Chapter XX.
 

Mr. Fountain remained in the town waiting for his niece's return. Six o'clock came--no boat. Eight o'clock--no boat, and a heavy gale blowing. He went down to the beach in great anxiety; and when he got there he soon found it was shared to the full by many human beings. There were little knots of fishermen and sailors discussing it, and one poor woman, mother and wife, stealing from group to group and listening anxiously to the men's conjectures. But the most striking feature of the scene was an old white-haired man, who walked wildly, throwing his arms about. The others rather avoided him, but Mr. Fountain felt he had a right to speak to him; so he came to him, and told him "his niece was on board; and you, too, I fear, have some one dear to you in danger."

The old man replied sorrowfully that "his lovely new boat was in danger--in such danger that he should never see her again;" then added, going suddenly into a fury, that "as to the two rascally bluejackets that were on board of her, and had borrowed her of his wife while he was out, all he wished was that they had been swamped to all eternity long ago, then they would not have been able to come and swamp his dear boat."

Peppery old Fountain cursed him for a heartless old vagabond, and joined the group whose grief and anxiety were less ostentatious, being for the other boat that carried their own flesh and blood. But all night long that white-haired old man paced the shore, flinging his arms, weeping and cursing alternately for his dear schooner.

Oh holy love--of property! how venerable you looked in the moonlight, with your white hairs streaming! How well you imitated, how close you rivaled, the holiest effusions of the heart, and not for the first time nor the last.

"My daughter! my ducats! my ducats! my daughter!" etc.

The morning broke; no sign of either boat. The wind had shifted to the east, and greatly abated. The fishermen began to have hopes for their comrades; these communicated themselves to Mr. Fountain.

It was about one o'clock in the afternoon when this latter observed people streaming along the shore to a distant point. He asked a coastguard man, whom he observed scanning the place with a glass, "What it was?"

The man lowered his voice and said, "Well, sir, it will be something coming ashore, by the way the folk are running."

Mr. Fountain got a carriage, and, urging the driver to use speed, was hastily conveyed by the road to a part whence a few steps brought him down to the sea. He thrust wildly in among the crowd.

"Make way," said the rough fellows: they saw he was one of those who had the best right to be there.

He looked, and there, scarce fifty yards from the shore, was the lugger, keel uppermost, drifting in with the tide. The old man staggered, and was supported by a beach man.

When the wreck came within fifteen yards of the shore, she hung, owing to the under suction, and could get neither way. The cries of the women broke out afresh at this. Then half a dozen stout fellows swam in with ropes, and with some difficulty righted her, and in another minute she was hauled ashore.

The crowd rushed upon her. She was empty! Not an oar, not a boat-hook--nothing. But jammed in between the tiller and the boat they found a purple veil. The discovery was announced loudly by one of the females, but the consequent outcry was instantly hushed by the men, and the oldest fisherman there took it, and, in a sudden dead and solemn silence, gave it with a world of subdued meaning to Mr. Fountain.