellie home.

"Indeed, no," objected Aunt Emily, "that would be too much traveling in one day. You may go early in the morning."

"Everybody is going home," sighed Dorothy. "I suppose you will be the next to go, Nan," and she looked quite lonely at the prospect.

"We are going to have a big storm," declared Susan, who had just come in from the village. "We have had a long dry spell, now we are going to make up for it."

"Dear me," sighed Mrs. McLaughlin, "I wish we had started for home."

"Oh, there's lots of fun here in a storm," laughed Dorothy. "The ocean always tries to lick up the whole place, but it has to be satisfied with pulling down pavilions and piers. Last year the water really went higher than the gas lights along the boulevard."

"Then that must mean an awful storm at sea," reflected Nellie's mother. "Storms are bad enough on land, but at sea they must be dreadful!" And she looked out toward the wild ocean, that was keeping from her the fate of her husband.

Long before there were close signs of storm, life-guards, on the beach, were preparing for it. They were making fast everything that could be secured and at the life-saving station all possible preparations were being made to help those who might suffer from the storm.

It was nearing September and a tidal wave had swept over the southern ports. Coming in all the way from the tropics the storm had made itself felt over a great part of the world, in some places taking the shape of a hurricane.

On this particular afternoon, while the sun still shone brightly over Sunset Beach, the storm was creeping in under the big waves that dashed up on the sands.

"It is not safe to let go the ropes," the guards told the people, but the idea of a storm, from such a pretty sky, made some daring enough to disobey these orders. The result was that the guards were kept busy trying to bring girls and women to their feet, who were being dashed around by the excited waves.

This work occupied the entire afternoon, and as soon as the crowd left the beach the life-guards brought the boats down to the edge, got their lines ready, and when dark came on, they were prepared for the life-patrol,--the long dreary watch of the night, so near the noisy waves, and so far from the voice of distress that might call over the breakers to the safe shores, where the life-savers waited, watched, and listened.

The rain began to fall before it was entirely dark. The lurid sunset, glaring through the dark and rain, gave an awful, yellow look to the land and sea alike.

"It is like the end of the world," whispered Nellie to Nan, as the two girls looked out of the window to see the wild storm approaching.

Then the lightning came in blazing blades, cutting through the gathering clouds.

The thunder was only like muffled rolls, for the fury of the ocean deadened every other sound of heaven or earth.

"It will be a dreadful storm," said Aunt Emily to Mrs. Bobbsey. "We must all go into the sitting room and pray for the sailors."

Everyone in the house assembled in the large sitting room, and Uncle William led the prayers. Poor Mrs. McLaughlin did not once raise her head. Nellie, too, hid her pale face in her hands.

Dorothy was frightened, and when all were saying good-night she pressed a kiss on Nellie's cheek, and told her that the life-savers on Sunset Beach would surely be able to save all the sailors that came that way during the big storm.

Nellie and her mother occupied the same room. Of course the mother had been told that the long delayed boat had been sighted, and now, how anxiously she awaited more news of Nellie's father.

"We must not worry," she told Nellie, "for who knows but the storm may really help father's boat to get into port?"

So, while the waves lashed furiously upon Sunset Beach, all the people in the Minturn cottage were sleeping, or trying to sleep, for, indeed, it was not easy to rest when there was so much danger at their very door.